Database security refers to the range of tools, controls, and measures designed to establish and preserve database confidentiality, integrity, and availability. This article will focus primarily on confidentiality since it’s the element that’s compromised in most data breaches.
Database security must address and protect the following:
Database security is a complex and challenging endeavor that involves all aspects of information security technologies and practices. It’s also naturally at odds with database usability. The more accessible and usable the database, the more vulnerable it is to security threats; the more invulnerable the database is to threats, the more difficult it is to access and use. (This paradox is sometimes referred to as Anderson’s Rule. (link resides outside IBM)
By definition, a data breach is a failure to maintain the confidentiality of data in a database. How much harm a data breach inflicts on your enterprise depends on a number of consequences or factors:
Many software misconfigurations, vulnerabilities, or patterns of carelessness or misuse can result in breaches. The following are among the most common types or causes of database security attacks and their causes.
An insider threat is a security threat from any one of three sources with privileged access to the database:
Insider threats are among the most common causes of database security breaches and are often the result of allowing too many employees to hold privileged user access credentials.
Accidents, weak passwords, password sharing, and other unwise or uninformed user behaviors continue to be the cause of nearly half (49%) of all reported data breaches.
Hackers make their living by finding and targeting vulnerabilities in all kinds of software, including database management software. All major commercial database software vendors and open source database management platforms issue regular security patches to address these vulnerabilities, but failure to apply these patches in a timely fashion can increase your exposure.
A database-specific threat, these involve the insertion of arbitrary SQL or non-SQL attack strings into database queries served by web applications or HTTP headers. Organizations that don’t follow secure web application coding practices and perform regular vulnerability testing are open to these attacks.
Buffer overflow occurs when a process attempts to write more data to a fixed-length block of memory than it is allowed to hold. Attackers may use the excess data, stored in adjacent memory addresses, as a foundation from which to launch attacks.
Malware is software written specifically to exploit vulnerabilities or otherwise cause damage to the database. Malware may arrive via any endpoint device connecting to the database’s network.
Organizations that fail to protect backup data with the same stringent controls used to protect the database itself can be vulnerable to attacks on backups.
These threats are exacerbated by the following:
In a denial of service (DoS) attack, the attacker deluges the target server—in this case the database server—with so many requests that the server can no longer fulfill legitimate requests from actual users, and, in many cases, the server becomes unstable or crashes.
In a distributed denial of service attack (DDoS), the deluge comes from multiple servers, making it more difficult to stop the attack. See our video “What is a DDoS Attack”(3:51) for more information:
Because databases are nearly always network-accessible, any security threat to any component within or portion of the network infrastructure is also a threat to the database, and any attack impacting a user’s device or workstation can threaten the database. Thus, database security must extend far beyond the confines of the database alone.
When evaluating database security in your environment to decide on your team’s top priorities, consider each of the following areas:
In addition to implementing layered security controls across your entire network environment, database security requires you to establish the correct controls and policies for access to the database itself. These include:
Database security policies should be integrated with and support your overall business goals, such as protection of critical intellectual property and your cybersecurity policies and cloud security policies. Ensure you have designated responsibility for maintaining and auditing security controls within your organization and that your policies complement those of your cloud provider in shared responsibility agreements. Security controls, security awareness training and education programs, and penetration testing and vulnerability assessment strategies should all be established in support of your formal security policies.
Today, a wide array of vendors offer data protection tools and platforms. A full-scale solution should include all of the following capabilities:
Continuous edge-to-edge cloud protection for your data and applications with regulatory compliance.
Wide visibility, compliance, and protection throughout the data security lifecycle.
Comprehensive data protection for the most critical enterprise data.
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