Database security

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Database security concerns the use of a broad range of information security controls to protect databases (potentially including the data, the database applications or stored functions, the database systems, the database servers and the associated network links) against compromises of their confidentiality, integrity and availability. It involves various types or categories of controls, such as technical, procedural/administrative and physical. Database security is a specialist topic within the broader realms of computer security, information security and risk management.

Security risks to database systems include, for example:

Many layers and types of information security control are appropriate to databases, including:

Traditionally databases have been largely secured against hackers through network security measures such as firewalls, and network-based intrusion detection systems. While network security controls remain valuable in this regard, securing the database systems themselves, and the programs/functions and data within them, has arguably become more critical as networks are increasingly opened to wider access, in particular access from the Internet. Furthermore, system, program, function and data access controls, along with the associated user identification, authentication and rights management functions, have always been important to limit and in some cases log the activities of authorized users and administrators. In other words, these are complementary approaches to database security, working from both the outside-in and the inside-out as it were.

Many organizations develop their own "baseline" security standards and designs detailing basic security control measures for their database systems. These may reflect general information security requirements or obligations imposed by corporate information security policies and applicable laws and regulations (e.g. concerning privacy, financial management and reporting systems), along with generally-accepted good database security practices (such as appropriate hardening of the underlying systems) and perhaps security recommendations from the relevant database system and software vendors. The security designs for specific database systems typically specify further security administration and management functions (such as administration and reporting of user access rights, log management and analysis, database replication/synchronization and backups) along with various business-driven information security controls within the database programs and functions (e.g. data entry validation and audit trails). Furthermore, various security-related activities (manual controls) are normally incorporated into the procedures, guidelines etc. relating to the design, development, configuration, use, management and maintenance of databases.

Vulnerability Assessments and Compliance[edit]

One technique for evaluating database security involves performing vulnerability assessments or penetration tests against the database. Testers attempt to find security vulnerabilities that could be used to defeat or bypass security controls, break into the database, compromise the system etc. Database administrators or information security administrators may for example use automated vulnerability scans to search out misconfiguration of controls within the layers mentioned above along with known vulnerabilities within the database software. The results of such scans are used to harden the database (improve the security controls) and close off the specific vulnerabilities identified, but unfortunately other vulnerabilities typically remain unrecognized and unaddressed.

A program of continual monitoring for compliance with database security standards is another important task for mission critical database environments. Two crucial aspects of database security compliance include patch management and the review and management of permissions (especially public) granted to objects within the database. Database objects may include table or other objects listed in the Table link. The permissions granted for SQL language commands on objects are considered in this process. One should note that compliance monitoring is similar to vulnerability assessment with the key difference that the results of vulnerability assessments generally drive the security standards that lead to the continuous monitoring program. Essentially, vulnerability assessment is a preliminary procedure to determine risk where a compliance program is the process of on-going risk assessment.

The compliance program should take into consideration any dependencies at the application software level as changes at the database level may have effects on the application software or the application server. In direct relation to this topic is that of application security.


Application level authentication and authorization mechanisms should be considered as an effective means of providing abstraction from the database layer. The primary benefit of abstraction is that of a single sign-on capability across multiple databases and database platforms. A Single sign-on system should store the database user's credentials (login id and password), and authenticate to the database on behalf of the user.

Database activity monitoring (DAM)[edit]

Another security layer of a more sophisticated nature includes real-time database activity monitoring, either by analyzing protocol traffic (SQL) over the network, or by observing local database activity on each server using software agents, or both. Use of agents or native logging is required to capture activities executed on the database server, which typically include the activities of the database administrator. Agents allow this information to be captured in a fashion that can not be disabled by the database administrator, who has the ability to disable or modify native audit logs.

Analysis can be performed to identify known exploits or policy breaches, or baselines can be captured over time to build a normal pattern used for detection of anomalous activity that could be indicative of intrusion. These systems can provide a comprehensive Database audit trail in addition to the intrusion detection mechanisms, and some systems can also provide protection by terminating user sessions and/or quarantining users demonstrating suspicious behavior. Some systems are designed to support separation of duties (SOD), which is a typical requirement of auditors. SOD requires that the database administrators who are typically monitored as part of the DAM, not be able to disable or alter the DAM functionality. This requires the DAM audit trail to be securely stored in a separate system not administered by the database administration group.

Native Audit[edit]

In addition to using external tools for monitoring or auditing, native database audit capabilities are also available for many database platforms. The native audit trails are extracted on a regular basis and transferred to a designated security system where the database administrators do not have access. This ensures a certain level of segregation of duties that may provide evidence the native audit trails were not modified by authenticated administrators. Turning on native impacts the performance of the server. Generally, the native audit trails of databases do not provide sufficient controls to enforce separation of duties; therefore, the network and/or kernel module level host based monitoring capabilities provides a higher degree of confidence for forsenics and preservation of evidence.

Process and Procedures[edit]

A database security program should include the regular review of permissions granted to individually owned accounts and accounts used by automated processes. The accounts used by automated processes should have appropriate controls around password storage such as sufficient encryption and access controls to reduce the risk of compromise. For individual accounts, a two-factor authentication system should be considered in a database environment where the risk is commensurate with the expenditure for such an authentication system.

In conjunction with a sound database security program, an appropriate disaster recovery program should exist to ensure that service is not interrupted during a security incident or any other incident that results in an outage of the primary database environment. An example is that of replication for the primary databases to sites located in different geographical regions.

After an incident occurs, the usage of database forensics should be employed to determine the scope of the breach, and to identify appropriate changes to systems and/or processes to prevent similar incidents in the future.

Database Security applying Statistical Method[edit]

Unauthorized changes introduced by internal as well as external users directly in the database without keeping any track are considered as biggest threat – algorithm based on cryptology and other statistical methods is deployed to identify such events and report to owners. Such shield DB approach maps large dataset into its small digital fingerprint which, is continuously updated with every change in main database by registered applications. Desired fingerprints are then matched with actual at preset intervals for identifying the changed location/s (rows and columns) in main database, date and time of unauthorized changes, even made through privileged authority.

See also[edit]

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