Around 36 billion records were compromised from January to September of 2020. Nearly a billion of those records were exposed during two breaches in the third quarter of the year. According to the same report, cybercriminals are still the main drivers behind these breaches. However, misconfigured databases and services are the key factors that continue to compromise cybersecurity.
Now more than ever, it’s important for businesses to fully understand the risks and consequences of data breaches. This guide offers some insights into database security—best practices, challenges, and more. Here are the most common database security threats and how to mitigate them.
What Is Database Security?
Database security refers to a broad range of protective measures and tools used to preserve the confidentiality, integrity, and availability of the database. It covers everything from sensitive data, DBMS, associated applications, physical servers, and virtual database servers, and network infrastructures.
What Is a Database Management System?
A database management system (DBMS) refers to software that is developed to define, manage, store and retrieve data without compromising its confidentiality, integrity, and availability.
It is made up of three components: the records, the database schema, and the database engine. The schema consists of instructions and attributes that inform the database engine how to organise data.
They are very important because they are used to store massive amounts of data, such as sales information, product inventory, customer profiles, and more. More importantly, they enable multiple users to access data from any geographical location.
GA Systems is a cybersecurity company based in Australia, providing zero-trust strategies to modern enterprises. From data protection and compliance to threat management, our certified security experts can help you optimise your security operations centre and manage ever-changing market conditions.
Why Is Database Security Important?
The exponential growth of big data has created all kinds of challenges for businesses. Now, the traditional methods of collecting and storing data are inadequate and ineffective against modern threats.
Here are a few reasons why you should take database security seriously.
Prevents data breaches
A database holds confidential, sensitive, or protected information, making it a prime target for cyberattacks. If your intellectual property is stolen or leaked, you might struggle to maintain or recover your competitive advantage in your niche.
Avoid fines and penalties for non-compliance
Companies face financial repercussions and penalties for data breaches. You have to compensate customers or partners who were affected by the breach. You also have to pay for card replacement and identity theft repair, among other remediation efforts.
Additionally, you have to pay direct fines and fees imposed by the Payment Card Industry Security Standards Council. Depending on the card network brands, you might have to pay additional fines for the breach.
Protect brand reputation
One of the long-term consequences of a data breach is the loss of customer trust. The way you respond to a security breach will affect your brand reputation. If you keep your customers or partners in the dark, they might lose trust in the brand. If they feel that the company isn’t setting up extra measures to prevent security breaches from happening in the future, they might stop buying your products or services.
Ensure business continuity
In the event of a data breach, companies are often forced to cease business operations until the problem is resolved. This can be a big blow to your revenue. You won’t be generating any, but you will be spending a lot to repair the breach. For instance, you’ll have to pay for forensic investigations, which helps you determine the cause of the breach.
Although these investigations can provide deep insights and evidence that can help you prevent future incidents, they can be expensive.
Most Common Database Security Vulnerabilities
Due to growing data volumes, organisations of all sizes are facing all kinds of database software vulnerabilities. It’s up to database administrators to anticipate the risks and implement security solutions to prevent unauthorised access.
Here are the most common internal and external threats that you should be aware of.
Far too often, databases encounter vulnerabilities during deployment. Although enterprises run preliminary tests, they only check the functionality of the database. They don’t check for potential errors. These tests can’t ensure that the database isn’t doing anything it isn’t supposed to do.
Insider threats refer to security risks from people within the organisation who may have access to computer systems and data. These could be current employees, former employees, business partners, or contractors.
Employees are the weakest link in your database security. From weak passwords, password sharing, and other unintentional actions, human error accounts for 49% of all reported database security breaches.
Excessive privilege is a security risk. Many companies make the mistake of granting employee privileges, which exceed their job functions and requirements. These privileges are prone to abuse by insiders. They are also highly coveted by external threats. If a cybercriminal obtains credentials or accounts, it can make your database security infrastructure vulnerable to attacks.
Buffer overflow attacks
A buffer overflow attack happens when a program adds too much data into a buffer, which is a fixed-length block of memory, and exceeds the storage capacity. In an attempt to add the excess data to the buffer, the program might experience a system crash or data corruption.
Cybercriminals may use the excess data, which are stored in adjacent memory addresses, as an opportunity to launch other malicious attacks.
SQL/NoSQL injection attacks
In a database-specific threat, cybercriminals “inject” malicious SQL and non-SQL statements into database queries of web applications. That malicious input can bypass security measures and change the operations of the applications, forcing it to perform actions that it isn’t supposed to do. For instance, it might grant access to unauthorised users.
Following secure coding practices for web applications, as well as performing regular vulnerability testing, can help prevent SQL injection attacks.
A denial of service (DoS) attack occurs when actual users are unable to gain access to information systems, network resources, or devices. Cybercriminals carry out a DoS attack by flooding a network server with fake requests until it crashes and prevents users from accessing the affected systems.
If a DoS attack is coming from multiple sources and locations, it is called a distributed denial of service (DDoS) attack.
Malware encompasses all intrusive software that is intentionally designed to damage or exploit a database server, device, or network. Most online threats are a form of malware—viruses, worms, and trojans to name a few.
This malicious software can enter your database’s network via an endpoint device. Getting malware protection is necessary for any endpoint, as well as your database server.
Database Security Best Practices: How to Secure Your Database Server
Believe it or not, the majority of reported security breaches are preventable. By building a cybersecurity culture in your organisation and implementing sound database security measures, you can reduce risks, safeguard critical assets, and avoid costly financial repercussions.
Add physical database security
Data centres, as well as your own database, are susceptible to insider threats and physical attacks by outsiders. Even physical hardware such as laptops and other mobile devices need to be kept secure. If unauthorised users gain access to your physical database server, they can corrupt, steal, or leak your data.
To prevent these database security breaches, you can add physical security measures, such as cameras and locks. You can opt to hire security teams to monitor the area and log everyone who accesses your database systems.
However, if you’re using a web hosting service, you should choose a reputable company. Avoid free hosting services as much as possible. Instead, invest in a trustworthy company that takes database security seriously.
Separate database servers
Another way to minimise your risks is to separate your database management software from the rest of the database environment. If your database contains sensitive information, you should avoid keeping web applications and database applications on the same server.
Since a web server is publicly accessible, it is more likely to be attacked. In the event of a breach, a compromised web server, which runs on the same machine as the database server, can be accessible to hackers. They can gain access to your database and sensitive information as a root user. By keeping your database server in a secure environment with access controls, you can protect your database from potential attacks.
Automate identity and access management
Access controls are a fundamental part of database security, which involves restricting unauthorised access to sensitive data. They are used to authenticate user accounts and grant access to system resources based on their level of authorisation. Cards, badges, PINs, passwords, and biometric identifiers are a few identification methods used in access control systems.
Using access management software, you can actively manage passwords and limit user access. You can give short-term passwords to anyone who wants to access a database. Aside from automating access management, you should enforce other security controls. Require stronger passwords, password hashes, and account locking after multiple log-in fails.
Monitor database activity
Database activity monitoring software refers to a suite of tools that can help you monitor logins and failed attempts. The DAM can look for suspicious activities and notify you whenever it identifies any. For instance, it can identify account sharing, unauthorised account creations, and database attacks.
Turn off public network access
Organisations, with the exception of hosting providers, should disable public network access to database servers. Instead, you should create gateway servers for your remote administrators.
All data in your database, including credential data, must be encrypted. Whether it’s in storage or transit, you must encrypt data.
Data encryption is the process of translating unencrypted data or plain text into a different format, also known as ciphertext. Only authorised users with a decryption key can access that information. The goal of data encryption is to protect the confidentiality of digital data in storage or during transmission over the internet.
Set up database firewalls
A firewall serves as your first line of defence against database security threats. It prevents your database from making outbound connections. You can choose from three types of firewalls: packet-filter firewall, proxy server firewall, and stateful packet inspection (SPI).
Database firewalls are special database security solutions, which can help you monitor all the connections to the database engine. Depending on your database firewall, you might even be able to detect SQL injection attacks, DoS attacks, and buffer overflow attacks.
Keep your operating system and patches updated
Make sure that your operating system and database software, along with its security patches, are up to date. In doing so, you can keep sensitive data protected from new threats. Also, enable all database security controls—that is, unless you have a particular reason for keeping them disabled. If your database is connected to other applications, this is very important.
Create database backups
Keep your data secure by creating database backups regularly. This prevents data loss during system failures or data breaches.
Never leave your backups in publicly accessible areas. By keeping backup data encrypted in a separate server, you can recover the information you need in case your main database server gets compromised.
The Global State of Data Protection
The worldwide regulatory compliance landscape is ever-changing. With the importance of data security increasingly being recognised, organisations can expect new developments in data protection legislation in the coming years.
Of the existing data security laws, the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) is the most extensive, addressing data protection and privacy in the European Union and European Economic Areas. Any entity that processes the personal data of EU residents must comply with the GDPR.
In the US, no federal data privacy law exists. There is no central authority tasked to ensure compliance. However, there are state-level data privacy regulations and policies that organisations have to adhere to. All states have also adopted data breach notification laws.
Similarly, Australia has no specific laws or regulations relating to data privacy. The Privacy Act 1988 is its primary data protection legislation. The country regulates data privacy using a mix of federal, state, and territory laws.
Why You Need Database Management Software
Database security is a multi-faceted endeavour, which covers everything from the physical security of your database’s server to human error. To manage your systems confidently, you need to have a strong understanding of the ever-evolving compliance landscape, database security best practices, and existing challenges.
GA Systems is made up of a team of certified security experts who can help you build a custom security plan, tailoring it to industry-specific needs and aligning it with your security maturity demands. We have the resources and tools you need to actively protect sensitive databases as you navigate the fast-changing market and compliance landscape. We can deliver responsive security services to secure your most critical assets 24/7.