Database security refers to the various measures organizations like yours take to ensure their databases are protected from internal and external threats. Database security includes protecting the database itself, the data it contains, its database management system, and the various applications that access it. Organizations must secure databases from deliberate attacks such as cybersecurity threats and misuse of data and databases by those who can access them.
In the last several years, the number of data breaches has risen considerably. In addition to the considerable damage these threats pose to a company’s reputation and customer base, there are an increasing number of regulations and penalties for data breaches that organizations must deal with, such as those in the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR)—some of which are extremely costly. Effective database security is key for remaining compliant, protecting your reputation, and keeping your customers.
What are the challenges of database security?
Security concerns for internet-based attacks are some of the most persistent challenges to database security. Hackers devise new ways to infiltrate databases and steal data almost daily. You must ensure your database security measures are strong enough to withstand these attacks and avoid a security breach.
Some cybersecurity threats can be difficult to detect, like phishing scams in which user credentials are compromised and used without permission. Malware and ransomware are also common cybersecurity threats.
Another critical challenge for database security is making sure that your employees, partners, and contractors with database access don’t abuse their credentials.This is sometimes referred to as an insider threat. These exfiltration vulnerabilities are difficult to guard against because authorized users with legitimate access can take sensitive data for their own purposes. Edward Snowden’s compromise of the NSA is a good example of this challenge.
Organizations like yours must also make sure that users with legitimate access to database systems and applications are only privy to the protected data that they need for work. Otherwise, there’s greater potential for them to compromise data security.
How you can deploy database security
There are three layers of database security: the database level, the access level, and the perimeter level. Security at the database level occurs within the database itself, where the data live. Access layer security focuses on controlling who can access certain data or systems containing it. Security policy at the perimeter level determines who can and cannot get into databases. Each level requires unique security solutions.
Database Security Solutions
Database security best practices
Although there are several different approaches to data security, some best practices can help you keep your databases safe. These database security best practices help you to minimize your vulnerabilities while maximizing your data protection. While these approaches can be deployed individually, they work best together to protect against various circumstances impacting database security.
Physical database security
It’s critical to not overlook the physical hardware where the data is stored, maintained, and manipulated. Physical security includes locking the room where the database server is — whether on-premise or accessed through the cloud. It also involves having security teams monitor physical access to that equipment.
A crucial aspect of this best practice is to have database backup and disaster recovery measures in place in case of a physical catastrophe. It’s also important not to host web servers and applications on the same server as the database the organization wants to secure. As mentioned below, another consideration is to have data "encrypted at rest", so that if a system's physical storage was stolen or compromised, the data would still be secure.
Web applications and firewalls
Web applications and firewalls are a database security best practice at the perimeter layer. A database firewall prevents intruders from accessing your IT network via the internet; firewalls are a crucial prerequisite for protecting your sensitive information from attack. Web applications that interact with databases can be protected by application access management software.
This database security measure is similar to access control lists and determines who can access web applications and how they can do so. There are also firewalls for individual web applications that deliver the same benefits as traditional firewalls.
A more recent proactive security solution is referred to as Data Security Posture Management or DSPM. This was defined by Gartner in its 2022 Hype Cycle for Data Security. By automating data detection and protection operations in modern cloud environments, organizations are able to identify high-risk misconfiguration with applications and their data stores before they are exploited by adversaries, thus continuously improving a company’s security posture.
Data encryption is one of the most effective database security practices because it’s implemented where the data are in the database. However, organizations can encrypt data in motion as well as at rest, so that it’s protected as it flows between IT systems in an organization.
Encrypted data is transfigured so it appears as gibberish unless it’s decrypted with the proper keys. Therefore, even if someone can access encrypted data, it will be meaningless to them. Database encryption is also key for maintaining data privacy and can be effective for IoT security.
Manage passwords and permissions
Managing passwords and permissions is critical for maintaining database security. This task is usually overseen by dedicated security employees or IT teams. In some instances, this best practice involves access control lists.
Organizations can take many different steps to manage passwords, such as using dual or multiple-factor authentication measures or giving users a finite amount of time to input credentials. However, this practice requires constant updating of access and permissions lists. It can be time-consuming, but the results are worth it.
Whenever possible, look to "as a service" solutions and federated identity and authentication to reduce risk. Many of the database systems that required in-house engineering are now turn-key provided to businesses on demand.
Isolate sensitive databases
It’s very difficult to penetrate database security if sensitive databases are isolated. Depending on how the isolation techniques are deployed, unauthorized users might not even know sensitive information exists. Software-defined perimeters are useful means of isolating sensitive databases so that they don’t appear to be on a particular user’s network.
This approach makes it difficult to take over databases with lateral movement attacks; it’s also effective against zero-day attacks. Isolation strategies are one of the best ways to solidify database security at the access level. Competitive isolation solutions combine this approach with database layer security including key management and encryption.
Change management requires outlining — ideally in advance — what procedures have to take place to safeguard databases during change. Examples of changes include mergers, acquisitions, or simply different users gaining access to various IT resources. It’s necessary to document what changes will take place for secure access to databases and their applications. It’s also important to identify all the applications and IT systems that’ll use that database, in addition to their data flows.
Database auditing usually requires regularly reading the log files for databases and their applications. This information reveals who accessed which repository or app, when they accessed it, and what they did there. If there is unauthorized access to data, timely audits can help reduce the overall impact of breaches by alerting database administrators.
The quicker that organizations can react to data breaches, the more time they have to notify any customers involved and limit the damage done. Database auditing provides centralized oversight for database security as a final step for protection.
Comprehensive auditing also includes collecting logs that will provide additional context to database activity, such as network connections, authentication, and even metrics from host systems (Bytes In/Out, CPU & memory usage).
Modern security solutions
Database security is one of today's most important concerns throughout the data management landscape. You can decrease the ever-growing threats to database security by using many of the approaches described above. There are even comprehensive solutions that reinforce database security that involves many of these techniques.
Sumo Logic gives users real-time insights into their databases and applications and deploys cutting-edge Artificial Intelligence methods to add to the overall protection. Additional capabilities for troubleshooting and system monitoring make Sumo Logic the ultimate platform for fortifying database security. Learn more about how to modernize your security operations.
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