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The 3 Biggest Database Threats and What Your Security Plan Should Look Like

Serving as the storekeeper of your most sensitive assets, from college admissions applications to resumes of executives, databases are relied upon by organizations worldwide to warehouse and make accessible their information.

They are your modern-day treasure chest, essential in helping you manage your data in a world where bits and bytes are growing at staggering rates. Contemporary database systems are rich in features that enable fast, convenient and flexible entry, storage and retrieval.

Of course, the value that databases bring in managing large quantities of information also lead to arguably their biggest downside: security concerns. Between the allure of huge data sets sitting all in one place and the potential security risks that default-enabled features bring – not to mention increasing cloud deployments and the risk that patching will break something – databases require their own specific security attention. If not, something bad may happen, as I alluded to at the start of this post with references to college applications and executive resumes.

To help you avoid similar adverse fate, let’s discuss the primary threats facing databases and some quick reminders of how you can keep them safeguarded from both attacks and mistakes.

1) Credential Threats

Weak password management and authentication schemes allow attackers to assume the identity of legitimate database users. Specific attack strategies include brute force attacks and social engineering, namely phishing.

2) Privilege Threats

When a user accidentally misuses access rights that were granted properly, or when an admin grants a user excessive access rights by oversight or out of negligence, it can result in privilege abuse, or more malevolent, privilege escalation.

  • Privileged account abuse occurs when the privileges associated with a user account are used inappropriately or fraudulently: maliciously or accidentally, or through willful ignorance of policies.
  • Privilege escalation involves attackers taking advantage of vulnerabilities in database management software to convert low-level access privileges to high-level access privileges. Privilege escalation requires more effort and knowledge than simple privilege abuse. 

3) System Threats

A myriad of other things could trip up database security. These include:

  1. SQL injections: a perennially top attack type that exploits vulnerabilities in web applications to control their database.
  2. Missing patches: Once a vulnerability is published, which typically happens around the time a patch is released, hacking automation tools start to include exploits for it. For context, 119 vulnerabilities were patched in five of the most common databases in 2017, according to the 2018 Trustwave Global Security Report.
  3. Audits: Databases are key components in breach investigations and compliance audits. Audit logs are mandated by the General Data Protection Regulation, Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard, Sarbanes-Oxley, Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act and more, yet it is still a significant issue. And following an incident, you don’t want to be in a position where you can only tell that something bad happened, but you cannot get detailed information about what exactly happened.
  4. Cloud: Purchasing third-party database systems can lead to a lack of visibility, control and transparency because they will most likely not be provided with a full-service description detailing exactly how the platform works and the security processes the vendor operates.

As a complement to the database security methodology detailed here, here are some quick tips to remember when setting up strategy for locking down your information repositories.

✔ Inventory existing installations.
✔ Make sure everything is properly patched.
✔ Disable unused functionality.
✔ Drop unnecessary privileges.
✔ Use strong encryption.
✔ Enable auditing.
✔ Validate application code.

For more information on how real-life CISOs are constructing their database security programs, check out this e-book.

Dan Kaplan is senior manager of online content at Trustwave.

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