Learn what Database Security is and related concepts like security threats, best practices to follow, testing types, techniques, testing processes, etc.:
In this tutorial, we will explore what is database security, the type of database threat that exists, the importance of securing our database, and some tools that you can use to perform Database Security Testing.
We will also learn about Database Security best practices, types of database security testing, processes, and techniques.
What Is Database Security
Database security is the control and measures put in place for the protection of databases from malicious attacks. This is also the procedure that is followed to secure the database management system that accesses this data.
Many organizations today overlook database security, and they forget that the utmost aim of any attacker in any organization is to have access to their databases that store important and sensitive information and steal that vital data.
Standard database security contains different security controls, tools, and measures that are designed to protect the Database Management System (DBMS). The aim is to protect the confidentiality, integrity, and availability of corporate information.
Every business should put database security measures in place by protecting the underlying infrastructure for the database like the network and servers.
Attackers are always devising a new method to infiltrate databases and steal the data of corporate organizations and this always happens every day. This means that every organization must ensure that their database bank is strong enough to withstand any attacks.
Database Security Best Practices
We currently have various approaches to database security but there are some best practices that some organizations need to implement in order to keep their databases safer.
These database security best practices are implemented in other to minimize vulnerabilities within an organization while maximizing the protection of their database.
While these approaches can be implemented separately, they work well together to protect your corporate database.
Some of these approaches include:
- You need to restrict unauthorized access, use very strong credentials, and implement multi-factor access.
- Conduct load/stress testing on the database to determine that it does not crash during a distributed denial of service (DDoS) attack or during the user’s access.
- There is a need to provide physical security like locking the server rooms and having security teams monitor every physical access to the server room.
- The physical hardware needs regular maintenance and there is a need to have a proper disaster recovery plan in place, like backing up the database regularly to mitigate against disasters that could occur.
- It is good practice not to host web servers and applications on the same server that contains the database.
- Any existing system will need to be reviewed to ensure that there are no vulnerabilities within and set up a plan to mitigate any vulnerabilities found.
- Implement a data encryption system that will protect the integrity and confidentiality of corporate data. This encrypts data whether in motion or at rest and before someone can access it, there is a need to decrypt it using the right key.
- The configuration of firewalls in the perimeter layer is a database security best practice. This helps prevent attackers from accessing an organization’s network to steal or corrupt data. We also have Web application firewalls (WAF) that deliver the same benefits as traditional firewalls.
- Database encryption is one of the most effective database security practices because it is implemented where the data are in the database. The data can either be encrypted in motion as well as at rest.
- Managing passwords and permissions is very critical for maintaining database security. This job is usually performed by security personnel who maintain an access control list of managed passwords and other dual or multiple authentications.
- Implementing the isolation of sensitive databases will always make access to the database very difficult. Any unauthorized person will not find it easy to identify the sensitive database and in some instances may not even know that such a thing exists.
- There is a need to put change management in place and this will help to outline all the processes that will be used to protect databases during any changes. It is very necessary to document the changes made and this is necessary to protect the corporate database.
- Conducting database auditing is quite important and requires regular reading of the log files of the application and the database. This log is usually used for audit purposes like knowing who accessed the database when it was accessed and what action was performed on the database.
Effects of Poor Database Security
Database security is something very essential for every corporate firm that has an online presence. If there is no database security in place, then it could cause data loss or data compromise which may have a serious negative impact on a company both in terms of finances and reputation.
While enforcement of database security may not be easy, the practices are very pivotal for every company that puts the security of their resources as paramount.
Given below is the effect of a database leak from an unprotected organization:
- Damaging Effect on the Brand: Whenever a breach is confirmed on a company, then it usually affects the brand and reputation of the organization as customers and business partners will lose trust and faith in the company protecting their data. The negative effect is very disastrous as many people will back out from patronizing them.
- Damaging Effect on Business Continuity: Many firms that were hit by database intrusion never came out well from the attack, while some could not operate until the breach was put to a close. This effect has closed so many businesses, that’s the very reason why every organization must buy the idea of database security into their business continuity plan (BCP).
- Damaging Effect on Intellectual Property: If there is a database intrusion, then there is every possibility that some sensitive, proprietary documents, business secrets, and other forms of intellectual property will be stolen or exposed to the public. This is never good for business as competitors can make use of the situation.
- Damaging Effect on Finance: When there is a confirmed data breach, an organization will always spend money on communication to customers, managing the situation, necessary repair of the compromised system, and the financial cost of an investigation like a forensic investigation.
- Payment of Fines and Penalties: Security is something very serious and is the reason why we have various standards that every organization must comply with other to continue operations. If they fail to comply then they could either receive a fine or a penalty. We have standards like General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI DSS), Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), and many more.
Types Of Threats On Database
Even though we have so many internal and external threats to databases, we will be discussing a few of them in this tutorial.
#1) Unrestrained Database Privileges
This usually occurs when database users are granted multiple privileges within a system that leads to privileged abuse which could be excessive, legitimate, or unused abuse. This act can be carried out either by current staff or ex-staff of a company.
There are some controls that need to be implemented are shown below:
- Make all efforts to implement a very strict access control and privilege control policy.
- Make sure that you do not grant or approve excessive privileges to all employees and try as much as possible to set aside time to deactivate any outdated privileges immediately.
#2) SQL Injections
This type of SQL injection attack happens when a malicious code is injected via the web application front-end and then passed to the back-end. This process allows the attacker to have absolute access to the data stored in the database.
The aim is usually to steal data or corrupt data. SQL injection targets traditional databases while NoSQL injections target big data databases.
#3) Poor Audit Trail
According to some security standards, there is a need for every event on a database to be recorded for audit purposes. If you cannot present evidence of a database audit log, then it can constitute a very serious security risk because whenever an intrusion occurs, it cannot be investigated.
#4) Exposed Database Backups
Every organization needs a very good backup plan but when a backup is exposed they are open to compromise and theft. We had many security breaches that were successful just because the database backup was exposed.
Encryption and auditing of production databases and backups is the best form of securing corporate sensitive data.
#5) Misconfiguration Of Database
Some of the threats found in the database are as a result of misconfiguration of the database. Attackers usually take advantage of the database that has a default account and configuration setting.
This is a red flag that when configuring the database there should not be anything like a default account and the setting should be configured in such a way that it will be difficult for an intruder.
#6) The Lack Of Security Expertise
If there is a lack of security expertise and when there is no basic database security rules in place, then this could cause a data breach. Security personnel may lack the knowledge required to implement security controls and other security policies.
#7) Denial of Service (DoS)
This is the type of attack that affects the availability of service, it affects the database server performance and makes database service unavailable to users.
For instance, if there is a request for very important financial data and the database is not accessible due to DoS, then this could result in the loss of money.
#8) Poor Management Of Data
Some corporate organizations fail to manage their sensitive data in the right way, they fail to keep an accurate inventory of their data, and thereby some of this sensitive data could get into the wrong hands. If a proper inventory is not done for the new data added into the database then this could be exposed.
The reason why encrypting data while at rest is very important and implementing the necessary permissions and controls on it.
Database Security Testing
Why do we conduct Database Security Testing? This test is carried out to discover any weaknesses or vulnerabilities in the configuration of the database security and to mitigate against any unwanted access to the database.
All sensitive data must be protected from intruders, which is why regular security checks are very vital and compulsory.
Given below are the major reasons as to why Database Security Testing is compulsory:
This process involves testing different layers based on business requirements. The layers to be tested include the Business layer, Access layer, and UI layer.
Database Testing Process
- Preparation E.g. Environment
- Conduct Test
- Evaluate the Results
- Accurate Reporting
Recommended Reading => Complete Database Testing Guide
Types of Database Security Testing
- Penetration Testing: It is the process of simulating a cyber-attack against a network, computer system, or web application to detect any vulnerabilities within.
- Vulnerability Scanning: This is the use of a scanner to scan a system for any known vulnerabilities for proper remediation and vulnerability patching.
- Security Audit: It is the process of evaluating the implementation and conformity of an organization’s security policies and standards.
- Risk Assessment: This is the overall process of identifying all the hazards and risks that have the ability to cause serious harm to a system.
Benefits of Using Database Testing Tool
The main reason why we use the tool is that it executes tasks faster and this saves time. Most of the present-day testing techniques are carried out with some of these tools.
We have both paid as well as free testing tools online that can be harnessed and very simple to understand and use both effectively and efficiently. These tools can be classified into Load and Performance testing tools, Test Generator tools, and SQL-based tools.
As it’s very certain that some sort of Instability can be found in the database, this necessitated the DB testing to be conducted before launching an application.
This test has to be conducted very early in the software development life cycle to know the vulnerability that exists within the database system and using some of these tools will facilitate the detection efficiently and effectively.
If there is a database crash, then this will make the complete application or system worthless and this could lead to more end results. The reason why periodic testing is important is that it will ensure productivity in the system.
List of Few Best Database Testing Tools
- Data Factory
- Mockup Data
- DTM Data Generator
- MS SQL Server
- SQL Test
- Oracle SQL Developer
- NoSQL Unit
- Se Lite
Suggested Reading => Comprehensive List Of Database Testing Tools
Database Security Testing Techniques
During database security testing, there are different testing techniques that can be implemented. We shall be discussing some of these techniques below:
#1) Penetration Testing
This is an intentional attack on a system with the aim of finding security vulnerabilities, through which an attacker can gain access to the entire system that includes the database. If a weakness is found, then the immediate action is to fix and mitigate any threat such a vulnerability could cause.
#2) Risk Assessment
This is a process of conducting a risk assessment to determine the level of risk involved with the type of database security configuration implemented, and the possibility of finding the vulnerability. This assessment is usually carried out by security experts who can analyze the amount of risk involved in a process
#3) SQL Injection Validation
This involves proper sanitization of values that are inserted into the database. For instance, entering some special character like ‘,’ or entering some keywords like SELECT statement should be disallowed in any application.
If this validation check is not put in place, then a database that understands query language will treat the query as a valid request.
If the inputs pop a database error, it then means that the request has gone to the database desk and has been executed either with a positive or negative response. In such a scenario the database is very vulnerable to SQL Injection.
SQL Injection is a major attacking vector today because with it the attacker will gain access to the application database that contains very sensitive data.
The interface this attack is usually perpetrated are the input forms on the application and to resolve this then appropriate input sanitization must be added to the code. SQL Injection validation must be conducted on every bracket, commas, and quotation marks used on the input interface.
#4) Password Cracking
It is always very important to ascertain during testing that a strong password policy is maintained in the system. So when conducting penetration testing it’s very important to check if this password policy is followed, we can do this by behaving like a hacker that uses a password-cracking tool or guess a different username/password.
Companies that develop or use financial applications must make sure that they set strict password policies on their database management system.
#5) Security Audit
At a regular interval, there is a need for a security audit to be conducted in order to evaluate an organization’s security policies and to ascertain if the standards are followed or not.
There are different businesses with their peculiar security standards, once these standards are set, there is no going back on following these standards. If anyone fails to follow any of these standards, then it will be counted as a serious fallout. One example of a security standard is ISO 27001.
Frequently Asked Questions
Q #1) What are the types of Security Testing?
- Penetration testing
- Vulnerability scanning
- Security audit
- Risk assessment
Q #2) What are the Database Security issues?
- Unrestrained Database Privileges
- SQL Injections
- Poor Audit Trail
- Exposed database backups
- Lack of security expertise
- Misconfiguration of Database
- Denial of service
Q #3) What are Security Testing Tools?
Answer: These are the types of testing tools that are used to discover vulnerabilities, threats, and risks within an application, and the same is immediately mitigated to prevent any malicious attack.
Q #4) How do you do Security Testing?
- Testing access points.
- Testing the malicious script.
- Testing the protection level of data.
- Testing for error handling.
Every organization should make their database security an integral part of their daily business as data is key. They should not think about the cost that will be spent on putting the structure in place rather they should think of the cost-effectiveness.
There are various testing tools that any company can subscribe to and integrate into their security testing plan.
By the time you check the effect of poor database security on some organizations, you will see the havoc that was caused and how some never survived it. So the advice here is to take the security of your database very seriously.