Database administrators, since the inception of their job descriptions, have been responsible for the protection of their organization’s most sensitive database assets. They are tasked with ensuring that key data stores are safeguarded against any type of unauthorized data access.
Since I’ve been a database tech for 25 years now, this series of articles will focus on the database system and some of the actions we can take to secure database data. We won’t be spending time on the multitude of perimeter protections that security teams are required to focus on. Once those mechanisms are breached, the last line of defense for the database environments will be the protections the database administrator has put in place.
You will notice that I will often refer to the McAfee database security protection product set when I describe some of the activities that will need to be performed to protect your environments. If you are truly serious about protecting your database data, you’ll quickly find that partnering with a security vendor is an absolute requirement and not “something nice to have.”
I could go into an in-depth discussion on RDX’s vendor evaluation criteria, but the focus of this series of articles will be on database protection, not product selection. After an extensive database security product analysis, we felt that the breadth and depth of McAfee’s database security offering provided RDX with the most complete solution available.
This is serious business, and you are up against some extremely proficient opponents. To put it lightly, “they are one scary bunch.” Hackers can be classified as intelligent, inquisitive, patient, thorough, driven and more often than not, successful. This combination of traits makes database data protection a formidable challenge. If they target your systems, you will need every tool at your disposal to prevent their unwarranted intrusions.
Upcoming articles will focus on the following key processes involved in the protection of sensitive database data stores:
Evaluating the Most Common Threats and Vulnerabilities
In the first article of this series, I’ll provide a high level overview of the most common threat vectors. Some of the threats we will be discussing will include unpatched database software vulnerabilities, unsecured database backups, SQL Injection, data leaks and a lack of segregation of duties. The spectrum of tactics used by hackers could result in an entire series of articles dedicated to database threats. The scope of these articles is on database protection activities and not a detailed threat vector analysis.
Identifying Sensitive Data Stored in Your Environment
You can’t protect what you don’t know about. The larger your environment, the more susceptible you will be to data being stored that hasn’t been identified as being sensitive to your organization. In this article, I’ll focus on how RDX uses McAfee’s vulnerability scanning software to identify databases that contain sensitive data such as credit card or Social Security numbers stored in clear text. The remainder of the article will focus on identifying other objects that may contain sensitive, and unprotected data, such as test systems cloned from production, database backups, load input files, report output, etc…
Initial and Ongoing Vulnerability Analysis
Determining how the databases are currently configured from a security perspective is the next step to be performed. Their release and patch levels will be identified and compared to vendor security patch distributions. An analysis of how closely support teams adhere to industry and internal security best practices is evaluated at this stage. The types of vulnerabilities will range the spectrum, from weak and default passwords to unpatched (and often well known) database software weaknesses.
Ranking the vulnerabilities allows the highest priority issues to be addressed more quickly than their less important counterparts. After the vulnerabilities are addressed, the configuration is used as a template for future database implementations. Subsequent scans, run on a scheduled basis, will ensure that no new security vulnerabilities are introduced into the environment.
Database Data Breach Monitoring
Most traditional database auditing mechanisms are designed to report data access activities after they have occurred. There is no alerting mechanism. Auditing is activated, the data is collected and reports are generated that allow the various activities performed in the database to be analyzed for the collected time period.
Identifying a data breach after the fact is not database protection. It is database reporting. To protect databases we are tasked with safeguarding, we need a solution that has the ability to alert or alert and stop the unwarranted data accesses from occurring.
RDX found that McAfee’s Database Activity Monitoring product provides the real time protection we were looking for. McAfee’s product has the ability to identify, terminate and quarantine a user that violates a predefined set of database security policies.
To be effective, database breach protection must be configured as a stand-alone, and separated, architecture. Otherwise, internal support personnel could deactivate the breach protection service by mistake or deliberate intention. This separation of duties is an absolute requirement for most industry compliance regulations such as HIPAA, PCI DSS and SOX. The database must be protected from both internal and external threat vectors.
In an upcoming article of this series, we’ll learn more about real-time database activity monitoring and the benefits it provides to organizations that require a very high level of protection for their database data stores.
Ongoing Database Security Strategies
Once the database vulnerabilities have been identified and addressed, the challenge is to ensure that the internal support team’s future administrative activities do not introduce any additional security vulnerabilities into the environment.
In this article, I’ll prove recommendations on a set of robust, documented security controls and best practices that will assist you in your quest to safeguard your database data stores.
A documented plan to quickly address new database software vulnerabilities is essential to their protection. The hacker’s “golden window of zero day opportunity” exists from when the software’s weakness is identified until the security patch that addresses it is applied.
Separation of duties must also be considered. Are the same support teams that are responsible for your vulnerability scans, auditing and administering your database breach protection systems also accessing your sensitive database data stores?
Reliable controls that include support role separation and the generation of audit records that ensure proper segregation of duties so that even privileged users cannot bypass security will need to be implemented.
Significant data breach announcements are publicized on a seemingly daily basis. External hackers and rogue employees continuously search for new ways to steal sensitive information. There is one component that is common to many thefts – the database data store. You need a plan to safeguard them. If not, your organization may be the next one that is highlighted on the evening news.
Hi, welcome to RDX! Amid constant news of data breaches, ever wonder what's causing all of them? IBM and Ponemon's Global Breach Analysis can give you a rundown.
While some could blame employee mishaps or poor security, hacking is the number one cause of many data breaches, most of which are massive in scale. For example, when Adobe was hacked, approximately 152 million records were compromised.
As you can imagine, databases were prime targets. When eBay lost 145 million records to perpetrators earlier this year, hackers used the login credentials of just a few employees and then targeted databases holding user information.
To prevent such trespasses from occurring, organizations should employ active database monitoring solutions that scrutinize login credentials to ensure the appropriate personnel gain entry.
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