A Guide to Overcome Security Challenges in Database Systems

By CIOReview | Friday, July 22, 2016

As databases take over the traditional, paper-based information storage methods, assuring security, integrity, and confidentiality of data is a major concern to the organizations.  By offering the convenience of virtual storage of large volumes of sensitive records such as  customer data, financial and business information,  and human resource records, databases  alleviate the burden of manual systems of reporting and reduce expensive, convoluted data management practices. Aside these benefits, users are ensured timely access to relevant information in just click of the mouse. As the popularity and adoption rates of the cloud-based databases increases across businesses of varied sizes and industries, warding off threats in real time with the internal, external, and intra-databases requires a set of cogent security solutions. Even as the CIOs and firms churn out to find the best software and security practices from the endless list of tools and solutions available in the market, the risk of breaches and attacks on database systems are staggeringly high.  

As per the information by the ITRC (Identity Theft Resource Center) Breach 2015, nearly 40 percent of the breaches were publicly reported in the same year, representing a rise of nearly 8.1 percent from the previous year. To help bring in more insights on various  facets of the attacks on a database and offer control measures without having implications on the organizations’ existing infrastructure, expenditure, and business decisions, the article provides a thorough chalk-talk on the types of risks and benefits of having appropriate database security solutions.

Threat Factors that Make Security Tools a Must for Databases

• Various legal and ethical issues related to gaining access to certain information that result in identity and data thefts could be averted with the right security systems in hand. The issue of security breaches and infiltration of confidential or personal data necessitates the need for intense security firewalls in the form of platforms that directly go-to source of threats.
• Policy and compliance related issues at the government, institutional, or corporate level on encryption of content like credit ratings and personal medical records weaken the credibility of the data repositories in companies and institutions.
• The risk of  physical damage to database servers caused due to  computer room fires, overheating, lightning, static discharge, accidental liquid spills, electronic breakdowns or equipment failures, and obsolescence drive companies to rethink their existing security strategies and implement virtual, cloud-based software to avoid data loss from hardware devices and other form of data records.
• The need to identify multiple security levels and categorize the data according to the users and degree of confidentiality further influences the decision of companies to implement database security best practices and applications.  
• Password vulnerabilities and unauthorized access become a target point for attacks and infiltration by external sources.
• Data corruption and loss caused by the entry of invalid data or commands, error in system administration processes or criminal damage are most probable factors that pose security problems in databases.

Control measures

In order to the control the incidence of data breach, it is necessary that the safety measures are taken right from the design phase. Recent approaches ensure database security, address the security concerns and provide protection at all levels—physical, application, network, host, and data. It is necessary to empower databases against threats by defining control measures at four levels—access control, inference control, flow control, and data encryption.

Access control

Simply put, it is a very common security technique used to prevent any unauthorized user from accessing the system, either to obtain information or to make any modification in the database.

Inference Control

The next control measure, inference control is an endeavor to protect the data so it can be shared with specific user without disclosing the irrelevant and confidential matter such as health statistics, official statistics, and others information with outsiders.

Monitoring the Data Flow

The control on data flow into a variety of sources, either between computers or nodes in a network or among multiple stakeholders, restricts the chances of breaches, malware attacks, infiltration, and accidental deletion of records from the data base. A multitude of security systems closely monitor loopholes in the existing networks, firewalls, manage to secure data a fairly efficient pace. In cases when the data overflows, the risk of loss and the need to reenter the lost information become a reason to onboard security applications to lessen the damage to an organization’s reputation.

Data Encryption

The final control measure, data encryption, protects sensitive data like credit card numbers, passwords, and other information received through communication network. Encryption assists in providing advanced protection for sensitive portions of a database. Upon encrypting information with the helps of  codes, the same data is transmitted to the right sources which  have right credentials to access information by decrypting.

Today, there is no dearth of solutions that are incredibly adaptable promising benefits like security, compliance, and complete protection to the entire process of data transfer and storage. The core intention behind leveraging database security tools is to mostly lay the best protection ideas to relational database management system. The technology that facilitates these activities are outlined below:

Database Activity Monitoring (DAM): DAM technology monitors and tracks authorized user access to the database. One of the main reasons to use DAM tool is to monitor the data usage. It keeps track of login and logout reports as well as  the overall system activity.

Most of the web applications are backed by databases, but since the user interface takes higher importance to keep customers bound, databases are often left unprotected by application developers. Hence, they are prone to attacks like SQL injections. These attacks can be blocked by web application firewalls, but that’s not the final solution because firewall eliminates only some of the SQL injections.

Combining DAM product with database firewalls can tackle such security issues completely without making much modification in the application code to protect from SQL injections and other vulnerabilities. The cost of altering the application code is much less compared to entire development cost of the application. For this reason, organizations turn toward add-on tools that provide solution to these attacks.

Vulnerability Assessment Scanner: Assessment scanners are used to sporadically scrutinize databases for known security issues and internal compliance. Some regulations mandate a regular database assessment for security issues and policy compliance. Database assessment tools validate configuration settings, operating-system level settings and also information that are configured and stored in the system.  Assessment tool uses specific software to check the presence of common threats as well as covers overall database security best practices to ensure protection to the database. It also examines databases and allows the compliance and security team to validate if administrators are doing their work.

Most of the databases in recent times come with fundamental security checker.  It’s wise to use third party vulnerability assessment tools because it not only offers basic security checker but also provides additional features like reconfiguration, analysis, and basic workarounds. Another benefit of using third party vendor tool is that it is designed with non-technical end user in mind.

Masking and Tokenization: These two technologies are used to eliminate sensitive information and thus take out database from compliance scope and test data management.  Tokenization protects database in a unique way, it swaps sensitive data with a substitute that acts exactly the way original data behaves. In this way, the application continues to work as usual and there is no risk of data getting lost or stolen.

However, tokenization becomes weak when it has to address large amount of complex data used for statistics and analytics; that’s when Data Masking comes into picture. As the name of the technology suggests, it masks the original sensitive contents preserving the aggregate value of a database.

Database security tools

Tools like Fortinet FortiDB, IBM Guardium, Imperva SecureSphere, and Vormetric are some of the preliminary appliance driven products. The McAfee products, HP Security Voltage, Protegrity USA and Trustwave DbProtect are commonly sought   software-based products, and Oracle Advanced Security is another option with Oracle Database Enterprise Edition. These tools can help organizations to take a swift action when it is required to keep the database safe.


Databases are the significant assets of businesses, which are needed to have data access and storage support round the clock. Database security should not be taken lightly because ignoring it can cost millions to the firm. Database security should be given highest priority, after all data is the vital asset of an organization. By providing an overall secured strategy for the environment and choosing the right tools, administrator can boost all the units to work together to meet the companies’ general security requirements.