In almost every organization, the database is a mission-critical system that holds sensitive data. And that makes databases a prime target for attackers. While there are many ways to protect a database, from secure database configuration to secure coding practices at the application layer, an often overlooked aspect is endpoint security. Every organization must consider whether the physical host running the database server is secured -- and use the most advanced endpoint security technology to ensure that attackers cannot compromise it.
What Is a Database?A database is an organized collection of information logically modeled and stored on easily accessible hardware, like a computer. A computer database can store data records or files containing information, such as customer data, financial information, and sales transactions. Aggregating this information together in a database enables you to observe and analyze it.
Usually, a database requires a database management system, a computer program that enables database users to access, manipulate, and interact with the database. There are various database management systems, each suitable for different database types. Common types of databases include NoSQL, object-oriented databases, and relational databases.
Types of Databases
Relational DatabaseA relational database stores structured data. It typically organizes data in tables. Each row represents a record within a table with a unique ID (a key), and a column represents data attributes. As a result of this schema, each record holds a value for each attribute, establishing relationships among various data points. Relational databases are ideal for information that requires high levels of integrity and less flexibility in terms of scalability.
NoSQL DatabaseA NoSQL database lets you store unstructured (non-relational) data. The lack of structure enables NoSQL databases to quickly process large amounts of data. It is also easier to expand and scale NoSQL databases. You can find many NoSQL databases hosted in various clouds.
Object-oriented DatabaseAn object-oriented database is a relational database that represents data as an object—an item like a phone number or a name—or a class—a group of objects. Object-oriented databases are ideal for massive amounts of complex data that require quick processing.
Cloud DatabaseA cloud-based database stores data on a server in a remote data center, managed by a third-party cloud provider. The cloud provider might manage only the hardware and physical infrastructure (an IaaS model), or manage the database software itself (a PaaS model). Users can access and manage the database using the public Internet or a private network connection.
Cloud databases are delivered by vendors via the shared responsibility model. The cloud vendor provides security features, like encryption to protect data at rest and in transit, but customers must secure their data and ensure secure configuration of the database system.
Distributed DatabaseA distributed database stores information in different physical sites. You can set it up so that the database is spread out across multiple locations or resides on multiple CPUs at a single site. A distributed database establishes connections between its multiple components, ensuring end-users view the information as a single database. It is ideal for scenarios that require limiting the available information and less redundancy.
What Is Database Security and Why Is It Important?Database security involves protecting and securing a database from unauthorized access and usage, malicious intrusion, data misuse, and various damage. Database security provides coverage for the database itself, the data it contains, the associated database management system, and all the applications that access the database.
Data security employs various processes, methodologies, and tools to ensure the security of a database environment. It is an essential practice for organizations that employ several interrelated databases and database management systems that work with their applications. Database security can help prevent data breaches and reduce the scope of damage during disasters.
Database Security ThreatsDatabase security threats put your information at risk. Common data security threats include data theft, privacy breaches, unauthorized access, fraud, availability disruption, and integrity issues. These threats can originate from malicious human actions, natural disasters, unintentional accidents, or random events.
Here are common database security threats to watch out for.
- SQL injection occurs when threat actors send unauthorized database queries that manipulate the server into revealing information. You can mitigate this threat by using prepared SQL statements.
- Denial of Service (DoS) attacks occur when threat actors repeatedly request service until they slow it down or render it unavailable for legitimate users. You can mitigate this threat by monitoring and controlling inbound and outbound traffic.
- Overly permissive privileges occur when users have more privileges than required to perform their responsibilities or gain access to restricted information. You can mitigate this issue by using query-level access control.
- Privilege abuse occurs when users misuse their privileges to perform unauthorized actions. You can mitigate this threat by using access control policies.
- Unauthorized privilege escalation occurs when threat actors escalate low-level access privileges to higher-level privileges. You can mitigate this by applying the “least privilege” principle.
- Platform vulnerabilities occur when a platform or operating system is vulnerable to data leakage or corruption. You can mitigate this threat by using an efficient patch management and vulnerability assessment process.
- Backup exposure occurs when a backup storage media is not protected against attacks. For example, ransomware attacks target data and may destroy any unprotected backup copies to ensure victims have no other choice but to pay the ransom. You can mitigate this threat by limiting access to backups and using secure devices.
Endpoint Security for DatabasesWhile there are many security threats facing production databases, one of the most severe is the risk of attackers compromising the database server itself. By compromising the server, an attacker can not only steal data from the database, but also sabotage it, causing business disruption, or use the database server as a foothold to gain access to other critical systems.
Endpoint protection solutions consist of software deployed on endpoints like computers and mobile devices, providing several layers of security that prevent attackers from compromising the endpoint. It is especially important to deploy endpoint security on a database server.
Endpoint security solutions typically provide:
- Advanced antimalware protection that is effective against fileless malware, ransomware, and other new types of malware that might not be blocked by legacy antivirus.
- Behavioral analysis based on machine learning to detect zero-day threats.
- Web filtering to ensure that users of a device do not visit unsafe websites.
- Data classification and data loss prevention (DLP) to prevent data loss and exfiltration.
- Integrated device firewall to protect against network attacks.
- Access to forensics on the device to allow security teams to easily triage and respond to threats on the endpoint.
- Insider threat protection to identify anomalous user behavior and prevent insiders from abusing their privileges.
- Disk encryption to prevent attackers from stealing data on the device.
- Lightweight endpoint security agent—database server performance is critical to business operations, so it is important to select a solution with an agent that has minimal impact on device performance.
- Operating system support—ensure that the solution supports your database server’s operating system, whether it is Windows, Mac, or specific Linux distributions.
- Centralized monitoring and management—the solution should allow security teams to monitor database servers across the organization on one console, identify threats, and take immediate action.
- Endpoint detection and response (EDR)—advanced endpoint security solutions include EDR, which helps security analysts identify breaches taking place on an endpoint, easily gain access to forensic information to investigate the incident, and rapidly respond. This is especially important for a database server, where every second counts in case of an attack.
Types of Endpoint Security SolutionsHere are popular endpoint security solutions for databases.
Endpoint Detection and Response ToolsEndpoint detection and response (EDR) tools can be deployed directly on a database server. They aggregate threat information from managed endpoints and analyze it, looking for abnormal behavior that may indicate a security breach. These tools can help security teams identify a breach happening on a database server and facilitate faster response time to reduce the impact of an attack.
Managed Detection and Response ServicesManaged detection and response (MDR) services provide remote cybersecurity monitoring, detection, and response. Organizations without full-time security staff can employ MDR services to obtain the expertise and tooling needed for effective endpoint security coverage. Using MDR services for critical systems like database servers can dramatically improve the time to detect and respond to cyber attacks.
Extended Detection and Response PlatformsExtended detection and response (XDR) technology provide a centralized platform for threat detection and response across all endpoints and networks.
XDR combines network monitoring with endpoint monitoring to provide clearer visibility into database attacks. This is important because most attacks do not start on the database server itself, and it is common for attackers to conduct reconnaissance or other activities elsewhere on the network, which can help identify an attack.
XDR platforms automatically collect and correlate data across all security layers, effectively breaking down data silos that may hide malware and other threats to database systems.
ConclusionIn this article, I explained the basics of database security and introduced three types of security solutions that can dramatically improve security for database servers:
- EDR—software deployed on the database server itself that can detect breaches and help security analysts rapidly respond.
- MDR—managed services that can enlist the help of outsourced security experts to secure database servers and other critical systems.
- XDR—a security platform that can combine data from endpoints with security events on networks, email, cloud platforms, and other parts of the IT environment to detect evasive and sophisticated attacks.
Gilad David Maayan is a technology writer who has worked with over 150 technology companies including SAP, Samsung NEXT, NetApp and Imperva, producing technical and thought leadership content that elucidates technical solutions for developers and IT leadership.
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