10 Database Security Best Practices

Introduction

Database security is a range of steps taken to protect the database management system from a security compromise. Implementing and regularly following specific procedures helps retain the database's reliability.

The consequences of not having a database security plan are severe, ranging from data loss to unauthorized access or even system downtime. However, some disasters are avoidable by following well-known practices.

This article describes the best security practices to protect your database system.

Database Security Best Practices

What is Database Security?

Database security is a blend of controls and countermeasures for securing a database management system. The best practices involve all aspects of data center and information security, physical and digital.

The more accessible and available a database is, the less secure it becomes. As users must access the data from a database, security precautions exist. Follow as many security practices as possible to protect data integrity.

Database Security Challenges

Database security challenges stem from the wide range of security threats. Keep in mind the possible dangers and address each issue before a compromise happens. The common database maintenance problems include:

  • Human error.
  • Insider threats.
  • Software vulnerabilities.
  • Malware.
  • Backup attacks.
  • Physical location security.

Important: Did you know that ransomware attacks can modify or delete a backup? Learn more about immutable backups - a technique used to prevent this from happening.

Database Security Best Practices

The security features protect one or more of the following database aspects:

  • The physical location of the database server.
  • The network infrastructure for accessing the database.
  • The data inside the database.
  • The database management system.
  • Applications related to the database.
Layers of database security

Database security has a layered structure. The outside layers encapsulate the inner layers of security closest to the data, providing a barrier of protection around the database.

Use Firewalls

Firewalls improve storage security by denying access to unwanted traffic. With a proper configuration, a firewall only allows incoming and outgoing database traffic where necessary. Any suspicious connection attempt from a known or unknown source gets filtered out.

Without a firewall, possible compromises range from data breaches to DDoS attacks.

Use Secure Applications and Software

Make sure the applications and software that communicate with the database are separately secured. Any external applications should have their own firewalls and set of protection layers.

For example, a web application communicating with the database is allowed access to the data. The database's firewall settings whitelist the application, regardless of whether the application is secure or not. If a vulnerability exists in the application, the database automatically has backdoor access and is also vulnerable to attacks such as SQL injections.

To prevent such cases, using a web server firewall helps secure your database from external attacks.

Practice Database Encryption

Encryption is one of the best security practices for databases and in general. Whether your data is at rest or in transit, encrypting information ensures the data is unreadable for anyone without the encryption key.

Encrypting all stored backups is a good countermeasure as well. Store the decryption keys separately from the encrypted data and follow other key management guidelines to avoid security issues.

Secure User Access

Keep the number of users with access to the database at a minimum. If possible, grant privileges only during the times when a user is operating on the database.

Insider threats come from a person who has privileges to the database. Whether the intent is malicious or accidental, inside breaches often happen due to too many users having privileged access to the database.

Although group roles are impractical for small businesses where there are fewer people, they should be enforced. Instead of granting individuals permissions for specific situations, group roles keep a generalized approach to permissions. As a business grows, employees join already established groups, which is convenient. Likewise, any changes to permissions will apply based on an employee's role in the business instead of on an individual level.

Additionally, standard account security procedures apply, such as:

  • Using strong passwords.
  • Employing encrypted password hashes.
  • No shared passwords or accounts (including administrators).
  • Automatic locking of accounts after multiple failed login attempts.
  • Deactivating all unused and former employee accounts.

Perform Regular Updates

Always use the latest database management software version. Keep the operating system up to date to stay protected against the most recent security issues.

Any third-party application connecting to the database is a potential security problem. Keep all plug-ins up to date to avoid external weaknesses. Ensure that all database security controls are enabled by default, especially if the database connects to multiple third-party applications.

Perform Regular Backups

Regular backups are an important security practice, especially for databases. In case of any compromise or data loss, backups help restore valuable information. The backup versions of databases often have historical data, which is sensitive to compromise. To avoid sacrificing data integrity, keep the backups secure and access limited.

Practice Monitoring

Be aware of database activity and monitor all information. Keep logs of who, when, and which part of a database is accessed. Track all login attempts, including failed ones. Data monitoring helps provide insight into any suspicious activity and attempts at unauthorized access.

Likewise, keep track of the devices connecting to the database. Make sure all devices that relate to the server are secure and authorized.

Perform Security Testing

After implementing all the necessary security precautions, perform penetration tests. Try to find unguarded parts of a database, conduct vulnerability assessments, and address newfound issues immediately.

The idea is to discover vulnerabilities before someone else does. Use penetration testing tools as well as vulnerability scanning tools to aid you in the discovery. If possible, perform all tests and scans before a database goes live.

Define Clear Security Procedures

Make sure to clearly define the security procedures for various situations. Apart from user privileges, set up guidelines to comply with other business policies, such as data protection policies, cloud security, etc.

Additionally, establish security training and awareness programs alongside other assessments to support and fully define security procedures. Common reasons for data breaches are accidents, bad habits, or lack of knowledge. Never assume that a security practice is common knowledge and obvious for everyone.

Note: Use enterprise password management solutions to secure employee passwords.

Maintain Hardware Security

The most overlooked aspect of database security is physical security. Data centers and private servers are vulnerable to physical attacks and disasters, which are often hard to detect.

Whether the information is stored on-premises or in-cloud, proper cooling systems and security protocols help keep a database safe. Adding physical protection means, such as cameras, locks, and staff, is essential. Log any access to the physical location of the servers as well.

Why Is Database Security Important?

Keeping data safe is a high-priority security task. Database security helps guard information against disastrous situations. Some consequences of a database breach are:

  • Fines and penalties for non-compliance.
  • Costly repairs.
  • Compromise of intellectual property.
  • Damage to reputation.

Conclusion

Database integrity includes many security aspects. This article outlines just some of the best security practices to keep your information system safe.

For more security topics, check out our list of 21 Server Security Tips to Secure Your Server.

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Milica Dancuk
Milica Dancuk is an aspiring technical writer at phoenixNAP and a data nerd. Her background in Electrical Engineering and Computing and her teaching experience give her a unique set of skills - being able to easily explain complex technical concepts through her content.
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