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Open-Source Cloud Databases: Security Best Practices

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Read more about author Gilad David Maayan.

A cloud database runs on a cloud computing platform that delivers it to users as a service. Cloud services offer various cloud databases, including SQL and NoSQL databases. Here are the two main cloud database deployment models: 

  • Use a virtual machine (VM) to run your databases on the cloud privately
  • Purchase access to a database service maintained by a cloud provider 

The main advantage of cloud database services is that the vendor provides and maintains high availability and scalability for the database while making the underlying software stack transparent to users.

What Is Database Security?

Database security, an important branch of information security, involves setting up controls and mechanisms to protect the database and the database management system (DBMS) accessing this data from malicious attacks. The goal is to protect the data’s integrity, availability, and confidentiality and comply with relevant regulations. 

Database security measures should also be applied to the underlying infrastructure, such as the servers hosting the database and any backups. Threat actors constantly create new ways to infiltrate databases because they hold corporate, sensitive, and financial information. This information can be kept hostage for ransom or sold to the highest bidder.

Open-Source Database Security Threats

An open-source database includes code components obtained from a source making software open and free for modification and reuse. Closed-source or proprietary databases, on the other hand, are provided under a license that protects the code to prevent copying and any unauthorized use. 

Because open-source software is exposed to additional risks, the field of open-source security has emerged to help organizations protect their open-source investments against security risks.

Open-source databases are exposed to various security threats, including:

  • Excessive privileges – occur when you grant users more privileges than needed to perform their roles. External and internal threats can use excessive privileges to gain unauthorized access to confidential information. 
  • Privilege abuse – occurs when users misuse their privileges to perform unauthorized actions. 
  • Unauthorized privilege escalation – occurs when attackers convert low-level access to high-level privileges.
  • Platform vulnerabilities – occur when the underlying operating system or platform is vulnerable to data leakage or corruption. 
  • SQL injection – occurs when an actor exploits users to send unauthorized database queries that make the server reveal information. 
  • Denial of Service (DoS) – occurs when a threat actor repeatedly makes service requests to make the resource unavailable to the database. 
  • Backup exposure – occurs when the backup storage media is not protected from attacks.
  • Access control – occurs when there are no access controls to ensure only friendly parties can access the database.

Database Security Best Practices

Secure Database User Access

Securing user access is key to protecting your database. Here are several practices to help you set up and maintain secure access:

Apply the least privileges principle

This principle helps you ensure that each user gets the least amount of database privileges required for their job and no more, including administrators. It also requires that you provide access only during the period a user needs access and revoke it when it is no longer needed. 

Use access management software

Small organizations can apply the least privileges principle manually, but larger organizations need an access management system to manage this process automatically. This software typically uses predefined policies to determine authorized users and provide them with the allowed privileges. It can provide temporary access whenever a user needs access to the database. 

Implement standard security procedures

You should enforce strong passwords and encrypt and add salt to all password hashes. Another standard security procedure for database accounts is to ensure they get locked after three or four login attempts. Additionally, you should set up a procedure that deactivates the account once an employee leaves or moves to a different role.

Identify and Patch Known Open-Source Vulnerabilities

The National Vulnerability Database (NVD) provides a wealth of information on publicly disclosed open-source software vulnerabilities. However, not all vulnerabilities are reported to the NVD. Additionally, NVD records are kept in a format that can make it difficult to determine which component versions are affected by the vulnerability. Ideally, you should use NVD alongside other sources. 

When you determine open-source vulnerabilities affecting your databases, immediately apply the security patch or upgrade to a safe version. In some cases, this might involve refactoring some of your queries or data structures, because the new version may not be fully backward compatible.

Perform Security Testing

Security testing can help you find vulnerabilities and security weaknesses that threaten your database. The goal is to discover security gaps before threat actors can. Depending on your scenario, there are various types of security tests you can implement.

A penetration test is a simulated external attack that can help you discover the ways in which attackers can breach your database. Vulnerability assessments can help you inventory and prioritize vulnerabilities so you can address the most critical issues.

Conclusion

In this article, I explained the basics of database security, and provided a few best practices that will help you secure your databases more effectively:

  • Secure database user access – ensure database user accounts follow the least privilege principle, use strong passwords and encryption.
  • Identify and patch open-source vulnerabilities – as soon as a vulnerability is discovered in your database engine, patch or update it to a safe version.
  • Perform security testing – run both automated security testing and manual penetration testing to identify security weaknesses in your database and remediate them.

I hope this will be useful as you improve the security posture of your database engines.

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