What Is Database Security?

5 min. read

Database security is the set of measures, policies, and practices employed to protect a database from unauthorized access, manipulation, or destruction. Database security policies are designed to prevent sensitive data exposure and ensure the availability and integrity of records stored within a database system.

Data breaches and unauthorized data manipulation can lead to significant financial and operational damage, which is why many companies are now prioritizing database and data storage security.

Database Security in Public Clouds

Public cloud providers offer both managed and unmanaged database services. Managed databases are pre-configured and maintained by the cloud provider, who is responsible for applying security patches, updating software, and ensuring high availability; unmanaged or semi-managed databases would be maintained by the customer on a virtual machine. (The physical infrastructure would still be managed by the cloud provider.)

In both cases, cloud database security follows the shared responsibility model. Cloud providers are always responsible for the security of the underlying infrastructure, including computing, storage, and networking resources — and for managed database services, they would also handle patching, updating, and monitoring for potential security issues.

On the other hand, organizations are responsible for securing the data stored within the databases, implementing necessary access controls, and complying with relevant regulations. This includes encrypting sensitive data, configuring database access permissions, monitoring suspicious activities, and training employees on security best practices.

Since organizations often lack access to cloud database servers, they would often need to use agentless security tools. These tools operate remotely, monitoring the database through APIs and data extracts without any software installed on the physical database. Agentless security tools will have the added advantage of minimizing impact on performance and cloud resource consumption.  Effective agentless security tools can provide real-time threat detection, vulnerability scanning, and compliance management to protect databases effectively, without imposing additional resource overheads.

Elements of Database Security

Authentication and Identity Management

Ensuring that only authorized users can access the database by implementing strong authentication mechanisms like multifactor authentication (MFA), single sign-on (SSO), and proper role-based access control (RBAC). This allows for granular control over user privileges and access to sensitive data within the database.

Data Encryption

Protecting data at rest and in transit by encrypting it with industry-standard algorithms. This helps ensure that even if unauthorized access to the data occurs, the data remains unreadable without the appropriate decryption keys.

Data Masking and Redaction

Hiding sensitive data from users who do not have the necessary clearance by applying data masking or redaction techniques. This can include anonymizing, pseudonymizing, or obfuscating data to ensure that sensitive information remains protected, even when accessed by authorized users with limited privileges.

Intrusion Detection and Prevention

Implementing intrusion detection systems (IDS) and intrusion prevention systems (IPS) to monitor and protect the database from malicious activities. These technologies can help detect and block attacks such as SQL injection, cross-site scripting, and other attempts to exploit vulnerabilities in the database system.

Backup and disaster recovery: Regularly backing up data and creating a robust disaster recovery strategy to minimize the impact of data loss or corruption due to hardware failures, software errors, or malicious actions. This allows the organization to quickly restore the database to a secure and operational state following an incident.

Patch Management

Staying up-to-date with database software patches and updates helps protect against known vulnerabilities and security flaws. Implementing a patch management policy ensures that updates are applied in a timely and consistent manner, reducing the likelihood of exploitation.

Access Control

Implementing granular access control policies, such as the principle of least privilege, which ensures that users are only granted the necessary permissions required for their role. This minimizes the risk of unauthorized access or manipulation of data by limiting what each user can do within the database. (See: What is data access governance?)

Network Security

Securing the network infrastructure that connects to the database by implementing firewalls, virtual private networks (VPNs), and other security measures. This helps prevent unauthorized access to the database by safeguarding the communication channels between the database and the rest of the organization's systems.

Monitoring and Alerting

Regularly monitoring database performance, user activity, and potential security threats to identify anomalies and potential breaches. Implementing real-time alerts can help notify the security team of any suspicious activities, enabling rapid response to mitigate potential risks.

Database Security: 8 Best Practices

Implementing some database security best practices can help organizations protect their databases from unauthorized access and data exfiltration. Some of these best practices include:

  1. Review and update database security policies and procedures regularly.
  2. Monitor database activities and generate security reports to identify and address any gaps in the security posture.
  3. Implement strong passwords, MFA, and RBAC to prevent unauthorized access.
  4. Encrypt data at rest and in transit to protect it from unauthorized access or manipulation.
  5. Apply patches and updates promptly to ensure database software is up-to-date and secure against known vulnerabilities.
  6. Perform regular backups and establish a disaster recovery strategy.
  7. Conduct risk assessments and vulnerability scans to identify potential weak points in the database security posture.
  8. Educate staff about the importance of database security and their role in maintaining it.

Database Security FAQs

In the context of the cloud, major risks and threats to database security include unauthorized access, data breaches, SQL injection attacks, insider threats, and misconfigurations.

  • Unauthorized access can result from weak authentication, insufficient access controls, or compromised credentials. From here, data breaches can occur via the unauthorized extraction or exposure of sensitive information.
  • SQL injection attacks exploit vulnerabilities in database queries to manipulate or access data.
  • Insider threats emerge from malicious or negligent actions of authorized users.
  • Misconfigurations in database settings can expose the system to potential attacks.
Database integrity refers to maintaining the accuracy, consistency, and reliability of data stored in a database. It’s achieved through mechanisms like referential integrity, primary and foreign key constraints, and data validation rules. Database security focuses on protecting the database from unauthorized access, tampering, or data breaches. It encompasses measures like authentication, access controls, encryption, and regular security audits. While database integrity ensures data quality and consistency, database security safeguards data confidentiality, availability, and integrity.

Database-as-a-service (DBaaS) is a type of cloud computing service that enables users to work with a managed database without purchasing or configuring infrastructure. DBaaS subscriptions include the necessary components for operating a database in the cloud — physical resources as well as scaling, support, and maintenance. All of these components are provided and managed by the DBaaS provider.

This lack of control and visibility over the underlying infrastructure also creates security challenges. Since the database server is managed by an external vendor, security teams can’t use the same toolset that is applied to on-premises deployments, such as monitoring agents. This makes real-time threat detection difficult, and can be addressed by technologies such as data detection and response (DDR).

Database security in the cloud is a shared responsibility between the cloud service provider and the customer. The cloud provider is responsible for securing the underlying infrastructure and offering security features such as encryption, access controls, and monitoring tools. The customer is responsible for implementing and configuring these features, managing user access, and adhering to best practices for data protection. Database administrators, security teams, and developers all play a part in maintaining database security within an organization.
Database corruption occurs when the structure, organization, or content of a database is damaged or altered, leading to data loss or inconsistencies. In cloud environments, database corruption can result from hardware failures, software bugs, human errors, security breaches, or data transmission errors. To prevent corruption, organizations should implement regular backups, error detection mechanisms, robust access controls, and data validation rules. In case of corruption, restoring from a reliable backup or using database repair tools can help recover lost or damaged data.
The most common cause of database breaches is human error, which can include misconfigurations, weak or reused passwords, and inadvertent exposure of sensitive information. In cloud environments, misconfigurations can leave databases exposed to potential attacks or unauthorized access. To prevent breaches, organizations should follow security best practices, implement proper access controls, and conduct regular security audits and assessments.
In the context of cloud security, the most common database error is misconfiguration. Misconfigurations can result from incorrect database settings, improper access controls, or insecure security policies, potentially exposing the database to unauthorized access or attacks. To prevent misconfigurations, organizations should follow industry best practices, regularly review and update database configurations, and use tools that help detect and remediate potential configuration errors.

A managed database is a database that is hosted and managed by a third-party provider, rather than by the organization using the database. Managed databases are, in most cases, offered as cloud services, and the database provider maintains full control over the physical database server.

The large public cloud providers (AWS, Azure, and Google Cloud) all offer managed databases, e.g., AWS Relational Database Service (RDS) and Google BigQuery. Companies such as Oracle and MongoDB also offer managed, cloud-hosted instances of their databases.

From a security standpoint, the challenge of using a managed database is the lack of direct access to the database server— which prevents cybersecurity teams from installing an agent to monitor data movement within the database. This gives rise to new categories of agentless data loss prevention technologies such as DDR.

An unmanaged datastore is a type of database that is not supported by a cloud provider. Instead, the responsibility of maintaining, upgrading, and monitoring the database lies with the developer or infrastructure team to ensure reliability and security. This type of deployment is often necessary when the resources, data encryption, or data sovereignty requirements are beyond what the provider's DBaaS offering can provide.
A relational database is a type of structured data storage system that organizes information in tables with rows and columns, following a consistent schema. Each table represents a unique entity, and the relationships among tables are established using primary and foreign keys. Relational databases enable efficient querying, manipulation, and analysis of data using SQL or similar query languages. They are widely used for managing large volumes of structured data in various industries and applications.