SQL SERVER – Common Sense Data Security – Notes from the Field #055

[Note from Pinal]: This is a 55th episode of Notes from the Field series. Common sense is not as much as common as we think. I am sure you agree with it from your real world experience. However, when it is about data and its security, there has to be some rules along with the policy but common sense is extremely critical. When I read this article, I find it humorous at points and some of the examples also reminded me of my past experience. If you are in data security, you will have a great time reading these notes, but if you are not, you will still love it.

In this episode of the Notes from the Field series database expert Kevin Hazzard explains common sense data security and how we can apply in daily life in real world. Read the experience of Reeves in his own words.


There are many excellent books and articles that address the correct ways to store sensitive user information. Yet, many in IT are still failing to protect customers from loss due to data breaches. Every day, it seems that there’s another retailer or commercial web site in the news for losing passwords or credit card numbers to hackers. As an industry, why are we struggling to secure this type of information when there’s so much good intelligence and so many great tools for getting the job done? It’s a complicated subject so perhaps it’s time to step back a bit and use a bit of common sense to analyze the problem.

No matter the industry, using the right tool for the job is rule number one. Line-of-business databases are all about organizing information and getting it into the hands of people who perform transactions and make decisions with it. As a result, these databases become naturally permissive by nature, especially as they evolve to meet the demands of growing businesses. There are good access controls in modern databases but when it comes to managing ultra-secure bits of data, traditional, relational databases may not be the best fit for the job.

Lightweight Directory Access Protocol (LDAP) servers like ApacheDS, OpenLDAP and Microsoft Active Directory do a much better job of handling sensitive data with less trouble than any custom coding we might do on our own. Moreover, the built-in authentication functions of LDAP are mature and standards-based, making them safe and reusable from many different applications without custom interface development. It’s our duty as technologists and as business people to highlight the high cost of custom security solutions and the huge potential risks to our managers. In particular, when it comes to storing passwords in our line-of-business databases, just say no.

If we must manage financial instruments or personally identifying information in a database like SQL Server, there are three classes of problems to solve:

  1. Keeping the hackers from stealing our stuff,
  2. Detecting when breach attempts occur, and
  3. If data is unfortunately lost, making the information useless.

Let’s think about these efforts from a common sense perspective. Problem one is all about access control. The problem with permissions in any complex system is that they are difficult to maintain over time. Even if the initial configuration and policies safeguard the sensitive data, some future administrator may fail to understand or enforce the rules correctly. We could make those future administrators’ jobs much easier if we followed one simple rule: never mix highly-sensitive data in tables containing non-privileged data.

It’s deceptively simple-sounding but in practice, if sensitive data is always segregated into encrypted tables (https://blog.sqlauthority.com/2009/04/28/sql-server-introduction-to-sql-server-encryption-and-symmetric-key-encryption-tutorial-with-script/) and placed into a separate, secure schema requiring elevated access privileges, mistakes concerning permissions will become less likely over time. Moreover, by denying SELECT, INSERT, UPDATE and DELETE privileges on the secured tables, every query can be routed through stored procedures where problems two and three can be addressed with auditing and data obfuscation controls. Lastly, to ensure that lost data is useless, use the new Backup Encryption feature of SQL Server 2014 or invest in a third-party tool that does the same.

If you want to get started with SQL Server with the help of experts, read more over at Fix Your SQL Server.

Reference: Pinal Dave (https://blog.sqlauthority.com)

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