Not sure how to protect a database? Follow these 10 best practices to protect your organization’s databases and bolster their security

Risk Based Security reports that 36 billion records were compromised between Q1 2020 and Q3 2020. These overwhelming numbers are a stark reminder of the importance of having strong database security protections in place at all times. After all, large organizations handle massive amounts of critical data within their databases. This means that their databases are prime targets for cyber attacks 24/7/365.

If your organization is one of those companies — or if you have a database in general that you want to secure, knowing how to secure your database is handy. With this in mind, let’s look at some best practices you can follow on how to protect your databases and keep them safe and secure from attackers.

10 Tips for How to Secure a Database Within Your Organization

Knowing how to keep your database secure isn’t the same as following website security measures. However, practicing both is good for the security of your organization’s data overall. Below are some of the best ways to protect a database from attacks:

1. Use Separate Web Servers and Database Servers

You should always keep a database on a separate physical server that is not connected with the machines running applications of other web servers. You could also keep your database server in a locked environment with both physical and digital access controls to further enhance security.

This may sound pricey or even a bit extreme — but trust us, these measures are worth it. Web servers are often attacked as they’re publicly accessible and located in a demilitarized zone (DMZ) — this is typically an area of your perimeter network that serves as a buffer between your internal and external network. If a web server is compromised and the database is on the same server machine, the attacker could gain root access to the database and data.

2. Ensure Physical & Digital Security of Your Database

Not all threats are digital. Your servers or data centers could be physically attacked by an outsider, or even an insider. For instance, if cybercriminals get their hands on your physical database server, they can corrupt or steal data or insert malware to gain remote access to it.

If you have in-house servers, the next recommendation on our list of tips on how to secure a database is to employ strong physical security measures. This includes everything from authentication systems like smart card ID readers and security personnel to surveillance cameras and locks. Access to the physical servers should be given only to select authorized users to minimize the chance of malicious activities.

Finally, when choosing a hosting provider, choose one that offers secure web hosting and takes security seriously rather than going for free options that may lack adequate security.

3. Use Robust User Authentication Security Measures

According to Verizon data, 80% of data breaches occurred due to brute-forced or stolen credentials, suggesting that passwords often aren’t created with security measures in mind. Users should create unique passphrases for every account. These account secrets should never be re-used or recycled across multiple accounts.

It’s also best to add an extra layer of security for your database, such as multi-factor authentication. That way, even if your credentials are compromised, attackers will find it difficult to break the security protocols because they’d need to have access to your other authentication factors such as your physical device or biometrics.

Another option is to use certificate-based authentication methods such as a client certificate. This passwordless method of authentication uses public key infrastructure (PKI) to enable authorized users to log in to their accounts without having to remember or type in any passwords that can become compromised.

4. Keep Your Database Software Patched & Updated

Imperva’s recent data shows that 46% of on-prem databases have weaknesses that leave them vulnerable to cyber attacks. Most users fail to install updated versions of software or plugins and continue to use outdated software components, plugins, and extensions. For example, users might not update WordPress plugins often, leading to severe security risks.

While running unpatched software might not seem like a big issue, failing to keep these tools patched and up-to-date can have significant consequences. This entails applying any new security patches or other updates when they become available. Do the same for widgets, extensions, plugins, and third-party applications — avoid using plugins, applications, or software that don’t receive regular updates.

5. Web Applications and Database Firewalls

Your database server should be protected from database security threats with a firewall that, by default, denies access to traffic. The only allowed traffic should be from specific applications or web servers that require access to data. By using a firewall, you’ll also ensure that no one can initiate outbound connections without permission.

We also recommended that you use a web application firewall (WAF), to help avoid attacks such as SQL injection attacks. You can use WAFs in conjunction with other network firewalls to protect your network on multiple attack fronts.

6. Avoid Using Default Network Ports

TCP & UDP protocols — otherwise known as the transmission control protocol and user datagram protocol — are used to transmit data between two servers. (They just do it in different ways.) These methods typically default to using specific network port numbers, which means that attackers know they can target these default ports for common attacks such as brute force attacks.

To avoid this issue, change your network to connect via a different port number. Not using the default ports makes attacking your server more complicated because they’ll need to try different port variations. Essentially, using different ports discourages attackers because they require additional time and effort to carry out successful attacks.

Furthermore, we recommend that you verify whether other services already use the new port you’re considering.

7. Audit and Monitor Your Database Activities

Effective monitoring helps to ensure that everything is going smoothly with your database. Monitoring allows you to detect and identify a variety of issues, including:

  • Whether an account has been compromised,
  • If an employee performs any suspicious activities, and
  • Whether your database has been attacked.
Monitoring also enables you to monitor logins and frequent login attempts to discover whether any accounts have been created with special permissions or if any user is sharing their account.

8. Check Your Database’s Security Through Regular Testing

This step is all about crossing your T’s and dotting your I’s. Once you implement your database security infrastructure and security measures, it’s vital to ensure that they work. Hacking or auditing your own database will force you to think like an attacker and help you find vulnerabilities that you may have missed earlier. You can hire a security expert specializing in penetration testing for this.

9. Use Encryption to Protect Your Data

Encrypting data is essential to protecting your organization’s critical information both while it’s in transit and at rest. SSL/TLS encryption helps to protect your data as it transmits from users’ clients to your database. However, you also need data at-rest encryption to protect your sensitive data as it sits on your server as well.

By setting up data encryption protocols, you can be sure that it’ll lower the risk of a successful data breach. Once you encrypt your database, you’ll know that even if an attacker gets their hands on your data, it’ll be in an unreadable format and useless to them.

Does all data you store on your database need to be encrypted? Not necessarily. But at the very minimum, your database should be password protected.

10. Perform Regular Data Backups

Technically, this isn’t a security measure in the usual sense (i.e., preventing an attack or breach),  but backups serve as fail-safes that help you get your organization back up and running in the event that everything else fails.

Use a backup tool like CodeGuard Backup to create and store daily backups of your website files, images and other data. We also recommended that you make a separate backup of your database regularly. Making a backup of the database helps mitigate the harm done by the loss of critical information due to attacks or data corruption.

Wrapping Up on How to Protect a Database

Keeping a database secure against growing cyber attacks isn’t easy, but it’s a must for businesses and organizations in our digital world. Securing the server’s physical location and preventing human error may not happen overnight, but by taking the steps outlined here you’ll substantially increase the security of your business.

We hope these 10 essential tips help you understand how to protect your databases against cyberattacks and how to secure your databases. Good luck!

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