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9/19/2008
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Only 35% Of Oracle Users Continuously Monitor For Suspicious Activity

A recent Unisphere survey found 20% of respondents anticipated some kind of data security breach over the coming year.

Who's watching the database? Not every DBA is as diligent as he or she should be, according to a study released this week.

Oracle and the Independent Oracle Users Group commissioned Unisphere to survey the user group's members in July and August and, out of 316 respondents, found 20% anticipated some kind of data security breach over the coming year.

Six acknowledged some kind of violation over the last year. Three out of four acknowledged they do not consider all of their database systems to be "locked down." It wasn't clear whether by "security breach" they meant a small, inadvertent viewing of payroll or other sensitive data by an internal employee or the loss of 94 million records, as occurred at TJX (owner of T.J. Maxx, Marshalls, and other retailers) in January 2007. Survey participants acknowledged both insiders and outsiders pose significant risks.

"The breach by an external party tends to be more visible, but internal breaches are more frequent," said Ian Abramson, president of the IOUG and a database consultant working in Canada.

Internal breaches occur when database administrators or skilled database users find themselves looking at data that should be off limits to them. Abramson said it hasn't been unusual for him to stumble across views of sensitive data while fulfilling consulting contracts. More and more, companies are pulling their production data forward into unsecure areas where business partners, outside contractors, consultants, or even customers can see it. Or they volunteer to send it out to such parties.

"There are always people looking to see what access they can get," he said.

Oracle commissioned the survey with IOUG in part to see what percentage of its customers are making use of Oracle database security provisions. Its Database Vault restricts DBAs and other users from viewing data they are not cleared to see. Encryption features generally may be applied to database tables as data is stored in them, and Secure Backup guarantees that only encrypted data flows out to the backup tapes.

"If used fully, these measures reduce serious risks," said Abramson, but he also acknowledged that Oracle alone can't cover all areas of security exposure. Both Oracle and several third parties are making products available that monitor database activity, watching for suspicious activity and alerting managers when someone seems to be attempting unauthorized activity.

But active monitoring is not yet widely in use. The survey indicated only 35% continuously monitor their running databases, 32% monitor them once daily, 23% monitor them at least weekly, and 9% monthly. The remaining 1% said they monitor annually.

This article was edited on 9/24 to clarify the IOUG as the Independent Oracle Users Group.

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