Oracle Preps Security Features for 11g

Enhancements to database will focus on encryption, compliance

The next major release of Oracle Corp. (Nasdaq: ORCL)'s database application will feature better encryption and more sophisticated methods for enforcing data security policies, a company official said today.

"We're taking some major steps in the area of data protection, particularly with regards to privacy and helping our customers protect their customers' personal information," said Paul Needham, director of product management for database security at Oracle, in an interview with Dark Reading. The software giant also is planning to roll out new features that will help speed regulatory and policy compliance and reduce the threat from company insiders, Needham said.

The company's next major database release, Oracle 11g, is currently in beta and is scheduled for release later this year. Analysts expect the release to be a major leap over the current 10g, offering improvements in performance management and change management, as well as security.

"Oracle doesn't mess around with its integer releases," said Rachel Chalmers, an analyst at 451 Group, in a report issued Wednesday. "Each one is expected to pack a serious punch."

Enterprises currently are being squeezed to increase their database security in a hurry, Needham said. On one side, they are getting pressure from regulators and auditors to secure their databases under Sarbanes-Oxley and the Payment Card Industry guidelines. On the other side, they are feeling the heat from recent break-ins and thefts, including the recent external hack at the TJX Companies and the insider theft revealed last month at DuPont.

"These are real threats, and customers are looking for preventative measures now," said Needham.

Oracle is attacking these problems on several fronts in 11g. First, the company is introducing table space encryption, which will make it easier to encrypt large portions of a database more easily. The new capability builds on 10g's "transparent encryption" capability, which reduces the manual processes associated with encrypting specific data sets, Needham said.

"If you look at what IBM and Microsoft are doing, they are using encryption APIs, which is what we did a few years ago," Needham said. "It works, but it's a much more manual approach."

The company also is implementing a two-tiered key management strategy, in which the keys are themselves encrypted and stored separately from the data, Needham said. To use the keys, users will need a "master key" that is easy to store and track.

The new release also will offer new features that make it easier for enterprises and their auditors to monitor data -- not just the way it is modified, but the way it is accessed and used.

"What users want to do is set up a trusted path to the database, and to specific data sets, such as credit card information," said Needham. "Under 11g, customers can attach policies to specific data sets. They can specify that access can only come from a specific application server or subnet. They can allow access only during specific hours or from specific IP addresses. And having established those policies, it will be easier for them to detect activity that's suspicious and act on it quickly."

While the new features of 11g will help protect companies from external threats, one of Oracle's top priorities is to raise consciousness about insider threats, Needham said. "I think that until recently, customers have had their heads in the sand about the insider threat," he said. "It's true that the vast majority of employees are trustworthy, but there is still a lot that needs to be done to prevent accidental disclosures by those employees, and to address the few employees that might not be trustworthy."

Database administrators, for example, have occasionally been given broad access to data that they actually have no need to view, Needham observed. "Most companies want the database administrator to maintain the database, not the data itself," he said. "You want to control access to your most sensitive data."

In the future, Oracle is looking into technologies for data masking and transformation, which could prevent insiders or social engineers from stealing data that's displayed on a screen, Needham said. "That's not a capability that will be in 11g, but it's one we think is very interesting."

— Tim Wilson, Site Editor, Dark Reading

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