While it looks like database compromises are on the rise, in my opinion they are not. If you look at DATALOSSdb, there are the same number of breaches as there have been in previous years. From personal experience, I can tell you there were a lot of unreported breaches as well.
In the 2004-2007 time frame, I was asked into many different Fortune 1000 firms, under NDA, to assist companies reassess and implement new database security measures. And you would be shocked by the names. Some of the largest household name firms had been breached, dozens of which were never made public. Their database security at the time was little more than access controls. The "advanced" firms encrypted their tape archives, but not the data files.
There is no statistical evidence that breaches are on the rise. What we know is that there are more breaches in the news than ever before. You would think companies are less likely to disclose -- worried about the long-term impact to stock value, but it's a major change that attackers like LulzSec and Anonymous publish details about the hacks to the world.
Other than that, not much has changed with data and database security. Databases are still vulnerable to SQL injection attacks because the applications that use databases still do not filter input variables of malicious code. Input validation remains one of the most daunting problems for application -- and, in turn, database security today.
Second, databases remain far behind in patching. While the database vendors have become better at providing timely patches, for many customers the installation of the patches remains a problem. Very poor separation of duties exist for most, and credential management is typically lax.
Finally, it's usually a series of vulnerabilities that are required for a successful breach. After all, you need a way into an organization, you need to locate the data, and then you need a way out. There is a lot of low-hanging fruit for attackers, so while most IT organizations have better security that they did 10 years ago, they are very likely to remain vulnerable to attack.
What's not the same is the database vendors, who are much better at understanding the severity of issues, patching the holes in a timely fashion, and making better security decisions as it relates to database architecture. And most of the vendors offer advanced security controls to help detect and deter attacks if appropriately deployed. Of course, the attackers are motivated professionals who have evolved their abilities to derive money from the stolen data.
What has also evolved is the targeted nature of the attacks. Spear-phishing of individuals has been on the rise, as have the targeted attacks on specific companies. While the motivation varies from attacker to attacker, the net result is the same. In the past five years, general data security has evolved, but only to meet some of the threats from five years ago.
Adrian Lane is an analyst/CTO with Securosis LLC, an independent security consulting practice. Special to Dark Reading.