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Security's Soft Underbelly

Many companies secure the walls, but databases remain the soft, chewy center

Databases are among the most widely deployed, complex, and fastest growing technologies in corporate infrastructures. Stocked with vast amounts of business-critical, sensitive records, they’re now the focal point in highly-damaging data breaches. It’s a safe bet that perpetrators will target databases even more in the days ahead.

Yet, as businesses rush to provide real-time information flow inside and outside their organizations, database security remains one of the least understood and most under-funded aspects of corporate security -- and IT is yelling for help.

These are some of the key findings in a new study we released yesterday in conjunction with Application Security (AppSecInc). We queried 649 highly experienced IT professionals, more than 70 percent of which are responsible for managing all or part of their organization’s IT budget -- a solid barometer for corporate priorities.

Of the 2007 total corporate IT budget, respondents said they have allocated 34 percent for database infrastructure and 20.6 percent for IT security overall. More than 53 percent believe their databases are critical to their businesses.

But only 15 percent said that extending security best practices to the database is a "critical priority" for 2007. Higher priorities included upgrading applications (25 percent), improving the efficiency of IT (20 percent), and consolidating IT infrastructure (19 percent). Upgrading security overall (13 percent) finished slightly lower, as did supporting Sarbanes-Oxley (10 percent) and upgrading disaster recovery capabilities (9 percent).

Interestingly, 92 percent of respondents are seeking a better tool to help them identify and analyze risk factors that exist within their systems or IT infrastructure. This makes sense, particularly as a majority of respondents plan no, or only slight, increases in IT staff in 2007.

According to our study results, IT security practitioners are fairly confident they can stop hackers from compromising their systems (68 percent), but they are far less certain that they can prevent malicious insiders (43 percent) and negligence (45 percent). Respondents in larger organizations are more confident than those in smaller-sized companies when it comes to their ability to control these threats.

What’s in corporate databases? Lots of valuable data. Some 55 percent of respondents said their databases contain customer data, 54 percent said databases contain employee data, and 50 percent contain confidential business data. Intellectual property -- the most highly-guarded data in our survey -- resides in 38 percent of respondents' databases.

Respondents' database environments are of substantial scale and complexity -- a majority of respondents manage more than 500 databases. Twenty-nine percent have many different database types and technologies. Another 38 percent said their IT environment consists of a few different types of databases. Only 24 percent of respondents stated that their organization utilizes one primary database technology. One of the biggest challenges, then, is coordinating database security across the enterprise.

SQL, Oracle, and DB2 are the most frequently used database solutions for respondent companies. In addition, our results show that both Oracle and DB2 are the most likely to be used for critical or high-priority data. MySQL and Sybase were the least likely to be used for critical data.

What are the features most important to respondents when purchasing a database security software application or tool? Robust access controls, ease of integration, and the ability to identify unauthorized access are viewed as the three most important features. Real time alerts and preformatted policies for Sarbanes Oxley or PCI compliance ranked low on the list.

Clearly, database security is becoming an important part of the security picture, but most organizations still have a lot of work to do. If you have questions about the research, please contact us.

— Larry Ponemon is founder and CEO of Ponemon Institute LLC . Special to Dark Reading.

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