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7 Housekeeping Duties For Better Database Security In 2012

Segmenting, hardening, encrypting, insuring, and planning -- a few good New Year's resolutions for database administrators
As organizations gear up for a new year, now is the perfect time to look at processes and technologies and reassess how well they really are mitigating risks. On the database level, there are a number of foundational activities that many organizations are still failing to carry out effectively.

The following action list is compiled from some of the advice doled out by database security experts in 2011. Use it wisely to come up with a sane plan in 2012 and beyond:

1. Make Sure Your Database Isn't Easily Searchable On The Web
Several breaches this year embarrassed organizations because their IT departments configured databases touching Web-facing interfaces in such a way that they could be easily searched on the Web.

"The databases that exist today have ultimately been designed to allow the easiest access from a multitude of devices and places. In many people's minds, they think you need to access a server with an application running on that, and that there is a measure of safety for the data sitting underneath the application because the application is secure," says Dr. Mike Lloyd, CTO of RedSeal Systems. "But your database is sitting out there, and, in many cases, when it came out of the box, it came configured to be connected to the Internet."

See: Web-Searchable Databases An Increasing Security Risk

2. Segment Your Data Better
When organizations segment their high-value data in databases separate from less sensitive information, they're able to prioritize risk management and institute more targeted protection layers.

"Medium to large organizations are not segmenting enough," says Chris Novak , managing principal at Verizon Business. "In these organizations, they've got databases spread over offices, campuses, and complexes around the globe. And the problem is that if they're not segmenting, then a risk in one place becomes a risk everywhere."

See: Sound Database Security Starts With Segmentation

3. Ensure Passwords Aren't Stored In Plain Text
A big part of housekeeping is cleaning up messes, and one of the biggest ones that many organizations have is the storage of plain text passwords within their databases.

"This happens quite a bit, particularly with companies the size of RockYou and Plenty of Fish -- smaller start-ups that are just getting their businesses going and are in high-growth mode," says Gretchen Hellman, vice president of marketing and product management for Vormetric.

With organizations like Anonymous on the prowl, these passwords are just waiting to be stolen.

See: Plain Text Database Storage At Heart Of Online Dating Site Breach

4. Harden Your Configurations
If there is one tip that database security experts would universally give as the top housekeeping item for 2012, it is the recommendation that you patch your darned databases already.

Similarly, change default log-ins, look to cut down on excessive privileges, and automate the discovery process to ferret out rogue databases that might not be secured.

See: Seven Ways You Give Thieves Dibs On Your Database

5. Check For Blatant Encryption Gaffes
While database encryption deployments might be on the rise, too many of them are negated by poor practices, such as storing keys on the same server as the encrypted database and using out-of-date cryptographic algorithms.

"If you’re encrypting sensitive data in your database, then one of the worst practices is to store either the key used to encrypt the data or the authentication credentials that are used to get that key in the same database as the encrypted data," says Luther Martin, chief security architect for Voltage Security. "Doing that gives you the illusion of security, but actually provides very little real security."

See: Five Worst Practices In Database Encryption

6. Think Twice About Insurance
Many organizations are counting on spiffy, new data breach insurance policies to bail them out in the event of a big breach. But experts say these insurance plans come with a lot of caveats.

"Unlike many insurance policies that companies buy, there is no standard form -- it's not like comprehensive general liability or workman's comp or fleet auto -- cyber is not standard," says Ty Sagalow, an insurance consultant and founder of Innovation Insurance Group. "Plus, it is in an area which is called surplus insurance, meaning that they're not subject to state filing regulations for state approval, which allows freedom of an insurance carrier to set terms and conditions."

See: Sony Insurer Disputes Breach Insurance Claims

7. Get A Breach Notification Plan In Order
Many security pros believe that for many organizations, experiencing a breach is a matter of when, not if. Because of that, they recommend getting a post-breach plan together in advance to keep the incident as painless and cheap as possible.

"If you have a plan, you'll be ahead of most organizations," says Rick Kam, president and founder of post-breach response consultancy ID Experts. "They've had backup recovery plans, they've had business continuity plans, they even had plans if there was a fire. But because [a post-breach is] not required necessarily, it's one of the things they don't think about."

See: Your Database Was Breached: Now What?

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