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Perimeter

9/7/2010
09:59 AM
Adrian Lane
Adrian Lane
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Seven Features To Look For In Database Assessment Tools

As a follow-up to my "Essentials of Database Assessment" post, I want to go over some of the basic features and functions to look for in a database assessment product. Many features differentiate one tool from another, but I'll focus in on the top seven items you should review.

As a follow-up to my "Essentials of Database Assessment" post, I want to go over some of the basic features and functions to look for in a database assessment product. Many features differentiate one tool from another, but I'll focus in on the top seven items you should review.Here are the top seven features to evaluate in database assessment tools:

1. Expert Research & Current Policies: The principal cost in developing a database vulnerability assessment tool is the cost of building and maintaining a policy library. Thousands of man-hours go into policy research and creation, and how current the policies are have a major impact on the security of the database. Zero-day threats are just that, and the assessment vendors lead the database vendors in detection by days or weeks in advance. The vendor should release policy updates at least on a quarterly basis, and have a track record of releasing policy updates within days of critical vulnerability discoveries. All vendors offer compliance specific policies, but not all of them are good, so you'll need to review.

2. Integration & Alerts: A vulnerability is detected and it needs attention. For small organization, email alerts are enough. Large organizations live and die with their trouble ticketing systems to track problems and remediation. Every assessment product integrates with external services for workflow, help desk, and reporting.

3. Baselining: It's easier to review configuration when you know specifically what changed from week to week. Matching current scan results with the previous settings, or even comparisons with ideal settings from a security or compliance standpoint, illuminate what needs to be fixed. Being able to set baselines and capture previous scan settings is important to saving review time and being able to react quickly.

4. Credentialed Access: At a minimum, you want to be able to connect to the database and scan the database internal structures. This is called a credentialed scan: It collects more information, and the results are more accurate than penetration test-based network scans, or scans performed at the OS layer.

5. Agent and agentless deployment. Maintaining agents is a hassle. However, there are some advantages to agents in that they can provide both an OS layer scan of configuration settings, as well as scanning the database internals. Second, agents work better in virtual server environments that are difficult to discover and scan given the obscure nature of network addresses in virtual environments. Choose a tool that offers both deployment options.

6. Scheduling: Most firms I speak with run scans once a week, though one a month is fine for mid-size and smaller firms. Automated scheduling, either built-in or available through external interfaces, is needed to make sure the scans run on time and are staggered so that not all of the scans run at the same time.

7. Database support: Obviously, the vendor needs to cover the platforms you need. You may not find a tool for Postgres or Teradata, but Oracle, SQL Server, DB2, MySQL, and Sybase are standard.

Keep in mind that even if you have zero budget, you can still perform authorization, configuration, and patch checking. If your environment is just a handful of databases and does not involve complex database deployments, then the burden is on you, but manual inspection or custom scripts will get the job done. That said, the breadth of security knowledge and depth of technical skill required for policy development is beyond what most DBA possess.

If you are assigned with security and compliance responsibilities across multiple products/systems, you will find that investment in an assessment tool saves you from developing, testing, and maintaining hundreds of complex queries to test for vulnerabilities. And it saves you from writing the glue code to integrate with other systems used by operations, security, or compliance groups interested in the scan results. Believe me, I know from experience that this savings in time and aggravation will justify the expense.

Application Security Inc., Fortinet, Imperva, Qualys, Sentrigo, and Tenable, and some of the database vendors provide these tools. (There is software, hardware, and SaaS offerings among this group). And some of the vendors provide free stuff too, and these tools will do the basics, but be warned: They're free for a reason.

Adrian Lane is an analyst/CTO with Securosis LLC, an independent security consulting practice. Special to Dark Reading. Adrian Lane is a Security Strategist and brings over 25 years of industry experience to the Securosis team, much of it at the executive level. Adrian specializes in database security, data security, and secure software development. With experience at Ingres, Oracle, and ... View Full Bio

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