What Oracle Gets In The Secerno Buy

One key takeaway from Oracle's acquisition of Secerno is that the database giant now has a database activity monitoring (DAM) solution, closing a big gap in its current security capabilities.
One key takeaway from Oracle's acquisition of Secerno is that the database giant now has a database activity monitoring (DAM) solution, closing a big gap in its current security capabilities.Following up on Kelly Jackson Higgins' post, "Oracle to Buy Database Firewall Vendor Secerno," I wanted to expand on some of the newsworthy items from this acquisition.

Secerno can monitor database query traffic and block queries that do not fit the acceptable query profile. For Oracle, this is an important advancement, as a database firewall can act as temporary threat protection, blocking specific attacks until database patches can be applied. Oracle customers have a very tough time keeping up to date with patches, lagging months behind the latest and greatest for fear the patch will break operations. This will relieve some of the burden to patch databases out of cycle -- before patches have been fully vetted.

One of the first things you notice in the Oracle FAQ (PDF) is that Oracle positions the Secerno product as a database firewall, creating some confusion and causing people to say, "Wait a minute, I thought Secerno was an activity monitoring vendor."

Secerno does, in fact, sell a DAM platform, one that can also be used as a firewall to block activity. Just like Web application firewalls, the Secerno product can be deployed either out-of-band to provide monitoring only, or put in-line as a proxy to intercept and block unwanted activity. This optional deployment model is often marketed as a "database firewall" to stress the capability to block -- not just learn and record events.

The Secerno product does not embed within Oracle or deploy an agent; rather, it is standalone product. Most customers use the appliance, but a virtual appliance is an option. This means product integration issues for Oracle or for the customer will be minimal. You can deploy the monitoring product without supporting Oracle products, such as Oracle Data Vault, Audit Vault, or turning on Oracle Audit. This saves time, reduces complexity, and will keep your Oracle licensing costs down.

I should also clarify the "whitelisting" reference in Kelly's article: Most firewalls and intrusion detection systems (IDS) block on signature-based detection, looking for malicious patterns within all incoming packets. Some, like Palo Alto Networks, work by allowing or white listing approved applications, then blocking all others. Secerno is closer to the latter and works by analyzing the SQL query construct, or literally the structure of the SQL query language. Creating a profile of valid queries, Secerno will only pass queries with the right structure. This is not content monitoring, not traditional behavioral monitoring, not context monitoring, and not even attribute-based monitoring, but looking at the query language itself.

Because of this difference in analysis techniques, I have been calling Secerno's technology "query whitelisting" to differentiate them from other database firewall products. For blocking, this method of analysis has fewer side effects on operations because it is less likely to block legitimate queries.

Another key piece of information everyone was looking for in Oracle's announcement was the purchase price. I politely asked several people at Oracle, Secerno, and the investment community if they could share a ballpark financial figure; they all declined. The Oracle team had strictly insisted that the details be kept confidential, and nothing has leaked out. Typically, I can provide a very good purchase price estimate because I already know the firm's revenues and am aware of the tone of the negotiations.

Not this time. What's more, several of us who cover DAM disagree on Secerno's revenues: One peer placed a low estimate at $7 million, while the high water mark in the group was $17 million. Estimating the purchase price would be a guess multiplied by another guess and, therefore, pretty much worthless. I will update this post should I get a specific and verifiable amount.

Oracle has a broad range of security products and features already in place, but they were pretty much only for Oracle database users. Further, activity monitoring, real-time analysis, and blocking were significant missing pieces. Despite heterogeneous database support for Oracle Audit Vault, Oracle is not viewed as a heterogeneous provider of database security and compliance products. The Secerno acquisition is a good fit because it fills the technology gaps and provides cross-platform support.

The short-term advantage for Oracle customers is as an alternative to patching: They can temporarily block database attacks until patches can be verified and rolled into production. The long-term value is a heterogeneous security platform to protect most production databases, and a low impact way to collect SQL activity for compliance.

Ironically, this is one of the few times database operation teams will have their jobs made easier by a security product. All in all, this was a very good move by Oracle.

Adrian Lane is an analyst/CTO with Securosis LLC, an independent security consulting practice. Special to Dark Reading.

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