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11/16/2006
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Study: SQL Server Is Safest DB

Research finds significantly fewer vulnerabilities in SQL Server database than in Oracle

That big spike in Web application vulnerabilities is bad news for your database. And apparently, some databases are more of a target than others.

Eric Ogren, security analyst for Enterprise Strategy Group, has compiled Common Vulnerabilities and Exposures (CVE) data from Oracle, Microsoft's SQL Server, and the open source MySQL database, and found some major differences. In fact, Oracle has 70 vulnerabilities, MySQL has 59, and SQL Server has just two. Sybase has seven, and IBM's DB2 has four, according to ESG's findings.

Ogren says some of the security-related features built into Microsoft's SQL Server has helped keep its number of reported bugs to a minimum. "Microsoft finds the problems before it gets to the point of using a scanning tool," he says, whereas Oracle relies on scanning for problems after development is complete, he says.

But Ted Julian, vice president of marketing for AppSec, which sells vulnerability scanning tools for databases, says the lopsided vulnerability count may be more a function of where the more valuable corporate data typically lies -- in the Oracle database. "There's no question the research community has been more focused on Oracle," he says. "Oracle is far more likely to have valuable data on it" than SQL Server, Julian says.

Ogren, however, doesn't agree that Oracle databases necessarily hold more precious data. "I see plenty of companies that have confidential data in SQL Server, Oracle, DB2 and Sybase. It is certainly not as if it all sits on Oracle," he says.

But either way you slice it, hacking a database is like striking gold, whether it's via a Web app or database bug -- or both. There have been a number of security issues with Web applications recently. (See The Web App Security Gap and Cross-Site Scripting: Attackers' New Favorite Flaw.) And at least one-third of the 97 million data records that were compromised since 2005 came from a database, AppSec's Julian notes. (See Database Threat Intensifies.)

"What's the most obvious target in the world? The database," he says. "It's where data lives in a single place."

Over 70 percent of the vulnerabilities Symantec saw this year were Web application bugs, which are often the entry point to the database, says Oliver Friedrichs, director of Symantec Security Response. "This goes hand-in-hand with database security," Friedrichs says. "Web apps are the front-end to a database a lot of the time. They are a mechanism to ultimately get to your database."

So those SQL injection, CGI scripts, and other vulnerabilities out there in your Web apps could lead the bad guys right to your corporate data. And that's not even taking into account the bugs in the databases themselves. "If you can break into a Web application, you can get access to the database using the same application," Friedrichs says.

And you can't count on that firewalled DMZ to protect your database anymore: Databases are most at risk to an insider threat, ESG's Ogren says, and these attacks don't typically use vulnerabilities at all.

"It could be your employees, your outsourcers, or your business partners who have an authorized ID," he says. "These are the people that know enough to take advantage of things like privilege escalation. These are more attacks against the database design than they are attacks against a vulnerability."

Ogren notes that Microsoft's latest development strategy of baking security into the code from the get-go has made SQL Server safer, as well as the fact that it disables by default the riskier options like Windows command shells and SQL browser service, which could be used by attackers. It also uses authenticated identity, where a user only gets to see what he is authorized to see in his database searches, Ogren says.

Aside from the known CVE bugs, enterprises need to watch out for configuration errors, too -- in access and account control, such as leaving the default admin password active, for instance. Database vulnerability scanners from AppSec or Imperva, for instance, help you discover just what databases are on your network. "It's stunning how often companies don't know what databases are out there," Ogren says.

Actively monitoring for zero-day vulnerabilities or insider threats is also crucial for the unknown threats to the database, and encryption is also essential, experts say.

— Kelly Jackson Higgins, Senior Editor, Dark Reading

  • Oracle Corp. (Nasdaq: ORCL)
  • Microsoft Corp. (Nasdaq: MSFT)
  • Application Security Inc.

    Kelly Jackson Higgins is the Executive Editor of Dark Reading. She is an award-winning veteran technology and business journalist with more than two decades of experience in reporting and editing for various publications, including Network Computing, Secure Enterprise ... View Full Bio

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