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Vulnerabilities / Threats

4/17/2013
04:37 PM
Adrian Lane
Adrian Lane
Commentary
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How Do You Use DAM For Blocking? You Don't

Curiously, many view blocking malicious Web application requests via WAFs as the appropriate approach

SQL injection remains a top database threat, at least if you put faith in the OWASP Top Ten threat list. In fact, it has been a top threat for about a decade. So why don't more companies use database activity monitoring (DAM) to block malicious traffic?

Most customers I speak with do not and will not use DAM to block database queries. If they view SQL injection as a threat, then they use Web application firewalls (WAFs). More to the point, they view blocking malicious Web application requests via WAFs as the appropriate approach.

Again, I ask, "Why?" SQL injection is a database attack. DAM is a tool that can block SQL injection, yet it's not the first thought in customers' minds when they think about solving this problem.

According to my research, about 2 percent to 3 percent of the companies I speak with use DAM for blocking malicious events in general. SQL injection is just one of the types of events they consider when selecting DAM for activity blocking. Of those companies I speak with that have DAM, only a handful of the databases have the blocking capability of DAM enabled -- let's say 10 percent. (I haven't exactly been scientifically rigorous in my accounting, but that's close.) Still, it's a small, small percentage of databases and an even smaller percentage of companies. It seems to be growing a bit as some customers are applying security policy not through changing application logic, but externally with DAM policies -- for example, data usage policies for HIPAA or EU privacy. But it's still a minority.

I ask why because I am still not sure why more companies don't use blocking for databases on a more regular basis. The technology is embedded in most of the DAM platforms and a handful of other database security tools. And in the case of SQL injection specifically, if I were to sit down and select a protection solution in a vacuum, personally I'd lean toward DAM as a means of filtering queries. I do acknowledge my preference is at odds with the market trend. But I think a lot of that is because of WAFs and customer perception of need is greatly altered by WAFs.

Here is why customers don't use DAM to block events:

1. WAFs are-- and were -- bought by companies to comply with PCI. More specifically, it helped companies avoid the more onerous source code security requirements specified in PCI DSS by using a WAF as a substitute. That's not what the PCI Council had in mind, or that is what I am told, but it's the truth nonetheless. That means it was not bought to protect databases, and SQL injection was not on their minds when they made the purchase. Unlike WAFs, nowhere in the PCI specification does it call for DAM.

2. SQL injection is perceived as an external threat to databases, but perpetrated through Web applications. Since customers have a broader set of Web app threats to deal with, and WAFs cover other use cases as well as SQL injection, customers will leverage a WAF investment rather than explore other options.

3. Customers don't want to use any form of database blocking with very large and complex SAP/Oracle Financials systems. Customers still don't fully trust DAM to avoid blocking legit traffic in these environments. The risk of side effects outweighs the benefit.

4. Customers don't really want to take on the management of yet another platform. Enterprise IT already has huge investments (in both time and money) in SIEM, firewalls, network gateways, and WAFs. Some even have DLP on top of the "stuff to manage" pile. Adding DAM policy management and alert reviews on top of that are not really how they want to spend their time.

Right or wrong, that is what customers communicate to me. WAFs are not always the right choice for SQL injection protection -- but in many cases, it's the easier choice.

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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