Nowadays, databases are cardinal components of any web based application by enabling websites to provide varying dynamic content. Since very sensitive or secret information can be stored in a database, you should strongly consider protecting your databases.


Designing Databases

The first step is always to create the database, unless you want to use one from a third party. When a database is created, it is assigned to an owner, who executed the creation statement. Usually, only the owner (or a superuser) can do anything with the objects in that database, and in order to allow other users to use it, privileges must be granted.

Applications should never connect to the database as its owner or a superuser, because these users can execute any query at will, for example, modifying the schema (e.g. dropping tables) or deleting its entire content.

You may create different database users for every aspect of your application with very limited rights to database objects. The most required privileges should be granted only, and avoid that the same user can interact with the database in different use cases. This means that if intruders gain access to your database using your applications credentials, they can only effect as many changes as your application can.

You are encouraged not to implement all the business logic in the web application (i.e. your script), instead do it in the database schema using views, triggers or rules. If the system evolves, new ports will be intended to open to the database, and you have to re-implement the logic in each separate database client. Over and above, triggers can be used to transparently and automatically handle fields, which often provides insight when debugging problems with your application or tracing back transactions.

Connecting to Database

You may want to establish the connections over SSL to encrypt client/server communications for increased security, or you can use ssh to encrypt the network connection between clients and the database server. If either of these is used, then monitoring your traffic and gaining information about your database will be difficult for a would-be attacker.

Encrypted Storage Model

SSL/SSH protects data travelling from the client to the server: SSL/SSH does not protect persistent data stored in a database. SSL is an on-the-wire protocol.

Once an attacker gains access to your database directly (bypassing the webserver), stored sensitive data may be exposed or misused, unless the information is protected by the database itself. Encrypting the data is a good way to mitigate this threat, but very few databases offer this type of data encryption.

The easiest way to work around this problem is to first create your own encryption package, and then use it from within your PHP scripts. PHP can assist you in this with several extensions, such as Mcrypt and Mhash, covering a wide variety of encryption algorithms. The script encrypts the data before inserting it into the database, and decrypts it when retrieving.

SQL Injection

Many web developers are unaware of how SQL queries can be tampered with, and assume that an SQL query is a trusted command. It means that SQL queries are able to circumvent access controls, thereby bypassing standard authentication and authorization checks, and sometimes SQL queries even may allow access to host operating system level commands.

Direct SQL Command Injection is a technique where an attacker creates or alters existing SQL commands to expose hidden data, or to override valuable ones, or even to execute dangerous system level commands on the database host. This is accomplished by the application taking user input and combining it with static parameters to build an SQL query.

Owing to the lack of input validation and connecting to the database on behalf of a superuser or the one who can create users, the attacker may create a superuser in your database.

Avoidance Techniques

While it remains obvious that an attacker must possess at least some knowledge of the database architecture in order to conduct a successful attack, obtaining this information is often very simple. For example, if the database is part of an open source or other publicly-available software package with a default installation, this information is completely open and available. This information may also be divulged by closed-source code – even if it’s encoded, obfuscated, or compiled – and even by your very own code through the display of error messages. Other methods include the user of common table and column names. For example, a login form that uses a ‘users’ table with column names ‘id’, ‘username’, and ‘password’.

These attacks are mainly based on exploiting the code not being written with security in mind. Never trust any kind of input, especially that which comes from the client side, even though it comes from a select box, a hidden input field or a cookie. The first example shows that such a blameless query can cause disasters.

  • Never connect to the database as a superuser or as the database owner. Use always customized users with very limited privileges.
  • Use prepared statements with bound variables. They are provided by PDO, by MySQLi and by other libraries.
  • Check if the given input has the expected data type. PHP has a wide range of input validating functions, from the simplest ones found in Variable Functions and in Character Type Functions (e.g. is_numeric(), ctype_digit() respectively) and onwards to the Perl compatible Regular Expressions support.
  • If the application waits for numerical input, consider verifying data with ctype_digit(), or silently change its type using settype(), or use its numeric representation by sprintf().

  •  If the database layer doesn’t support binding variables then quote each non numeric user supplied value that is passed to the database with the database-specific string escape function (e.g. mysql_real_escape_string(), sqlite_escape_string(), etc.). Generic functions like addslashes() are useful only in a very specific environment (e.g. MySQL in a single-byte character set with disabled NO_BACKSLASH_ESCAPES) so it is better to avoid them.
  • Do not print out any database specific information, especially about the schema, by fair means or foul. See also Error Reporting and Error Handling and Logging Functions.
  • You may use stored procedures and previously defined cursors to abstract data access so that users do not directly access tables or views, but this solution has another impacts.        

Your database contains all your important information if the database is erased or corrupted you lose everything.

Sometimes accident can happen when we least expert it. If you can have made a careless mistake and your database is gone how can you restore your data in your database?

So Backup your database regularly.

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