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Database Assessment Solutions, Part 5: Operations and Compliance policies

By Adrian Lane

Technically speaking, the market segment we are talking about is “Database Vulnerability Assessment”. You might have noticed that we titled this series “Database Assessment”. No, it was not just because the titles of these posts are too long (they are). The primary motivation for this name was to stress that this is not just about vulnerabilities and security. While the genesis of this market is security, compliance with regulatory mandates and operations policies are what drives the buying decisions, as noted in part 2. (For easy reference, here are Part 1, Part 3, and Part 4). In many ways, compliance and operational consistency are harder problems to solve because they requires more work and tuning on your part, and that need for customization is our focus in this post.

In 4GL programming we talk about objects and instantiation. The concept of instantiation is to take a generic object and give it life; make it a real instance of the generic thing, with unique attributes and possibly behavior. You need to think about databases in the same way as, when started up, no two are alike. There may be two installations of DB2 that serve the same application, but they are run by different companies, store different data, are managed by different DBAs, have altered the base functions in various ways, run on different hardware, and have different configurations. This is why configuration tuning can be difficult: unlike vulnerability policies that detect specific buffer overflows or SQL injection attacks, operational policies are company specific and are derived from best practices.

We have already listed a number of the common vulnerability and security policies. The following is a list of policies that apply to IT operations on the database environment or system:

Operations Policies

Password requirements (lifespan, composition) Data files (number, location, permissions) Audit log files (presence, permissions, currency) Product version (version control, patches) Itemize (unneeded) functions Database consistency (i.e., DBCC-DB on SQL Server) checks Statistics (statspack, auto-statistics) Backup report (last, frequency, destination) Error log generation and access Segregation of admin role Simultaneous admin logins Ad hoc query usage Discovery (databases, data) Remediation instructions & approved patches Orphaned databases Stored procedures (list, last modified) Changes (files, patches, procedures, schema, supporting functions)

There are a lot more, but these should give you an idea of the basics a vendor should have in place, and allow you to contrast with the general security and vulnerability policies we listed in section 4.

Compliance Policies

Most regulatory requirements, from industry or government, are fulfilled by access control and system change policies we have already introduced. PCI adds a few extra requirements in the verification of security settings, access rights and patch levels, but compliance policies are generally a subset of security rules and operational policies. As the list varies by regulation, and the requirements change over time, we are not going to list them separately here. Since compliance is likely what is motivating your purchase of database assessment, you must to dig into vendor claims to verify they offer what you need. It gets tricky because some vendors tout compliance, for example “configuration compliance”, which only means you will be compliant with their list of accepted settings. These policies may not be endorsed by anyone other than the vendor, and only have coincidental relevance to PCI or SOX. In their defense, most commercially available database assessment platforms are sufficiently evolved to offer packaged sets of relevant polices for regulatory compliance, industry best practices, and detection of security vulnerabilities across all database platforms. They offer sufficient breadth and depth for what you need to get up and running very quickly, but you will need to verify your needs are met, and if not, what the deviation is.

What most of the platforms do not do very well is allow for easy policy customization, multiple policy groupings, policy revisions, and creating copies of the “out of the box” policies provided by the vendor. You need all of these features for day-to-day management, so let’s delve into each of these areas a little more. This leads into our next section on policy customization.

Policy Customization

Remember how I said in Part 3 that “you are going to be most interested in evaluating assessment tools on how well they cover the policies you need”? That is true, but probably not for the reasons that you thought. What I deliberately omitted is that the policies you are interested in prior to product evaluation will not be the same policy set you are interested in afterwards. This is especially true for regulatory policies, which grow in number and change over time. Most DBAs will tell you that the steps a database vendor advises to remediate a problem may break your applications, so you will need a customized set of steps appropriate to your environment. Further, most enterprises have evolved database usage polices far beyond “best practices”, and greatly augment what the assessment vendor provides. This means both the set of policies, and the contents of the policies themselves, will need to change. And I am not just talking about criticality, but description, remediation, the underlying query, and the result set demanded to demonstrate adherence. As you learn more about what is possible, as you refine your internal requirements, or as auditor expectations evolve, you will experience continual drift in your policy set. Sure, you will have static vulnerability and security policies, but as the platform, process, and requirements change, your operations and compliance policy sets will be fluid. How easy it is to customize policies and manage policy sets is extremely important, as it directly affects the time and complexity required to manage the platform. Is it a minute to change a policy, or an hour? Can the auditor do it, or does it require a DBA? Don’t learn this after you have made your investment. On a day-to-day basis, this will be the single biggest management challenge you face, on par with remediation costs.

Policy Groupings & Separation of Duties

For any given rule, you have several different potential audiences who may be interested in the results. IT, internal audit, external audit, security, or the DBAs may need the results from the rule in their reports. Conversely, each of these audiences might not be interested, or might be affected by and thus disallowed from seeing the results from certain rules. For example, your SQL Server database group does not need Oracle results, internal audit reports need not contain all security settings, your European database staff may not be interested in US database reports, and separation of duties may require some information be blocked from some users. Managing and grouping policies into logical sets is very important, as the reports derived from the policy set must be specific to certain audiences. You need the ability to group according to function, location, regulatory requirements, security clearance, and so on. The ability to import, update, save different versions, and schedule one or more policy sets is mandatory for modern database assessment tools.

If you take one thing away from this post it should be that you need to compare what policies are available from the vendor, what will you need to create, and how difficult that will be to accomplish. In the next post we will cover what you actually do with all the data you collect from the vulnerability, security, and operational policies. We will discuss reporting, scheduling, and integration with workflow and trouble ticket systems. We will also cover some of the more advanced topics having to do with platform management, scheduling, data storage, separation of assessment roles, and security of the assessment system itself.

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