Reporting for compliance and security, job scheduling, and integration with other business systems are the topics this post will focus on. These are the features outside the core scanning function that make managing a database vulnerability assessment product easier. Most database assessment vendors have listed these features for years, but they were implemented in a marketing “check the box” way, not really to provide ease of use and not particularly intended to help customers. Actually, that comment applies to the products in general. In the 2003-2005 time frame, database assessment products pretty much sucked. There really is no other way to capture the essence of the situation. They had basic checks for vulnerabilities, but most lacked security best practices and operational policies, and were insecure in their own right. Reliability, separation of duites, customization, result set management, trend analysis, workflow, integration with reporting or trouble-ticketing – for any of these, you typically had to look elsewhere. Application Security’s product was the best of a bad lot, which included crappy offerings from IPLocks, NGS, ISS, nTier, and a couple others.

I was asked the other day “Why are you writing about database assessment? Why now? Don’t most people know what assessment is?” There are a lot of reasons for this. Unlike DAM or DLP, we’re not defining and demystifying a market. Database security and compliance requirements have been at issue for many years now, but only recently have platforms have matured sufficiently to realize their promise. These are not funky little homegrown tools any longer, but maturing into enterprise-ready products. There are new vendors in the space, and (given some of the vendor calls we get) several more will join the mix. They are bringing considerable resources to table beyond what the startups of 5 years ago were capable of, integrating the assessment feature into a broader security portfolio of preventative and detective controls. Even the database vendors are starting to take notice and invest in their products. If you reviewed database assessment products more than two years ago and were dissatisfied, it’s time for another look.

On to some of the management features that warrant closer review:


As with nearly any security tool, you’ll want flexible reporting options, but pay particular attention to compliance and auditing reports, to support compliance needs. What is suitable for the security staffer or administrator may be entirely unsuitable for a different internal audience, both in content and level of detail. Further, some products generate one or more reports from scan results while others tie scan results to a single report.

Reports should fall into at least three broad categories: compliance and non-technical reports, security reports (incidents), and general technical reports. Built-in report templates can save valuable time by not only grouping together the related policies, providing the level of granularity you want. Some vendors have worked with auditors from the major firms to help design reports for specific regulations, like SOX & PCI, and automatically generate reports during an audit.

If your organization needs flexibility in report creation, you may exceed the capability of the assessment product and need to export the data to a third party tool. Plan on taking some time to analyze built-in reports, report templates, and report customization capabilities.


Some vendors offer single policy alerts for issues deemed critical. These issues can be highlighted and escalated independent of other reporting tools, providing flexibility in how to handle high priority issues. Assessment products are considered a preventative security measure, and unlike monitoring, alerting is not a typical use case. Policies are grouped by job function, and rather than provide single policy scanning or escalation internally, critical policy failures are addressed through trouble-ticketing systems, as part of normal maintenance. If your organization is moving to a “patch and shield” model, prioritized policy alerts are a long-term feature to consider.


You will want to schedule policies to run on a periodic basis, and all of the platforms provide schedulers to launch scans. Job control may be provided internally, or handled via external software or even as “cron jobs”. Most customers we speak with run security scans on a weekly basis, but compliance scans vary widely. Frequency depends upon type and category of the policy. For example, change management / work order reconciliation is a weekly cycle for some companies, and a quarterly job at others. Vendors should be able to schedule scans to match your cycles.

Remediation & Integration

Once policy violation are identified, you need to get the information into the right hands so that corrective action can be taken. Since incident handlers may come from either a database or a security background, look for a tool that appeals to both audiences and supplies each with the information they need to understand incidents and investigate appropriately. This can be done through reports or workflow systems, such as Remedy from BMC. As we discussed in the policy section, each policy should have a thorough description, remediation instructions, and references to additional information. Addressing all of the audiences may be a policy and report customization effort for your team. Some vendors provide hooks for escalation procedures and delivery to different audiences. Others use relational databases to store scan results and can be directly integrated into third-party systems.

Result Set Management

All the assessment products store scan results, but differ on where and how. Some store the raw data retrieved from the database, some store the result of a comparison of raw data against the policy, and still others store the result within a report structure. Both for trend analysis, and pursuant to certain regulatory requirements, you might need to store scan results for a period of a year or more. Depending upon how these results are stored, the results and the reports may change with time! Examine how the product stores and retrieves prior scan results and reports as they may keep raw result data, or the reports, or both. Regenerated reports might be different if the policies they were mapped to change. Trend analysis is an important aspect to understanding how security is affected by normal administration and patch management. Consider how historic data is presented to ensure it is suitable your requirements.

Platform and Deployment

Assessment scanners are offered both as appliances and as software. Remote credentials assessments as SaaS are not available as of this writing. Your vendor should provide a web management interface over a secure connection. Proper account management is needed to enforce roles for policy creation, database credential management, and scan results, and many offer integration with external access control systems. The scanner will require maintenance like any other platform. If the vendor is using a relational database to store data within their application stack, this will impact security and operations (positively and negatively), and should be included as one of your regularly scanned databases.

As with any product, it’s sometimes difficult to cut through the marketing materials and figure out if a product really meets your needs. This breakdown of the functional elements is intended to give you an idea of what is possible with state of the art products, and a basic checklist of functions to review for a proof of concept. While the cost of the assessment features is much less than monitoring or auditing solutions, don’t skimp on the evaluation and make sure you test the products as thoroughly as possible. The results need to satisfy a large audience and be integrated with more systems than DAM or other auditing products.