Dark Reading is part of the Informa Tech Division of Informa PLC

This site is operated by a business or businesses owned by Informa PLC and all copyright resides with them.Informa PLC's registered office is 5 Howick Place, London SW1P 1WG. Registered in England and Wales. Number 8860726.

Perimeter

2/23/2011
10:09 PM
Adrian Lane
Adrian Lane
Commentary
50%
50%

Clearing The Air On DAM

There are two very important things to understand: First, a database firewall and a database activity monitor (DAM) are exactly the same things! Second, a database firewall can upset normal IT operations

The recent Oracle press release for the official introduction of the Database Firewall Technology has generated a lot of commotion in the database security industry in the past few days. Oracle's announcement, in an attempt to differentiate its database activity monitoring product from the rest of the DAM products on the market, has rubbed many the wrong way.

There was a lot of talk at the RSA Conference last week on this announcement by Oracle, deemed as intentionally misleading PR. Starting with Ericka Chickowski's post here on the Dark Reading site, there have been a dozen follow-on comments, most notably on Pete Finnigan's Oracle security weblog.

There are two very important things to understand: First, a database firewall and a database activity monitor (DAM) are exactly the same things! A database firewall is nothing more than a deployment option for DAM. Second, a database firewall can upset normal IT operations.

To understand these statements, let's dig into some of the background behind Oracle's acquisition of Secerno technology -- which comprises the foundation of the database firewall offering. I contend Oracle acquired Secerno to protect the database, but not strictly for the sake of security. Yes, Secerno offers Oracle a legitimate DAM product. Yes, it provides the ability to detect SQL Injection attacks and block the queries before they reach the database (provided the customer deploys the product in-line with the application).

However, that was not the principal motivating factor for Oracle's investment in the technology. The pain point cited over and over again by customers is patching is too darn hard. They don't want to apply critical patches every three months. Too difficult and too costly to do. Too likely to cause problems, and when the patches destabilize the database, it's a nightmare to back patches out. Some even encounter data corruption. A database firewall provides the benefit of the patch without the same side effects.

Two points of evidence here I believe supports this assertion. First, from the very day that the acquisition was announced, Oracle referred to Secerno as a "database firewall," with firewalls being well-understood conceptually by IT managers and DBAs. In the same way network firewalls are supposed to block malicious stuff from coming into a network, a database firewall should block stuff from getting to the database. Most IT shops have them, and they are viewed, in general, as a good thing. But "database firewall" is not the name of the market segment and is a poor description of the overall value proposition DAM provides. Oracle went in a different direction and focused on a subset of the value, which was very dangerous because many early adopters of DAM technology -- deployed as a firewall -- were negatively impacted.

But the most important point comes from Vipin Samar of Oracle: "Over time, there will be many advancements coming around to the databases, but customers do not want to have to upgrade their databases to take advantage of these new capabilities."

That is the crux of the issue: customer resistance to persistent changes to the database engine. Changes that quantifiably destabilize critical business processes in exchange for mitigating partially or unquantifiable security risks. Patches break stuff so businesses avoid patching as much as possible. The database firewall provides the benefit of patching with the perception of problems.

While it is marketed that a database firewall requires no changes to the application or database logic, it's given that you will be changing database firewall policies every time the application changes the way it communicates with the database. Remember, you are blocking SQL statements you don't recognize, good or bad. Every time you patch your applications, the communication between the application and database usually changes as well. These changes are not allowed by the firewall until you change the firewall rules. A database firewall can destabilize database operations just as easily as a bad patch, but it is much easier to fix and far less likely to cause data corruption. Building and maintaining database firewall rules, just like network and Web application firewalls, requires you invest time to make rules effective and avoid impact to business processing.

There are no surprises here, and I don't see a problem with the press release. Oracle is announcing exactly what it promised in the past. The product it offers provides the basic value Oracle claims it does, and the announcement is going exactly as predicted nine months ago. But my advice is to recognize there's no free lunch, and that you are trading one effort (policy management) for another (patching).

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

Comment  | 
Print  | 
More Insights
Comments
Newest First  |  Oldest First  |  Threaded View
DevSecOps: The Answer to the Cloud Security Skills Gap
Lamont Orange, Chief Information Security Officer at Netskope,  11/15/2019
Attackers' Costs Increasing as Businesses Focus on Security
Robert Lemos, Contributing Writer,  11/15/2019
Register for Dark Reading Newsletters
White Papers
Video
Cartoon Contest
Current Issue
Navigating the Deluge of Security Data
In this Tech Digest, Dark Reading shares the experiences of some top security practitioners as they navigate volumes of security data. We examine some examples of how enterprises can cull this data to find the clues they need.
Flash Poll
Rethinking Enterprise Data Defense
Rethinking Enterprise Data Defense
Frustrated with recurring intrusions and breaches, cybersecurity professionals are questioning some of the industrys conventional wisdom. Heres a look at what theyre thinking about.
Twitter Feed
Dark Reading - Bug Report
Bug Report
Enterprise Vulnerabilities
From DHS/US-CERT's National Vulnerability Database
CVE-2019-19037
PUBLISHED: 2019-11-21
ext4_empty_dir in fs/ext4/namei.c in the Linux kernel through 5.3.12 allows a NULL pointer dereference because ext4_read_dirblock(inode,0,DIRENT_HTREE) can be zero.
CVE-2019-19036
PUBLISHED: 2019-11-21
btrfs_root_node in fs/btrfs/ctree.c in the Linux kernel through 5.3.12 allows a NULL pointer dereference because rcu_dereference(root->node) can be zero.
CVE-2019-19039
PUBLISHED: 2019-11-21
__btrfs_free_extent in fs/btrfs/extent-tree.c in the Linux kernel through 5.3.12 calls btrfs_print_leaf in a certain ENOENT case, which allows local users to obtain potentially sensitive information about register values via the dmesg program.
CVE-2019-6852
PUBLISHED: 2019-11-20
A CWE-200: Information Exposure vulnerability exists in Modicon Controllers (M340 CPUs, M340 communication modules, Premium CPUs, Premium communication modules, Quantum CPUs, Quantum communication modules - see security notification for specific versions), which could cause the disclosure of FTP har...
CVE-2019-6853
PUBLISHED: 2019-11-20
A CWE-79: Failure to Preserve Web Page Structure vulnerability exists in Andover Continuum (models 9680, 5740 and 5720, bCX4040, bCX9640, 9900, 9940, 9924 and 9702) , which could enable a successful Cross-site Scripting (XSS attack) when using the products web server.