As more of our sensitive data is shared online with every passing day, database security becomes increasingly important.

Databases belonging to companies we have shared our data with are veritable treasure troves of information, potentially including details such as our passwords and usernames, purchasing habits, physical address, and other contact details, and even medical information and banking information. An attacker gaining access to this information could use it in all sorts of ways to hurt individuals — and companies as well.

Given the precious cargo databases carry, like bank vaults in a high-stakes heist movie, it’s no surprise to hear that instances of cybercriminals attempting to hack into databases are on the rise. Methods of attack can include phishing, brute force, or malware. Once they are able to break into a database, hackers could use the information for their own nefarious purposes (such as user login details for credential stuffing attacks to try and access other online accounts) or to sell on the dark web or in hacker forums.

Neither of those two options is a good one for the individuals the data belongs to.

As Safe as can be?

With bad actors seeking to gain access to valuable customer data, you’d like to think that companies safeguard their databases as if they were nuclear launch codes. Many do exactly that. Unfortunately, there are also plenty of examples of data being exposed not because a genius cyber villain invents an innovative new means of breaking in but because the database containing the information has severe vulnerabilities.

This is more common than lots of people would like to believe. A recent report found that close to 50 percent of all components have known vulnerabilities in their databases. The average database considered vulnerable has a massive 26 publicly disclosed flaws — with upward of half of these being considered either critical or high severity.

For hackers, seeking out a way to exploit a vulnerability once it’s been discovered in a database is as simple as carrying out a quick Google search. The study was based on scans of more than 29,000 internal databases.

The Threat of Database Vulnerabilities

Database vulnerabilities are extremely bad news. Leaked data can hurt customers in all sorts of ways. It can hurt companies too. It can result in lasting damage to brand reputation. If data is a vital part of a company’s business (which, increasingly, is true for many, many organizations), a data breach will cause many customers to reconsider sharing their personal information with that entity, knowing its track record. This can therefore lead to a dip in revenue.

It’s also important to note that database vulnerabilities don’t just mean exposing customer data. In many cases, databases hold proprietary company information — meaning that an exposed database could mean accidentally leaking intellectual property (IP). Unscrupulous rivals may be more than willing to jump on this information, thereby costing companies their competitive edge.

One other way businesses can be negatively affected by exposed data is through punitive measures due to their regulatory failure to protect the information. These punishments, handed out by authorities, can come with hefty fines and, potentially, other punitive measures which could hurt the business and its standing for a long time.

Perhaps the most shocking thing about database vulnerabilities, however, is how unnecessary they frequently are. Often patches are available for solving these problems, but the databases have not been updated to support them. Reasons for failure to patch databases can vary but frequently involve a lack of resources leading to a challenge in patching every single flaw as it’s discovered. Nonetheless, this can lead to significant problems. Unaddressed, companies can be at the mercy of vulnerabilities that were discovered and patched years earlier.

Protecting Against Database Security Problems

It is essential that companies manage database security risks. Patching vulnerable software is essential, as are other measures like ensuring that databases are properly encrypted, thereby stopping them from being used even if a breach does take place. There are also database security tools available that can help.

Database monitoring tools that operate in real-time are able to continually scan databases, searching for potential breaches, thereby allowing businesses to act quickly to mitigate an attack. Other tools, such as database firewalls and web application firewalls, can also protect against attacks like SQL injections. In addition, file security and file integrity protection (FIM) measures can safeguard against threats wherever they hail from.

The database security issue is a challenging one. The impacts of a database breach are almost too bad to consider. However, this is such an important area that it is one every company MUST think about — and practice good data hygiene practices to stop becoming the existential threat it could represent.

The stakes couldn’t be higher. If this is an unaddressed area for your business, you need to act immediately.