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About Bozhidar Bozhanov

Bozhidar Bozhanov
Senior Java developer, one of the top stackoverflow users, fluent with Java and Java technology stacks - Spring, JPA, JavaEE, as well as Android, Scala and any framework you throw at him. creator of Computoser - an algorithmic music composer. Worked on telecom projects, e-government and large-scale online recruitment and navigation platforms.

My Advice To Developers About Working With Databases: Make It Secure

Last month Ben Brumm asked me for the one advice I’d like to give to developers that are working with databases (in reality – almost all of us). He published mine as well as many others’ answers here, but I’d like to share it with my readers as well.

If I had to give developers working with databases one advice, it would be: make it secure. Every other thing you’ll figure in time – how to structure your tables, how to use ORM, how to optimize queries, how to use indexes, how to do multitenancy. But security may not be on the list of requirements and it may be too late when the need becomes obvious.

So I’d focus on several things:

  • Prevent SQL injections – make sure you use an ORM or prepared statements rather than building queries with string concatenation. Otherwise a malicious actor can inject anything in your queries and turn them into a DROP DATABASE query, or worse – one that exfiltrates all the data.
  • Support encryption in transit – this often has to be supported by the application’s driver configuration, e.g. by trusting a particular server certificate. Unencrypted communication, even within the same datacenter, is a significant risk and that’s why databases support encryption in transit. (You should also think about encryption at rest, but that’s more of an Ops task)
  • Have an audit log at the application level – “who did what” is a very important question from a security and compliance point of view. And no native database functionality can consistently answer the question “who” – it’s the application that manages users. So build an audit trail layer that records who did what changes to what entities/tables.
  • Consider record-level encryption for sensitive data – a database can be dumped in full by those who have access (or gain access maliciously). This is how data breaches happen. Sensitive data (like health data, payment data, or even API keys, secrets or tokens) benefits from being encrypted with an application-managed key, so that access to the database alone doesn’t reveal that data. Another option, often used for credit cards, is tokenization, which shifts the encryption responsibility to the tokenization providers. Managing the keys is hard, but even a basic approach is better than nothing.

Security is often viewed as an “operations” responsibility, and this has lead to a lot of tools that try to solve the above problems without touching the application – web application firewalls, heuristics for database access monitoring, trying to extract the current user, etc. But the application is the right place for many of these protections (although certainly not the only place), and as developers we need to be aware of the risks and best practices.

Published on Java Code Geeks with permission by Bozhidar Bozhanov, partner at our JCG program. See the original article here: My Advice To Developers About Working With Databases: Make It Secure

Opinions expressed by Java Code Geeks contributors are their own.

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St1mpy
St1mpy
5 days ago

Do not encrypt the database values!