Introduction to Database Security Issues

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Database security is a broad area that addresses many issues, including the following:

  ? Various legal and ethical issues regarding the right to access certain information—for example, some information may be deemed to be private and cannot be accessed legally by unauthorized organizations or persons. In the United States, there are numerous laws governing privacy of information.

  ? Policy issues at the governmental, institutional, or corporate level as to what kinds of information should not be made publicly available—for example, credit ratings and personal medical records.

  ? System-related issues such as the system levels at which various security functions should be enforced—for example, whether a security function should be handled at the physical hardware level, the operating system level, or the DBMS level.

  ? The need in some organizations to identify multiple security levels and to categorize the data and users based on these classifications—for example, top secret, secret, confidential, and unclassified. The security policy of the organization with respect to permitting access to various classifications of data must be enforced.

Threats to Databases.  Threats to databases can result in the loss or degradation of some or all of the following commonly accepted security goals: integrity, availability, and confidentiality.

  ? Loss of integrity. Database integrity refers to the requirement that information be protected from improper modification. Modification of data includes creation, insertion, updating, changing the status of data, and deletion. Integrity is lost if unauthorized changes are made to the data by either intentional or accidental acts. If the loss of system or data integrity is not corrected, continued use of the contaminated system or corrupted data could result in inaccuracy, fraud, or erroneous decisions. 

   ? Loss of availability. Database availability refers to making objects available to a human user or a program to which they have a legitimate right.

  ? Loss of confidentiality. Database confidentiality refers to the protection of data from unauthorized disclosure. The impact of unauthorized disclosure of confidential information can range from violation of the Data Privacy Act to the jeopardization of national security. Unauthorized, unanticipated, or unintentional disclosure could result in loss of public confidence, embarrassment, or legal action against the organization.

To protect databases against these types of threats, it is common to implement four kinds of control measures: access control, inference control, flow control, and encryption. We discuss each of these in this chapter. In a multiuser database system, the DBMS must provide techniques to enable certain users or user groups to access selected portions of a database without gaining access to the rest of the database. This is particularly important when a large integrated database is to be used by many different users within the same organization. For example, sensitive information such as employee salaries or performance reviews should be kept confidential from most of the database system’s users. A DBMS typically includes a database security and authorization subsystem that is responsible for ensuring the security of portions of a database against unauthorized access. It is now customary to refer to two types of database security mechanisms:

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? Discretionary security mechanisms. These are used to grant privileges to users, including the capability to access specific data files, records, or fields in a specified mode (such as read, insert, delete, or update).

? Mandatory security mechanisms. These are used to enforce multilevel security by classifying the data and users into various security classes (or levels) and then implementing the appropriate security policy of the organization. For example, a typical security policy is to permit users at a certain classification (or clearance) level to see only the data items classified at the user’s own (or lower) classification level. An extension of this is role-based security, which enforces policies and privileges based on the concept of organizational roles.





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