Major Database Security Threats and How to Prevent Them

Organizations and businesses must use a range of measures, protocols and tools to protect their databases from cybercriminals. If breached, malicious actors can gain access to sensitive information that they can use for financial gain. Security teams must constantly adapt and improve to protect against ever-changing security threats and maintain the integrity of a database.

This article discusses the top database security threats and how you can prevent them.

1. SQL injection attacks

SQL injection is the most common threat. This attack is performed by entering a query into an SQL form, and if the database interprets the result as “true”, it allows access to the database. These attacks typically target relational database management systems (RDBMS) based on the SQL programming language.

Non-SQL-based (NoSQL) databases are not susceptible to such attacks. Instead, NoSQL databases are targeted by queries provided by an end user who uses commands to execute malware.

Both methods are equally threatening, bypassing verification systems by obtaining credentials and then exposing the structure and contents of the database. A successful attack would give an attacker free reign of everything contained in the database.

2. Malware

Malware is designed to target vulnerabilities in a network, granting access to or damaging a database. These vulnerabilities affect unprotected endpoints on a network that can be exploited through a range of different attacks.

For IT teams to protect against malware attacks, it is important to identify the attack surface of a network. Attack surface refers to the number of vulnerabilities on a network that a cybercriminal could target.

3. Denial of service (DoS/DDoS) attacks

A Denial of Service (DoS) attack occurs when a database server receives more requests than it can handle, causing the system to become unstable or crash. These erroneous requests can be created by an attacker and directed to a specific target. The volume of bogus requests overwhelms the system leading to downtime for the victim.

A Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attack uses a botnet (a very large network of computers) to create an enormous amount of traffic that even the most advanced security systems would struggle to prevent. The best defense against these types of attacks is to use a cloud-based DoS protection service that can help limit the volume of high and suspicious traffic.

4. Mismanagement of permissions

Many organizations fail to change the default security settings during the initial installation of a database server. Just a few years ago, as many as 20% of companies didn’t even change the default passwords for privileged accounts. This makes them vulnerable to attack from attackers who know about the flaws and, more importantly, how they can be exploited.

Criminals can obtain login credentials for privileged accounts when accessing the database. Inactive accounts can also pose a risk if an attacker is aware of their existence. This is why permission management should be at the forefront when developing the cybersecurity part of your business as a whole, using zero-trust protocols to prevent unauthorized access.

Sometimes a user can accidentally receive permissions on the database that he shouldn’t have access to. This presents an opportunity for hackers to target these users with phishing scams or other tactics that attempt to drop malware onto their devices.

Cybercriminals can also attempt to take control of the organization’s data management system, changing privileges so that they can access the database at any time.

5. Database Backup Shows

Regularly backing up a database is obviously recommended, but often many of these backups are unprotected, making them a common target for attackers. Securing backups is especially vital for industries that hold vital customer information, such as healthcare providers or banks and financial institutions.

To avoid database exposures, you must:

  • Encrypt your database and all backups made.
  • Perform regular audits of databases and their backups to record who has accessed this data.

6. Inadequate Audit

A poor audit can present a golden opportunity for cybercriminals, rendering your database non-compliant with data security regulations. Organizations are required to log all events that take place on a database server and perform regular audits. Of course, such an audit is better to use automated systems.

Failure to implement effective auditing procedures increases the chances of a successful cyberattack. However, it is also important that any automated auditing software does not impact overall database performance.

7. Unprotected databases due to misconfiguration

Attacks resulting from misconfiguration are also often caused by unprotected databases when certain settings and accounts remain unchanged from their initial default settings. Using these defaults, an experienced attacker can gain access. This is why companies should always ensure that their databases are managed properly, using thorough procedures and audits. Database management should be done by an expert, either an in-house professional or an external cybersecurity firm.

8. Powers

Social engineering attacks, such as phishing or clickbait advertising, can be used to obtain login credentials that an attacker can use to gain access to a network and database.

9. Unencrypted Data

Data encryption is a fundamental and crucial component of any cybersecurity policy, especially when it comes to the protection of financial information. All account and financial data stored at your financial institution must be encrypted. This way, even if any of the data is stolen, the encryption ensures that it is unusable. Indeed, at least one cybersecurity law mandates data encryption to comply with regulations

How to Prevent Database Security Threats

Below are preventive measures to reduce your database’s vulnerability to cybersecurity threats:

  • Better training of employees so that best practices are used daily.
  • Determine your network and database attack surface.
  • Using a zero trust system.
  • Removal of inactive accounts and limitation of privileges for standard users.
  • Encryption of the database and all backups.
  • Blocking potentially malicious web requests.
  • Monitor who is accessing the database and analyze usage patterns.
  • Using masking to mask database fields containing sensitive information.


There are many different security threats that can pose a significant risk to your organization’s and your customers’ data. The most common database threat is SQL injection, but attacks such as denial of service and malware are just as dangerous. Training your employees, using encryption, and managing user privileges are some of the best ways to protect your database from a cyberattack.

About the Author: Isla Sibanda is an ethical hacker and cybersecurity specialist based in Pretoria. For more than twelve years, she worked as a cybersecurity analyst and penetration testing specialist for several reputable companies, including Standard Bank Group, CipherWave and Axxess.

Editor’s note: The opinions expressed in this guest author article are solely those of the contributor and do not necessarily reflect those of Tripwire, Inc.