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Azure Database Security: 7 Best Practices You Need to Know

Azure cloud computingAzure is a cloud computing vendor, ranked among the top providers. Like all cloud vendors, Azure uses a shared responsibility model. This means that some of the responsibilities are taken care of by the cloud vendor, while the rest should be taken care of by the cloud user. 

In this article, you will learn about Azure SQL services, and the seven most important best practices needed to ensure the security of your cloud-based Azure SQL operations.

What Is Azure SQL Database?

Azure SQL Database is a fully managed database service offered by Azure. It enables you to operate SQL databases in Azure without having to worry about hardware configuration or software installation.

Azure SQL Database includes features for:

  • Long-term backup retention which enables you to keep backups for up to 10 years.
  • Geo-replication of databases for failover in disaster recovery and data loss protection.
  • Automatic tuning based on artificial intelligence.
  • Scalability and high-availability of resources.

When using Azure SQL Database, there are several areas in which you should focus your security efforts:

  • Ensure you meet data privacy standards and regulatory compliance requirements.
  • Restrict access to your databases and harden security permissions.
  • Monitor changes across your database to ensure data integrity and privacy.
  • Detect and respond to potential threats.

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7 Azure Database Security Best Practices 

Whether you’ve decided to migrate your databases to Azure or want to start fresh, there are several best practices you can apply to ensure the security of your data.

  1. Inventory your data

Inventorying your data helps you ensure that protections are applied correctly and that resources are focused on your most valuable assets. If you do not know where data is stored or under what circumstances, you cannot ensure that it is properly protected. 

SQL Information Protection is a service that you can use to automatically discover and classify data. It enables you to tag data with classifications which can then be used when applying policies and for querying. For example, you can explicitly audit and protect searches that include sensitive data. The service also includes a detailed dashboard that you can use to monitor and verify classifications within your database. 

  1. Apply encryption protocols

Ensure that your data is encrypted in-transit and at-rest. The Always Encrypted feature built-in to Azure SQL Database enables you to prevent data from being exposed even when in memory/use. It does this by withholding encryption keys from the database engine, ensuring that only data owners have access. This method prevents even database administrators and cloud admins from accessing protected data. 

For greatest protection, this feature should be used in combination with other encryption protocols, such as TDE and TLS. By combining methods, you can restrict the use of Always Encrypted to high sensitivity data. This reduces performance impacts while ensuring that protections are applied across all data.

  1. Enable multi-factor authentication (MFA)

MFA is an authentication method that requires users to verify through multiple methods that they are who they claim to be. A common method of MFA is to send a code to a mobile device or to require a fingerprint and a password. This reduces the chances that attackers are able to access your database with compromised credentials.

You should enable MFA in Azure Active Directory (AD) to use interactive authentication and Conditional Access. This sets strict controls for when users are able to access resources. If you are using federated AD services, consider activating these controls for all users. 

  1. Set up escalation alerts for critical situations

You need to monitor your database for high severity issues such as malware infection, rapid data deletion, data exfiltration, or suspicious login attempts and configure alerts accordingly. These alerts help ensure that security teams are aware of issues as soon as an event occurs and can prevent incidents from being overlooked.

You can use an intelligent alert system like OnPage to ensure high-priority alerts reach security or IT staff. OnPage uses persistent, eight-hour intrusive alerts to ensure the right person receives the alert and takes care of the issue to safeguard your data. 

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  1. Periodically audit databases

Auditing can help you monitor database activity, identify vulnerabilities in access permissions or configurations, and maintain regulatory compliance. The specific audits you should perform depend on your data use and what compliance standards apply to your data. 

Auditing databases requires you to continuously track and log database events. The simplest way to accomplish this is to enable SQL Database Auditing. This feature enables you to track events and write logs to an Azure Log Analytics workspace or your Azure Storage account. 

Another useful tool for auditing is the Azure SQL Database Vulnerability Assessment service. This service enables you to scan for potential vulnerabilities by comparing settings to best practices. It can help you identify misconfigurations, unprotected data, and excessive permissions at both the database and server levels. If vulnerabilities are found, issues are flagged so that you can make changes according to the best practices configurations deviate from. 

  1. Enable threat detection

To ensure the security of your databases, you need tools for detecting and responding to threats as quickly as possible. Azure SQL Database Advanced Threat Detection is a service you can use to configure security alerts for potential threats specific to your database. It can also provide recommendations for investigating and responding to threats based on correlated threat data. 

You should also consider employing detection tools for your network as a whole. Rather than waiting until an attacker gains access to your database, consider adopting endpoint detection and response (EDR) solutions. These solutions can monitor traffic across your network perimeter and notify you of access attempts. Most solutions can also automatically respond to suspicious events, mitigating damage.

  1. Apply threat protections

The most efficient way to protect your database in Azure is to enable SQL Advanced Data Security (ADS). This package of tools includes many of the above features and services, including Advanced Threat Detection, vulnerability assessments, and data discovery and classification capabilities. 

SQL ADS enables you to manage and monitor your database and these services from a centralized dashboard. This makes maintenance easier and more efficient. You can use this package with specific SQL servers or managed instances, or across your servers and instances. To use it across your services, you need to subscribe to the Azure Security Center Standard tier.

Conclusion

Azure provides many built-in security features for network security, access management, threat protection and information protection. However, not all of the security features are automatic. In fact, many require configuration. Also, not all features apply to all services, so it is important to review the detailed overview offered in the official documentation

Remember that in a dynamic digital sphere, updates are a constant occurrence. Be sure to keep abreast of new changes, and apply necessary security adjustments on a continual basis. The more current your security operation, the better your posture. Threat actors are always on the lookout for a vulnerability, so it is up to monitor your environment and keep it safe.

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