The flow of personal data is expanding fast, raising issues related to storage and use. Data stored in the databases is of strategic importance, but it’s also more urgent to address various concerns over data and privacy. The challenge for data protection regimes is managing the risks and addressing the concerns without restricting or eliminating the potential benefits.
Databases store massive amounts of sensitive data. If you are a company, it could be your customer data. You might have heard about some companies getting hacked and large amounts of their customer data such as their SSN, Date of Birth or address, credit card numbers when hackers steal those.
This article will discuss what database security is, why it is important, and the best practices that one should follow to secure MongoDB. Moreover, If you want to install MongoDB for your application usage, you can check out our existing article on how to setup MongoDB on AWS.
What is Database Security ?
Database security refers to the collective measures used to protect and secure a database or database management software from illegitimate use, malicious threats, and attacks. Database security protects the confidentiality, integrity, and availability (CIA) of an organization’s database.
Confidentiality or privacy refers to keeping the data secretive so that only authorized users have access to it. Integrity involves maintaining the consistency, accuracy, and trustworthiness of data over its entire life cycle. Availability refers to ensuring that authorized parties can access the information when needed.
Best Practices for Securing MongoDB
According to InfoWorld, MongoDB has five security areas, namely: Authentication, Authorization, Encryption, Auditing, and Governance. We will discuss the best practices to secure them. Below are the ten best security practices for securing MongoDB:
1) MongoDB Role-Based Access Controls
Different roles like administrator, developer, owner, etc., are needed during the development process. Instead of giving all of them the same access and auth credentials, you should assign roles and create separate accounts for all types of users.
Every user should get different access according to their privileges for reading or updating specific collections. In this way, it would be easier to trace if someone tries to breach the database.
2) Limit Connections to the Database
Sometimes, a data leak can occur if a hacker gets remote access to the database. Therefore, it is considered best to allow connections only from trusted and specified IP addresses to save your database from such incidence. This practice is also known as whitelisting.
3) Use Data Encryption
Encryption converts your data from the original form into an encrypted or unreadable form, also commonly known as ciphertext. This ciphertext can only be read by the person or computer that has its decryption key. In this case, even if an intruder can obtain the data, they will not understand it without decrypting the encrypted data into its original form. Also, it is easier to protect a small decryption key than to secure the whole database data.
Two Ways to Encrypt Data with MongoDB:
- Encrypt Data in Transit: With this method, the data is encrypted using TLS (Transport Layer Security) while it is in transition. Everyone should use this network encryption for the safe transfer of data. MongoDB provides this encryption by default.
- Encrypt Data at Rest: With this method, you can encrypt the data where it is stored. It can protect your database if someone can acquire the server image or database files backup. However, you need to upgrade from MongoDB Community Edition to MongoDB Enterprise Edition or use MongoDB Atlas to use this encryption method.
4) Add Extra Encryption for Sensitive Data
As most of the encryption is done on the server, someone with access to the server can read the data. To tackle this, you can use Client-Side FLE (Field-Level Encryption) to add an extra encryption layer.
With the help of FLE, only relevant roles can access their private data by using their unique decryption key. Hence, with MongoDB 4.2 Client-Side FLE, you can ensure that even the admin, developer, and analyst cannot see the user’s sensitive data.
5) Maintain Logs
With the help of MongoDB Enterprise’s Enterprise Edition, you get complete audit trail functions for administrative actions. This enables us to maintain logs to track the changes made by anyone at a particular time.
These log files can further be sent to a robust log aggregator or a Security Information and Event Management (SIEM) tool to get real-time analysis and better track malicious activities.
6) Restrict Network Exposure
Another best practice to secure the data stored in MongoDB is to restrict network exposure. You should set the exposure to the localhost interface rather than exposing it to the outside connections. This feature is already enabled in the recent versions. Nonetheless, you should look for this configuration and update respectively.
7) Use Official MongoDB Packages
You can easily install MongoDB packages from all the popular Linux distributions. However, before the installation process, you need to make sure that you install the official MongoDB packages. You can also verify the integrity of MongoDB packages by following the steps mentioned in this documentation.
8) Regularly Update Security Fixes
Nothing is completely secure. Hackers are constantly trying to find loopholes in the current security features. Therefore, it is suggested to regularly update for getting additional security and bug fixes as soon as they are released. Furthermore, another benefit of staying updated to the most recent updated version is that you do not face the issues and conflicts with other updated frameworks in the tech stack.
9) Create Regular Backups
Although, nowadays, there is little to no chance of losing your data because of hardware failure of the data center where you have stored your database. You should create backups regularly, and just to be on the safe side, you should store them on separate servers.
Also, you should create replicas (also known as shards) and store them on different servers. In this case, if the primary database fails due to any reason, for the time being, you are still able to access and retrieve the data from a secondary one. Understand the importance of replication and sharding for better data availability and stability.
10) Mongo DB Community or Enterprise Edition?
Lastly, the question most people are concerned about is which edition they should choose? Community or Enterprise?
The Community Edition of MongoDB is a free open source database with lots of security features. Yet, suppose you or your company can afford it. In that case, it is always recommended to upgrade to the Enterprise version for additional performance and security features like encryption at rest, LDAP integration, etc. You can also see the comparison between both options here.
It is even better to use MongoDB Atlas, a fully-managed database that offers even more features than the Enterprise version. MongoDB Atlas is available on all three popular clouds: AWS (Amazon Web Services), Microsoft Azure, and GCP (Google Cloud Platform). If you want to first try self hosting MongoDB on Azure or AWS, review our article on hosting MongoDB on Azure or AWS.
In this article, we discussed why it is important to secure your database, furthermore, the article highlighted how MongoDB understands and takes database security under serious consideration. MongoDB provides great breadth and depth of the best present-day database security practices.