SQL, or Structured Query Language, is the standard language for interacting with databases. In apps or other types of programming, databases are used to store data like usernames and passwords. Databases are the most secure solution for storing other types of data ranging from blog posts to bank account numbers.

A Structured Query Language (SQL) injection attack is a type of cyber-attack that results from inserting malicious code into a server that uses SQL. When infected, the server releases information.

In this blog, we will discuss how SQL injection attacks work, and how to prevent them from affecting your business.

How Does a SQL Injection Attack Work?

In standard software, a SQL query is a request that is sent to a database for an activity or function. For example, if an employee submitted their login information to a bank website. Usually, web forms like login screens are designed to accept only very specific types of data. When the staff member types the information in and presses enter, the web form will check to see if it matches and let them in. If not, the website will deny access. 

This has the potential to be dangerous because some web forms have no way of stopping additional information from being entered on the forms. Hackers will initiate a SQL injection attack by exploiting this weakness. 

Hackers will take advantage of the poorly written code and tinker with it by adding tweaks to the code. It could be something as simple as a semicolon or adding important keywords to the original code. If the attacker uses the proper SQL language, they could manipulate a web form to give access to a page where it normally would not. 

The most frequent and commonly used SQL injection attacks are the union-based SQL injection and the error-based SQL injection. With union-based attacks, hackers use the UNION keyword in their code to steal data from the database. In error-based attacks, attackers rely on error messages given by the application database servers. Attackers then use these error messages to figure out the details of the database. 

Successful SQL injection attacks can read, modify, and recover data present in the database. Injection attacks can perform administrative actions on a database, or even issue commands to the operating system. In some cases, hackers have been able to obtain a persistent backdoor into a company’s system, leading to long-term vulnerabilities that can go unnoticed for an extended period. 

How Can I Prevent SQL Injection Attacks?

When preventing these types of attacks, you and your development team will want to work closely together. You should look to discover vulnerabilities by throwing all types of inputs at your website. Whatever flaws you find should be repaired immediately. Testing is the key to discovering security flaws in your applications. 

It is critical that your team take the time to update and patch your applications and databases as often as possible. The easiest entry point for a hacker is out-of-date software. You can set specific dates and times for updates, so they do not affect your business during office hours. Update and patch management should extend to your firewalls as well. Your IT team should make sure that the firewall is automatically updating and checking for new security definitions.

Your IT team should have a solid web application firewall in place. Web application firewalls (WAF) operate in front of web servers and monitor the traffic that goes in and out. A WAF will identify patterns that look like a threat to your business site. 

You can work with your IT team to customize the WAF to fit your business needs. These customized policies will inform the WAF of what specific weaknesses and traffic behavior it should search for. Web application firewalls offer automatic protection from known and unknown threats, as well as real-time monitoring so your IT team can see what’s happening instantly. 

Password security is also crucial when dealing with SQL injection attacks. Change your database passwords regularly. Passwords should be 12-16 characters in length and include special characters. If possible, work with your IT team to set up a password reset policy to require staff to change their passwords after a certain number of days. Generally, every 60-90 days is a good start. 

Wrapping Up

SQL injection attacks are one of the most utilized tools hackers implement to steal important data. With thorough audits and proper training, your team can put several safeguards in place that can make it nearly impossible for an attacker to start one of these attacks. If your business deals with a large amount of sensitive data, you will have to decide who has access to what in the database. 

User access is a very important strategy when dealing with data, especially with SQL injection attacks. Make sure that your database can only be accessed with admin-level privileges only if it is necessary. Limited access is safer for general use, and it will limit an attacker’s access. If the data is somehow compromised, they will only have access to less crucial things. 

It’s best to assume that internet-connected applications are not secure. In this case, using some form of encryption is highly recommended. Without encryption, any database could still be in plain sight, regardless of how much auditing and scanning is done!

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