Security vs. Performance in the SQL World

If you found yourself inside of the world of databases in one way or another, you already know a little about database security and performance. Database management systems certainly do come with benefits to your databases, but have you thought about what options you need to weigh from the security and performance perspectives for your choice to be the most effective? That’s what we’re going to explore in this post.

Are Security and Performance Linked Together?

One of the first things we would like you to consider is the fact that performance and security are very closely intertwined. The main reason that’s happening is that developers, juniors, and seniors alike, at some point in their careers start noticing that:

  • When security improves, it usually becomes a little harder to achieve performance goals (ie developers usually need to “run through hoops” to achieve their goals, so to say.)
  • When we’re improving performance, we’re sometimes doing that at the price of security – think relieving stringent permissions, etc.

Allow us to demonstrate what we mean in the form of an image made by Mark Eldridge:


You should now at least approximately see where we’re going. Of course, this arrow reflects security and convenience trade-offs of using password managers which are not really directly related to security and performance in the SQL world, but you see where we’re going with this. Upping the scale of security usually means that we make performance-related tasks a little harder and vice versa.

Translating Security and Performance Implications Towards the SQL World

By now, you might wonder – how are performance and security mashed together in the SQL world? Well, in one sentence, the reason is pretty apparent – ​​when one of those aspects (either security or performance) increases, the other requires additional measures to be maintained and vice versa. Here are some of the main measures database administrators and developers would usually consider when thinking about security and performance:

Option Security or Performance? Gain or Trade-off?
Configuring SSL for the server and clients that will access it Security Gain: connections will be encrypted.
Monitoring changes to objects and data (eg databases, tables, etc.) Security Both: monitoring will only improve our security if we interpret the information correctly, and chances are that to monitor certain things, we would have to lower our “security fortresses”: think adding more privileges to specific users, etc.
Improving query performance Performance Both: improving query performance will require sacrifices in regards to time and some additional things will probably need to be learned, and security can be impacted in the process: queries written in the wrong manner can make our database susceptible to SQL injection attacks.

As you can see, all options usually have a gain or both a gain and a trade-off. In this space, there is one other aspect you need to consider: do you have the necessary knowledge to perform operations? Not having the necessary knowledge in the performance space might not necessarily be a bad thing (learning happens quickly in this field and if one day your queries perform poorly, after a day or two results might be very different), however, in the security space , everything will turn around and bite you quicker than expected: neglect to include one necessary aspect or include it incorrectly, and we can assure you that you will remember your mistake later on when a data thief knocks on your door (think about permissions for an example: granting too many permissions to one user is dangerous and you should only grant permissions that are absolutely necessary).

Once an issue regarding performance or security arises, how do you know how to fix your mistake? It might not be as easy as it seems at first glance, so some additional knowledge would help.

Consequences of Issues in the Performance and Security World

Performance in the SQL world is mainly related to Creport, Rlead, Update, or Delete (CRUD) query performance, and security is usually related to the security of our database instances as a whole, but when an error arises, how do you decide what previously taken action was harmful to your database and why?

The answer, thankfully, is relatively simple – you look at the consequences of the actions you’ve taken recently and then look at the table given below. The following table connects the most likely consequences with actions that could have been taken just before your problems began:

Your Action Consequence
Improving query performance Happier clients, but more maintenance hassle
Adding SSL Secure connections – more time and knowledge of security and servers are required in order for SSL to be implemented properly
Messing with permissions Complaints from developers or customers (developers not being able to access certain parts of a website, etc.), possible security and regulation issues (allowing more privileges than usual might lead to a breach of GDPR or the like, etc.)
Adding stringent security measures inside a certain database instance Possible adherence to GDPR, HIPAA, or similar data security regulations at the expense of making jobs more difficult for developers (more difficult to access a specific database, etc.) or clients.

As you can see, the consequences of a specific option should be a pretty good starting point when figuring out what action caused problems. Each option has its own reward, but each also draws something back, so first learn the steps you need to take, evaluate the options available to you, and choose carefully. Learning everything you need to do on your own, especially when you’re working with performance and security and when you don’t have much background in the database space might be very difficult though: in that case, first, figure out what kind of database management system you are working with, then read up on the documentation in the performance or security sectors (or both, depending on what you need.)

Once you’re pretty confident you have the performance and security mix nailed, consider using SQL clients: the performance of your queries is very closely related to the way you build them, and SQL clients can not only help you build better SQL queries with elegance , but good SQL clients will make your job working with data inside of your database instance a breeze by providing you with a bunch of additional options including an option to share the query results with your team, etc.

Security vs. Performance With SQL Clients

As previously noted, built SQL clients include a proper area of ​​responsibilities including very wide queries, generating chart based on the output of your queries, etc.

SQL clients will not only make your job when adjusting the performance of your database instances easier (for example, you will be able to keep a close eye on the structure of your tables making sure your databases are always performant), but they will also allow you to do other things, for example, to share the queries you write with your colleagues or teammates as well. Here’s what everything looks like:



When using a proper SQL client, you will be able to access some very valuable information helping you improve your database performance by allowing you to keep a close eye on your database schemas (see above), helping you work with your most precious data, or Having your automatic queries completed – however, the security of your database instances will still be on you: move through the database security checklist for small developer teams, though, and you should be good to go. Alternatively, consider having a glance at the security section of your database management system of choice because many of the security-related options will depend on what kind of database management system you find yourself using.

A decent mix of security and performance will be able to adequately protect you from threats while avoiding complaints from developers working on the database or complaints coming from the customers themselves. When in harmony, your database and web application should:

  • Have the initial (root) user account locked down with a strong password.
  • Not provide more privileges to users than strictly necessary (eg the user that only reads from the database should only have the SELECT privilege, etc.)
  • Be able to fend off basic security threats such as SQL injection by employing a firewall or developers following adequate security procedures.
  • Be able to complete all queries necessary for the web application to function in a quick manner without obstructing anything else (SQL clients are perfect for this: those usually provide the amount of time in milliseconds a query has taken to complete, so if your queries are slow, start from there.)
  • Not degrade the user experience.

Employ at least a small part of the advice given above as part of your daily work routine, and your databases will thank you: finding a good mix between performance and security in the SQL world is easier said than done, but with the advice given in this blog and in the documentation of your database management system of choice, everything will be a breeze. Don’t forget that in the database space, things evolve and change very quickly so what worked today might not necessarily be working tomorrow – to achieve excellence, expand your knowledge in both fields and apply the measures applicable to your specific situation.

Summary

We hope that this blog post has helped you gain some insight into the database world and its tradeoffs related to performance and security.

To enhance both the performance and security of your database instances, make sure to read up on the documentation of your database management system of choice (for example, MySQL’s security documentation is available here), and make sure to run a search or two through data breach search engines such as BreachDirectory to secure your infrastructure from hackers and stay safe from identity theft.

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