Oracle Weighs Security in 10g

Oracle Corp. is putting a component called Oracle Internet Directory at the core of the security perimeter in its upcoming 10g grid-computing technology.

Oracle Corp. is putting a component called Oracle Internet Directory at the core of the security perimeter in its upcoming 10g grid-computing technology.

Oracle Internet Directory is an LDAP directory with an Oracle database back end that leverages the databases scalability, high-availability and security features, according to Oracle Chief Security Officer Mary Ann Davidson. The directory, which is also a component in the existing Oracle9i database, is part of identity and access management features of 10g that are "particularly critical for grid," Davidson said.

"Without identity management, you cant reap the benefits of the flexibility of grid computing," Davidson said.

The identity and access management features in the Oracle 10g database, which is due at years end, will enable enterprises to provision users and network resources in one central place, as well as to define what applications and systems users are allowed to access. From one spot, administrators will be able to provision and de-provision servers, create credentials for users, specify new applications, add new server resources, and allow for resources to participate in single sign-on, Davidson said.

Having an easy way to identify and provision users and resources will be critical to the success or failure of grid computing, which in Oracles view relies on the quick, easy provisioning of computing resources as needs dictate. However, some security experts and Oracle users fear the pools of low-cost commodity servers promised in 10g will be cesspools of security vulnerabilities.

Indeed, the idea of adding a multitude of commodity Lintel, or Linux-on-Intel, server grid nodes should be a daunting one to database administrators, said Aaron Newman, chief technology officer and co-founder of Application Security Inc., in New York. "Theres a question that now that you have 50 grid computers, rather than one grid computer, you have a little more work to lock down 50 instead of one," Newman said. "Which leads to the fact that you need to automate the process at this point. Theres an ever-growing need with 10g to automate and find tools to help you lock all these things down. Youre going to be dealing with a lot more systems."

Davidson said that such fears are groundless and that Oracles grid technology is inherently more secure than most enterprise infrastructures. "Grid natively, in a way, has some defensibility because if a resource fails or is compromised, you have failover," she said.

Another concern is public privileges or grants. This long-standing security vulnerability ships with almost every major database, including Oracle. ASIs Newman said his research shows the grants often harbor PL/SQL injection—executable code that can be maliciously exploited. The problem is, DBAs cant just turn off the grants—particularly in a production environment—without running the risk of breaking something.

The use of public grants is a feature and a weakness, agreed Nancy Malpass, an Oracle DBA at Interstate Battery System of America Inc., in Dallas. "The public schema, synonyms and public packages are necessary. Often they are the mechanism that software vendors use to deploy their software on an Oracle database," Malpass said.

"But if you have third-party applications in your Oracle databases, its a problem you have to deal with, and you have to rely on application security built into the third-party application," Malpass said.

Davidson said Oracle, of Redwood Shores, Calif., is dealing with the problem of public grants and has been locking default configurations down further.