Data Warehouse Security Best Practices

Data warehouse security is vital for organizations that take the huge step of collating all their important data in one place. Unauthorized access to data warehouses can have devastating consequences, ranging from compromised customer information to exposing of high-level business intelligence that gives an enterprise its competitive advantage.

DWH security

This article introduces warehouse security, discusses some of the challenges involved in securing a data warehouse, and offers some best practices for data warehouse security, including the use of FIPS 140-2 certified software and hardware.

What is Data Warehouse Security?

Data warehouses pull data from many different sources, and warehouses have many moving parts. Security issues arise every time data moves from one place to another. Data warehouse security entails taking the necessary steps to protect information so that only authorized personnel can access it.

Data warehouse security should involve the following:

  • Strict user access control so that users of the warehouse can only access data they need to do their jobs.
  • Taking steps to secure networks on which data is held.
  • Carefully moving data and considering the security implications involved in all data movement.

Data Warehouse Security Challenges

The scope and scale of a data warehouse in addition to the sheer number of moving parts present some unique challenges to securing information at this level.

  • How to strike a balance between the need to secure data and the need for providing unrestricted access to certain users of the data in the warehouse for analytics, business intelligence, and data mining applications.
  • How to classify users for data warehouse access, i.e should you use a hierarchical approach or a role-based approach.
  • How to secure the network. Organizations need to consider encrypting data and investing in highly secure networking hardware.
  • How do the necessary security features affect the performance of the data warehouse?
  • How to securely extract data from source transactional systems for warehouse use.

Data Warehouse Security Best Practices

Encrypt Data

You should encrypt all data stored in transactional databases. Additionally, consider encryption within the data warehouse. Ideally, you should use FIPS 140-2 certified software for data encryption. FIPS 140-2 is a U.S. government computer security standard for cryptographic modules that ensures the highest levels of security.

Note that encryption can degrade the performance of the data warehouse. Organizations need to weigh such performance degradations against the costs of a possible data breach. With cyber criminals becoming more advanced in their methods, it makes sense to use encryption in the data warehouse.

Classify Data

An effective data warehouse security strategy should always appropriately classify the data stored in the data warehouse. There is minimal use in implementing security measures for data with little sensitivity, such as data subject to disclosure according to company policies.

Therefore, a good warehouse security plan classifies data and specifies requirements for confidentiality, integrity, and availability of the data.

Role-Based Control

Role-based user access control is a prudent security measure because it restricts access using the security principles of “need to know” and “least privilege”. Such principles ensure that users of the warehouse only get the access to information required to perform their jobs. Insider threats are arguably just as damaging as outsider threats. Disgruntled employees might attempt to access extremely sensitive data that compromises competitive advantages for enterprises.

Specifying permissions according to defined roles is an option in both conventional data warehouses and cloud-based data warehousing services. Role-based controls should align with previously defined data classifications. This way, all data warehouse users can access only the data that they need. 

Secure Moving Data

A data warehouse contains many moving parts, and companies often feed data in real-time from their transactional databases to the data warehouse for the most up to date reporting and analyses.

It's important to ensure full protection of data as it moves from one place to another. Always use SSL or TSL protocols to move data from one location to another. With cloud-based data warehouses, virtual private networks provide good security for moving data by isolating the communication between on-premises databases and the cloud-based data warehouse.

Partition Data

Partitioning data by splitting it into separate tables can improve data warehouse security. Splitting tables into sensitive and non-sensitive components can allow security optimization for the more sensitive information, for example, by storing such information on different servers or implementing encryption for only the sensitive data.

Securing Your Data Warehouse

While the previous measures can help improve the security of a data warehouse, it's important for organizations to select security measures that are cost-effective. There is little benefit in implementing combined security measures for data safeguarding that cost an organization $200 million if the estimated losses from a data compromise are $50 million.

Enterprises also need to consider the impact of each security measure on data warehouse performance. The overarching aim of data warehouse security is to implement cost-effective measures that ensure different categories of corporate data are protected to the necessary degree.

Closing Thoughts

Data warehouses are centralized data repositories that pull information from many disparate areas within an organization. Therefore, effective organizations need to implement effective security controls to protect data.

Securing a data warehouse involves taking measures to protect data through intelligent user access control, correct categorization of data, highly secure encryption methods such as FIPS 140-2, and securing all moving data.