Information Systems

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Database security is a growing concern evidenced by an increase in the number of reported incidents of loss of or unauthorized exposure to sensitive data. As the amount of data collected, retained and shared electronically expands, so does the need to understand database security. The Defense Information Systems Agency of the US Department of Defense (2004), in its Database Security Technical Implementation Guide, states that database security should provide controlled, protected access to the contents of a database as well as preserve the integrity, consistency, and overall quality of the data. Students in the computing disciplines must develop an understanding of the issues and challenges related to database security and must be able to identify possible solutions.

At its core, database security strives to insure that only authenticated users perform authorized activities at authorized times. While database security incorporates a wide array of security topics, notwithstanding, physical security, network security, encryption and authentication, this paper focuses on the concepts and mechanisms particular to securing data. Within that context, database security encompasses three constructs: confidentiality or protection of data from unauthorized disclosure, integrity or prevention from unauthorized data access, and availability or the identification of and recovery from hardware and software errors or malicious activity resulting in the denial of data availability.

In the computing discipline curricula, database security is often included as a topic in an introductory database or introductory computer security course. This paper presents a set of sub-topics that might be included in a database security component of such a course. Mapping to the three constructs of data security, these topics include access control, application access, vulnerability, inference, and auditing mechanisms. Access control is the process by which rights and privileges are assigned to users and database objects. Application access addresses the need to assign appropriate access rights to external applications requiring a database connection. Vulnerability refers to weaknesses that allow malicious users to exploit resources. Inference refers to the use of legitimate data to infer unknown information without having rights to directly retrieve that information. Database auditing tracks database access and user activity providing a way to identify breaches that have occurred so that corrective action might be taken.

As the knowledge base related to database security continues to grow, so do the challenges of effectively conveying the material. This paper addresses those challenges by incorporating a set of interactive software modules into each sub-topic. These modules are part of an animated database courseware project designed to support the teaching of database concepts. The courseware covers the domains of Database Design, Structured Query Language, Database Transactions, and Database Security. The Security Module, presented in this paper, allows students to explore such areas as access control, SQL injections, database inference, database auditing, and security matrices. The courseware was developed as part of a National Science Foundation grant and has been made freely available at

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Journal of Information Technology Education: Innovations in Practice

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