Data for Ransom

Imagine you come into work and all of your database columns are encrypted. You have no idea what key was used, and your application can’t access the data. You receive a message that for a $100,000 payment, the decryption key will be sent to you. What do you do?

Well, depending on your business, and how quickly you can restore backups, maybe your organization pays. I read a story recently about a hospital that found a number of their files encrypted by a virus, with a demand to pay a ransom for the decryption key. They did, received the key, and opened their files. However that set a dangerous precedent.

Apparently attacks by ransomware are on the rise. Those of us with database software are not likely to be too affected as we (should) have regular backups we can restore. However the interruption to businesses can be costly, and this can result in more organizations paying the ransom, which then encourages more attacks.

The new Always Encrypted capability in SQL Server 2016 is great, and I’m excited by it. However, we want to be sure a malicious user doesn’t enable this feature. I could certainly see that as an attack vector for web based systems. An attacker gets sysadmin privileges, enables Always Encrypted and places the certificate on the client web server. Some weeks later, they remove the client certificate, and suddenly no one can decrypt the data. Potentially, depending on backup procedures, there might not even be a capture of the certificate from the web server in any backup files.

The world is becoming more dangerous, and more troublesome for our data. As with most things, vigilance and monitoring of security segments of our applications is important. While ransomware is unlikely to strike databases, one never knows, and you should ensure that you have good backups in the event that you are attacked.

Steve Jones

The Voice of the DBA Podcast

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Editor, SQLServerCentral
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