Databases with online accessibility are a frequent target for being hacked. Since databases are involved, the question is, is SQL good for hacking?
SQL is good for hacking in terms of being used as a query language to a high degree of effectiveness for inserting SQL injections. Although it is not being used to create malware or viruses, you can use SQL commands to insert malicious code into an exposed database.
This article will cover the role of SQL in hacking. If you are a web developer, a database administrator, or an IT security specialist, read on and discover how hackers use SQL to access information from a database.
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What Sort of Hacking Incorporates SQL?
Hacking is a broad term. It can involve malicious intent as well as ethical implementation. When SQL is mentioned concerning hacking, the focus automatically shifts to hackers attempting to access data within a database.
Since websites and web applications rely on databases for everything from managing their content systems to storing essential data regarding clients and business operations, it should be no surprise that these would be prime targets for hackers.
With SQL being the de facto standard language for querying and manipulating data in relational databases, it should be no surprise that SQL is used as a tool for gaining unapproved access to data online.
How Is SQL Used in Hacking?
SQL is not used to create hacking tools to break into a site. Primarily it is used as a way to execute code inside a vulnerable system. In other words, SQL is used to compromise a database system that has not been adequately secured.
The most common way of doing this is through what is known as SQL injections. Essentially, this allows a hacker to execute a line of code after entering what appears to be a legitimate input. Imagine using a legitimate identification badge to enter a secure area of a building. Once inside and clear of the prying eyes of security, you are then left to do your worst. That is what SQL injections allow for in the digital realm.
SQL injections are used as attack vectors in the majority of data breaches perpetrated on websites. From 2017 to 2019, SQL injections accounted for over 65 percent of hacking attacks seeking data. The number of such attacks in that period numbered over 2.5 billion.
How Does an SQL Injection Work?
If the appropriate protocols for SQL injection mitigation have not been taken, a site can become exposed simply by having a sign-in or registration form published online. It can become exposed anywhere that a user can enter or query information to or from the site’s database.
It is so because a SQL injection only requires an input field to be present to wreak havoc.
The anatomy of an SQL injection is relatively simple. It all starts with a dynamic SQL statement. Dynamic SQL is a technique that permits a person to construct SQL statements in a dynamic fashion at runtime. In other words, the full text of the statement is not required at the moment of compilation.
Dynamic SQL offers legitimate convenience and flexibility because it allows for stored procedures to include variables entered at the moment of input. Unfortunately, this is also what opens the door to malicious SQL injections.
By inserting simple syntax such as (“or” “=”) or (OR 1=1) in an input field, the database server on the receiving end can create a valid SQL statement that would return all of the rows from a given table. If the injection is based on batched statements, the attacker can execute multiple statements at once. In other words, with a single injection into an input field, an attacker can gain access to data, destroy data, or modify it simultaneously.
Can SQL Be Used for More Than Stealing Data?
In the form of SQL injections, you can use SQL much in the same way you would use it for non-nefarious purposes. In other words, you can query data, manipulate it, move it, and destroy it.
That level of compromise is enough to cause serious injury to an organization. However, it doesn’t end there. Once data is obtained, hackers can then use it to achieve other goals. Hackers can sell sensitive financial data on the black market. They can access credentials to be leveraged to access or compromise additional systems.
In other words, a SQL injection can be the opening salvo of a much larger attack. It can also serve as an exploratory hacking expedition to find vulnerable and worthwhile targets to exploit further.
Can SQL Be Used for Ethical Hacking?
Not all hacking is malicious. There is such a thing as ethical hacking. Examples of this latter type of hacking include seeking vulnerabilities in a system with bug bounties in place specifically for that purpose. Additional examples would consist of IT security professionals engaged in penetration testing.
Ethical hackers would not exploit these discovered weaknesses to malicious ends. Instead, they would identify the vulnerabilities to help organizations rectify exposure for their sites, apps, and databases to mitigate the risk.
How Can You Mitigate SQL Injections?
The exact processes for mitigating SQL injections will vary depending on the size, platform, and level of complexity of your database. However, there are fundamental best practices that can go a long way in keeping websites and databases protected. Unfortunately, many sites and databases go under-protected or unprotected against the all too common threat of SQL injections.
Basic SQL injection mitigation procedures include:
- Updating all components of your online asset. One of the easiest actions to take to protect against SQL injections involves keeping all system components updated. It consists of installing security patches from vendors for database server software, frameworks, web server software, plug-ins, libraries, etc.
- Do not share database assets across different sites and applications. Each website or application should not share database accounts. While there may be times when such sharing is convenient or necessary, you should keep it to a minimum. Whenever such sharing does occur, it would be best to make the objects in the shared space “read-only.”
- Validate user-side input. User-side input is the door used to insert an SQL injection. It, therefore, stands to reason that you should validate such entries. The validation should cover all entry types, such as drop-down menus, radial buttons, etc., not just text fields.
- Properly “sanitized” error messaging. Hackers rely on their inputs’ outputs to determine if they are advancing in their effort to breach a site or application. Error reporting can be invaluable to them in this regard. In configuring the database error reporting never to be delivered to the web browser or user interface, you will deny hackers that type of valuable insight.
- Use the principle of least privilege. The least privilege principle essentially means that you should only give users and components the least amount of privilege they need to use or work on your system. For example, if an application only needs to retrieve data from the database, you should only give it SELECT statement access. Access to UPDATE, INSERT and DELETE commands should be highly guarded.
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While SQL is not useful for building direct hacking tools, it does allow hackers to access one of the most used vectors for hacking a site or application. SQL syntax can be weaponized and become an SQL injection by facilitating the insertion of code for execution within the structure of standard inputs.
In this way, you can say that SQL is handy for hacking websites and applications reliant on user input and database servers. Fortunately, proper SQL injection mitigation protocols can prevent the impact of these types of attacks.
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