Fern Halper, an analyst with Hurwitz & Associates wrote in her blog “Data makes the world go ’round” about database activity monitoring (as well as highlighting some of what my company Sentrigo does).

In the summary of her post she raises an important issue – that most DBAs are reactive rather than proactive when it comes to monitoring their databases. I’ll take this even further… it’s not just DBAs (and I’m not going to get into the whole issue of who owns database activity monitoring…) but companies in general are too reactive when it comes to database security.

Yes, I know that security doesn’t generate revenues, it doesn’t even reduce costs – at least not in any consistent, measurable way. Security is all about reducing risk and the cost associated with that risk. The problem is that by being reactive, companies are addressing yesterday’s risks, not today’s or tomorrow’s risks. There are a several biases in how the IT security budget is allocated, and one of the biggest biases is the visibility bias: The tendency to invest in protecting against visible threats, even if they are small. Spam is a good example. It doesn’t do much harm, but it’s visible every day in everyone’s inbox (I’m not talking about malware, just the “classic” commercial spam which is 99.9% of spam). Companies are investing more today in reducing the marginal spam to the n-th degree, with diminishing returns, than they are in database security. Far more.

Risk, on the other hand, is not just a question of visibility or sheer quantity. It’s also a question of the potential damage of even a single attack, and the probability of such an attack succeeding. The risk posed by inadequate database security is currently greater than the risk posed by spam, given the counter-measures already in place for the latter. Yet many enterprises, by force of habit and inertia, continue to invest in protecting against threats for which they already have good enough solutions, whereas other areas remain barren. Some companies do, of course, shift their attention to new threats every once in a while, but I wonder how many enterprises do an annual (or more frequent) risk assessment that includes a “green field” threat analysis and gap analysis?