How to Protect Your Business with Internal SQL Server Compliance Audits

by Sep 29, 2021

SQL Server compliance audits play a key role in keeping your SQL Server instances – and the rest of your organization – secure. 

Many organizations with SQL Server environments need to comply with specific regulatory standards affecting their industry or market sector. Examples include following HIPAA guidelines in the healthcare industry and PCI-DSS regulations for businesses operating in the financial sector.

Failure to maintain compliance can put sensitive data resources at risk, result in serious monetary penalties, and negatively impact customer confidence.

One of the best ways to ensure compliance is to regularly perform internal audits to uncover gaps in the way data is handled and protected. Once identified, these gaps can be addressed to prevent sensitive data from being compromised so all applicable regulatory guidelines can be met.

From just about any point of view, it’s preferable for an organization to identify its compliance issues rather than be informed of them by a regulatory agency.

How to Perform an Internal SQL Server Compliance Audit

Making internal audits a scheduled, regular activity is strongly suggested for organizations subject to compliance regulations. Also called a self-assessment, these internal audits can be instrumental in making sure an organization’s SQL Server environment complies with regulatory standards. 

Some roles need to be defined when performing an internal audit. An individual needs to be responsible for communicating the audit requirements to the appropriate teams and reporting the results of the process to management. This person needs to be familiar with the specific regulatory requirements under review as they relate to the organization’s SQL Server databases.

Support team members need to answer the questions posed by the internal auditor and produce documented evidence of compliance. The artifacts may be screenshots of configuration settings that illustrate compliance with password expiration requirements for privileged users.

They can also be reports generated from a dedicated monitoring tool. Regardless of how evidence is produced, it needs to be collected and saved to demonstrate compliance. 

Compliance deficiencies that are identified need to be documented along with any intended corrective measures to be implemented. These so-called audit findings are required to be addressed to meet the target regulatory standards. Proof that the issues have been corrected should also be documented and saved so they are available for future internal or external auditors.

Large companies with many compliance concerns may have a department dedicated to auditing various systems throughout the year. In smaller organizations, a less formal approach may be required that incorporates subject matter experts (SMEs) familiar with the platform under review. In this case, the SQL Server database administrators (DBAs) will be involved in the effort.

Outline of an Internal Compliance Audit

Several well-defined steps should be performed in an internal SQL Server compliance audit. They mirror the procedures of an external audit, but in many cases are done using informal communication channels.

Notification of an impending audit is communicated to the SQL Server team. At this point, all changes that may affect the systems’ compliance standing should be put on hold. The goal of an audit is to identify issues, not to quickly fix them before they can be reviewed.

Meetings are held where the audit strategy is communicated to the SMEs responsible for producing any requested compliance evidence. Team members collect the evidence and make it available to the auditors for review. Audit findings that highlight deficiencies such as unencrypted data or non-expiring passwords are incorporated into a draft audit.

The draft audit is presented to management and plans for corrective action are developed by the appropriate technical team. Timetables are set for the changes to be implemented. Since sensitive data is in play, the timelines should be aggressive and certainly be fully in place before any subsequent audits.

Internal audits can be performed as regular exercises or on an ad-hoc basis as the need arises. A failed internal audit that produces multiple findings can and should be followed up on quickly, to ensure all corrective actions have been successfully implemented. 

A big difference in internal and external audits is the depth of the information subject matter experts (SMEs) share with the auditors. When working with external auditors, it is best to limit replies to exactly what was requested and not offer any additional information that could lead to more findings.

Since an internal audit is designed to proactively find and address issues, team members can be more expansive with their answers as they strive to fully protect sensitive enterprise data. 

It can be challenging to eliminate the risk of the IT staff manipulating compliance audit data to make things appear to be better than they are. Storing the data in an =immutable repository can help address this concern. 

The Right Tool for the Job

SQL Compliance Manager offers a platform from which to perform internal audits of a SQL Server environment to ensure regulatory standards are being met. The tool is designed to help teams meet regulations like those of GDPR, HIPAA, NERC, PCI DSS, CIS, and SOX.

It’s an excellent solution for performing internal SQL Server compliance audits and addressing the demands of external auditors. 

SQL Compliance Manager lets teams forensically review information to identify user activity as it relates to sensitive data resources. It audits multiple aspects of the activity in the SQL Server environment that include:

  • Trusted versus privileged users;
  • Successful logins, logouts, and failed logins;
  • Security changes such as adding or modifying privileges;
  • Database activities like accessing columns containing sensitive data;
  • Administrative actions such as database backups.

SQL Compliance Manager’s regulatory templates can be customized to meet business objectives. Before and after access to sensitive data can be audited and alerts generated to identify suspicious activity. Reports are stored in a tamper-proof repository and read-only access can be granted to satisfy audit requirements. 

An IDERA solution brief is available that further illustrates the benefits of SQL Compliance Manager. It provides more evidence that the tool helps organizations comply with regulatory standards and avoid potentially devastating data breaches.

Try SQL Compliance Manager for free!