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Database Administration and Security: Definition and Purpose

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  • 0:05 Database Administration
  • 1:52 Security Threats
  • 4:20 Database Security
  • 5:37 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Paul Zandbergen

Paul has a PhD from the University of British Columbia and has taught Geographic Information Systems, statistics and computer programming for 15 years.

A database administrator, or DBA, plays a critical role in managing the databases of an organization. Learn about the various roles of a DBA and the tools used to keep data safe and secure.

Database Administration

Imagine it's the first day of class in college, and you sit down for the first lecture. Your professor walks in and makes an announcement:

'Welcome back after the summer everyone. I have to start off with some bad news. Due to a glitch in the university's database, all grades and credits from last semester have been lost. I'm sorry, but we are going to have to do last semester all over again. Now open your book on pageā€¦'

That would be disastrous, right? Could you imagine? How could the university lose all that information? Luckily, these things almost never happen. The important question really is: How can we prevent this from happening? Who is responsible for keeping all the data secure in an organization? That would be the database administrator, or DBA.

Keeping data secure is only one of the roles of the DBA. The typical tasks of a DBA include:

  • Controlling access to the database, including creating logins for users and setting roles for each user. Some users may only need to query the data, while others are involved in entering new data.
  • Providing support services to the end users, such as making sure all users know how to use the database.
  • Managing procedures for backup and recovery of data, in case of errors made by users or system crashes. You don't want to lose all the valuable data just because the power went out.
  • Ensuring data integrity, which means that data are complete, accurate and current for the tasks at hand.
  • Controlling data security, including preventing unauthorized access to the data and protecting against other security threats.
  • Setting data privacy, which means that only authorized individuals are able to see certain data. For example, there is no need for everyone in the organization to be able to see all the personnel files of all the employees.

Several of these tasks go hand-in-hand. For example, carefully controlling access to the data helps to implement data security and data privacy policies.

Security Threats

Databases face a number of security threats. Many of these threats are common to all computer systems, but large databases in organizations are particularly vulnerable because they often contain sensitive information and are used by many different people.

One of the basic threats is data loss, which means that parts of a database can no longer be retrieved. The earlier scenario where the university lost part of their records has disastrous consequences.

This could be the result of physical damage to the storage medium, like fire or water damage, human error or hardware failures. Every single computer system is to some degree vulnerable, so a common strategy employed by DBAs is to create multiple backups on different computer systems. So if one system were to fail, the data is still secure somewhere else.

Another security threat is unauthorized access. Many databases contain sensitive information, and it could be very harmful if this information were to fall in the wrong hands. Imagine someone getting a hold of your social security number, date of birth, address and bank information. It would be relatively easy for someone to open up a credit card under your name and start spending without your knowledge.

Getting unauthorized access to computer systems is known as hacking. Computer hackers have developed sophisticated methods to obtain data from databases, which they may use for personal gain or to harm others. Have you ever received an e-mail with a notification that you need to log in to your credit card account with a link for you to follow? Most likely, this is a hacker trying to obtain your login details, so be careful.

A third category of security threats consists of viruses and other harmful programs. A computer virus is a computer program that can cause damage to a computer's software, hardware or data. It is referred to as a 'virus' because it has the capability to replicate itself and hide inside other computer files. There are many types of viruses, and new ones are being developed all the time.

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