May 23, 2018

A Look into MariaDB Auditing for GDPR Compliance

When we are talking about a database auditing concept, what we are focused on is tracking the use of database records, and the monitoring of each operation on the data.

The auditing activities goal is to provide a clear and reliable answer to the typical 4 W questions: Who accessed the database, When did this happen, What was touched, Where this access came from. Auditing should also help the security team answer the 5th W: Why this happened?

Auditing is also a very important task when we want to monitor the database activity to collect information that can help to increase the database performance or debug the application.

When we talk about security, accountability and regulatory compliance Database Auditing plays an even more critical role.

An auditing activity is key in achieving accountability as it allows us to investigate malicious or suspicious database activities. It’s used to help DBAs detect excessive user privileges or suspicious activities coming from specific connections.

In particular, the new European Union General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) says that it will be important to be able to provide detail of changes to personal data to demonstrate that data protection and security procedures are effective and are being followed. Furthermore, we must ensure that data is only accessed by appropriate parties. This means that we need to be able to say who changed an item of data and when they changed it.

It’s broader than GDPR. HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act) requires healthcare providers to deliver audit trails about anyone and everyone who touches any data in their records. This is down to the row and record level.

Furthermore, if a data breach occurs, organizations must disclose full information on these events to their local data protection authority (DPA) and all customers concerned with the data breach within 72 hours so they can respond accordingly.

MariaDB Audit Plugin

For all these reasons MariaDB has included the Audit Plugin since version 10.0.10 of MariaDB Server. The purpose of the MariaDB Audit Plugin is to log the server's activity: for each client session, it records who connected to the server (i.e., user name and host), what queries were executed, and which tables were accessed and server variables that were changed.

Auditing is vital, but there's a lot more to enterprise security and personal data protection. We'll cover all of the security features available in MariaDB TX in our August 16 webinar. 
Register Now

Events that are logged by the MariaDB Audit Plugin are grouped into three different types: CONNECT, QUERY and TABLE events.

There are actually more types of events to allow fine-tuning of the audit, and focus on just the events and statements relevant for a specific organisation. These are detailed on the Log Settings Page.

There also exist several system variables to configure the MariaDB Audit Plugin. the Server Audit Status Variables page includes all variables relevant to review the status of the auditing. The overall monitoring should include an alert to monitor that the auditing is active.

This information is stored in a rotating log file or it may be sent to the local syslog.

For security reasons, it's sometimes recommended to use the system logs instead of a local file: in this case the value of server_audit_output_type needs to be set to syslog.

It is also possible to set up even more advanced and secure solutions such as using a remote syslog service (Read more about the MariaDB Audit Plugin and setting up a rsyslog).

What does the MariaDB audit log file looks like?

The audit log file is a set of rows in plain text format, written as a list of comma-separated fields to a file. The general format for the logging to the plugin's own file is defined like the following:

[timestamp],[serverhost],[username],[host],[connectionid],
[queryid],[operation],[database],[object],[retcode]

If the log file is sent to syslog the format is slightly different as the syslog has its own standard format (refer to the MariaDB Audit Plugin Log Format page for the details).

A typical MariaDB Audit plugin log file example is:

# tail mlr_Test_audit.log

20180421 09:22:38,mlr_Test,root,localhost,22,0,CONNECT,,,0
20180421 09:22:42,mlr_Test,root,localhost,22,35,QUERY,,'CREATE USER IF NOT EXISTS \'mlr\'@\'%\' IDENTIFIED WITH \'mysql_native_password\' AS \'*F44445443BB93ED07F5FAB7744B2FCE47021238F\'',0
20180421 09:22:42,mlr_Test,root,localhost,22,36,QUERY,,'drop user if exists mlr',0
20180421 09:22:45,mlr_Test,root,localhost,22,0,DISCONNECT,,,0
20180421 09:25:29,mlr_Test,root,localhost,20,0,FAILED_CONNECT,,,1045
20180421 09:25:44,mlr_Test,root,localhost,43,133,WRITE,employees,salaries,
20180421 09:25:44,mlr_Test,root,localhost,43,133,QUERY,employees,'DELETE FROM salaries LIMIT 100',0

Audit Files Analysis

Log files are a great source of information but only if you have a system in place to consistently review the data. Also the way you shape your application and database environment is important. In order to get useful auditing, for example, it’s recommended that every human user has his own account.

Furthermore, from the applications standpoint, if those are not using native DB accounts but application based accounts, each application accessing the same server should have its own "application-user".

As we said before, you have to use the information collected and analyse it on a regular basis, and when needed, take immediate actions based on those logged events. However, even small environments can generate a lot of information to be analysed manually.

Starting with the most recent release, Monyog 8.5, the monitoring tool that is included with the MariaDB TX and MariaDB AX subscriptions,  added a very interesting feature for MariaDB: The Audit Log.

This feature parses the audit log maintained by MariaDB Server and displays the content in a clean tabular format.

Monyog accesses the audit log file, the same way it does for other MariaDB log files, including the Slow Query, General Query and Error log.

Through the Monyog interface you can select the server and the time-frame for which you want the audit log to be seen from.  Then, clicking on “SHOW AUDIT LOG” fetches the contents of the log. The limit on the number of rows that can be fetched in one time-frame is 10000.

Screen Shot 2018-05-22 at 2.57.00 PM.png

The snapshot above gives you a quick summary of the audit log in a percentage, like Failed Logins, Failed Events, Schema changes, Data Changes and Stored Procedure. All these legends are clickable and shows the corresponding audit log entries on clicking.

Furthermore, you can use the filter option to fetch audit log based on Username, Host, Operation, Database and Table/Query.

About M. Luisa Raviol

Maria-Luisa Raviol is a Senior Sales Engineer with over 20 years industry experience.

Read all posts by M. Luisa Raviol