NoSQL Security and Why It is Important for Businesses

NoSQL databases are database systems that store data in alternative formats other than conventional relational tables. The databases gained traction due to a notable reduction in storage expenses. In addition, as the emphasis on software development costs shifted towards developers, NoSQL databases emerged as a viable solution to optimize developer efficiency.

Furthermore, as enterprises continue adopting cloud computing solutions, NoSQL databases offer the adaptability to scale out and scale-up applications. Thus, they enable organizations to efficiently handle their data and derive valuable insights to secure a competitive advantage.

Nonetheless, organizations must protect sensitive and proprietary information stored in NoSQL databases and ensure compliance with privacy regulations. Securing assets stored in NoSQL database systems protects against the negative impacts of data breaches, including financial losses, data leaks, and ruined reputational damage.


So, why is security a big concern for NoSQL databases?

Unlike traditional relational databases that consolidate data on a restricted number of interconnected servers, the modern breed of NoSQL databases disperses big data across numerous servers. As a result, they enable swift scalability. These databases are open-source, allowing effortless implementation.

Nevertheless, a consequence of this openness is that NoSQL database providers, such as MongoDB, cannot control how users configure and secure their databases. While this flexibility nurtures agility, it simultaneously places the responsibility on users to secure their systems appropriately.

The disconnect between NoSQL database providers and users’ configuration and security practices has resulted in significant repercussions. In particular, there have been notable instances of unprotected database breaches that serve as memorable illustrations. For example, a MacKeeper incident exposed usernames, passwords, and other data belonging to more than 13 million.

In a different incident, an online database containing sensitive information, including full names, addresses, birthdays, and voter registration numbers of 93.4 million Mexican voters, was accessible for seven months.

Other notable NoSQL breaches include the theft of user data of 1.1 million users from an insecure database belonging to a dating website. Also, the personal data of 58 million customers of the data storage firm Modern Business Solutions was compromised due to an insecure database. These are merely a few examples of the numerous high-profile hacks that have taken place.

Attacks targeting NoSQL databases have not only persisted but also evolved. For example, a series of ransomware incidents targeted exposed MongoDB databases. The attackers erased a database’s files and demanded a ransom in Bitcoin, typically a few hundred dollars, falsely promising data restoration upon payment.

What does this mean? In today’s era of extensive data availability, attackers will continuously target database platforms to gain unauthorized access and steal sensitive data. As a result, the frequency and gravity of data breaches will continue to increase. According to a 2022 report, experts estimate that the cost of a single data breach cost will reach $5 million by 2023.

Moreover, organizations are confronting an onslaught of novel threat categories and malevolent actors, with phishing, ransomware, and intellectual property theft witnessing an annual growth rate surpassing 50%. Since databases house an organization’s most crucial information assets, administrators must prioritize database security.


What are common security threats in NoSQL databases?

NoSQL injection attacks

NoSQL injection is a vulnerability that arises when a query undergoes inadequate sanitization. This loophole enables attackers to introduce malicious input into the query that executes unintended commands on the NoSQL database.

In contrast to the conventional SQL injection, which targets SQL-based databases, NoSQL injection capitalizes on the specific query language employed by NoSQL databases, as they do not support SQL. Attackers adapt their techniques to the query syntax, particularly to the targeted NoSQL database, which may be scripted in the same language utilized for coding the database engine.

Given that certain NoSQL databases employ application code for queries, attackers can carry out malicious actions on the NoSQL database, execute harmful code and manipulate input within the application. This opens avenues for attackers to compromise servers and exploit vulnerabilities beyond conventional SQL injection attacks. In certain instances, NoSQL injection can prove more severe than traditional SQL injection due to the supplementary attack vectors it presents.


Weak encryption and authentication mechanisms

Authentication and encryption are essential components for protecting data in any database system. However, some NoSQL databases have comparatively weaker authentication and encryption implementations than those in traditional databases.

In particular, authentication mechanisms in NoSQL may vary depending on the specific database management system (DBMS) used. Some NoSQL databases may offer built-in authentication features, while others might rely on external tools or custom implementations.

Furthermore, while NoSQL databases generally support encryption, the level of encryption offered by some NoSQL systems may be weaker. This weakness can arise due to various reasons. Firstly, the NoSQL ecosystem often lacks standardized encryption mechanisms. As a result, it is often challenging to enforce consistent encryption practices.

Some NoSQL databases offer limited encryption options or rely on outdated, vulnerable encryption algorithms. As such, this can leave data more susceptible to unauthorized access or decryption attempts.


Plaintext communication between client and server

The client communicates with the server via plaintext in NoSQL databases like MongoDB. Specifically, the data transmitted between the client and the server is unencrypted, which poses significant security risks.

Attackers with access to the network traffic can intercept unencrypted data, allowing them to read and capture sensitive information, such as usernames, passwords, and the actual data being transmitted.

Also, attackers can intercept the communication without encryption and insert themselves as a man-in-the-middle. Subsequently, they can manipulate or tamper with the data being transmitted. For instance, they can modify queries, inject malicious commands, or capture sensitive information.


Best practices for securing NoSQL databases

Robust access controls

Access control is a critical aspect of securing a NoSQL database. Specifically, implementing strong access control mechanisms provides authorized users only access to sensitive information stored in the database.

Role-Based Access Control (RBAC) is the most effective access control policy. The model assigns permissions to users based on their roles within an organization. In addition, it simplifies access management by granting permissions to roles rather than individual users. As such, this approach enhances security and facilitates administration by centralizing permission assignment and minimizing the potential for human error.

Additionally, implementing robust user and permission management practices ensures that only authorized individuals can access the NoSQL database. It involves creating user accounts, assigning appropriate roles or permissions to those accounts, and regularly reviewing and updating access privileges as needed.


Implement network security measures.

Network security plays a vital role in securing a NoSQL database. In particular, isolating the database within a secure network architecture prevents unauthorized access and reduces the potential attack surface.

Furthermore, network segmentation isolates the NoSQL database from other systems and network zones. Network segmentation divides the network into separate segments to limit attackers’ ability to move laterally. Therefore, under the unfortunate scenario where attackers breach the organization, they cannot reach the data stored in the NoSQL database.

Also, placing the NoSQL database within a DMZ (Demilitarized Zone) provides an additional layer of security by limiting direct access to the database from external networks.


Validate all inputs

Ensuring the quality and integrity of data in a NoSQL database is essential to maintaining its security. Strong input validation mechanisms prevent invalid, incomplete, or malicious data insertion. Therefore, apply strict input validation techniques to ensure that the data inserted into the NoSQL database meets the desired criteria. Specifically, validate the data types, formats, lengths, and constraints. Also, use server-side validation in your applications to enforce these rules before storing data in the database.
You can also utilize data validation libraries or frameworks specific to your programming language or framework. These libraries often provide built-in functions and methods for validating input, making it easier to implement robust validation logic.


Implement strong authentication measures.

Stringent user authentication policies enhance the security of NoSQL apps and databases. For instance, implementing two-factor authentication (2FA) adds an extra layer of protection by requiring users to provide two forms of authentication to access the system. This typically involves combining something the user knows (e.g., a password) with something the user possesses (e.g., a mobile device or hardware token).

Also, enforce strong password policies to ensure users choose secure and hard-to-guess passwords. The policies should require a minimum password length, complexity (e.g., a combination of uppercase and lowercase letters, numbers, and special characters), and periodic password changes.



The significance of NoSQL security cannot be overstated. Failing to secure NoSQL databases can expose organizations to grave dangers and consequences. Moreover, unsecured NoSQL databases are prime targets for attackers, leading to data breaches, unauthorized access, and potential loss or manipulation of critical information. Besides, the evolving threat landscape and persistent instances of high-profile breaches underscore the urgency of prioritizing NoSQL security measures.

Achieving robust NoSQL security helps businesses to safeguard their valuable assets, including sensitive data, intellectual property, and customer information. Therefore, implementing proper security practices is necessary to mitigate the risks of data breaches, reputational damage, legal liabilities, and financial losses. Strong NoSQL security measures protect the organization’s internal systems and contribute to compliance with privacy regulations and industry standards, fostering trust among customers, partners, and stakeholders.

Furthermore, robust NoSQL security enables businesses to maintain their competitive edge. Ensuring the confidentiality, integrity, and availability of data helps businesses leverage NoSQL databases’ power to gain valuable insights, make informed decisions, and drive innovation. With a secure foundation, businesses can confidently embrace the scalability and flexibility of NoSQL databases, effectively managing their data and leveraging it for strategic advantage.


About AppCheck

AppCheck is a software security vendor based in the UK, offering a leading security scanning platform that automates the discovery of security flaws within organisations websites, applications, network, and cloud infrastructure. AppCheck are authorized by the Common Vulnerabilities and Exposures (CVE) Program as a CVE Numbering Authority (CNA).


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