TL;DR: When dealing with a user password, you want to be very careful in how this information is saved. Passwords stored in plain text within your database are a serious security risk both to you and your users, especially if your business is working with any of your users’ financial or personal information. To keep from saving passwords in plain text, you can encrypt them using a salt and a hashing algorithm.
Plain Text Password Problems
While storing plain-text passwords can be handy when making prototypes and testing various systems, they can be disastrous when used in a production database. If an attacker somehow gains access to the database and its records, the hacker now can instantly make use of every user account. The reason: the passwords are all right there in plain text for the taking!
Back in 2006, the web site Reddit, a discussion forum, had a backup copy of its database stolen. Unfortunately, all of the passwords were stored in plain-text. The person that had the data could have easily taken over any of the accounts that were stored in the backup database by making use of the user names and passwords available.
This may not seem like a major problem for a discussion forum. If the administrator and moderator passwords were changed quickly, the intruder likely would only be able to post spam or other types of messages the user would not normally write. However, these same users may have used the same login information for other tasks, such as online banking or credit card accounts. This would indeed be a problem for the user once a hacker had access to such an account!
Salting and Hashing a Password
To avoid having plain-text passwords in your database, you need to store a value that has been altered in a way that will be very difficult to crack. The first step is to add a salt, which is a random string that is added to the password. This value can be either prepended or appended to the password, and should be long in order to provide the best security.
After the password is salted, it should then be hashed. Hashing will take the salted password and turn it into a string of characters that can be placed into the database instead of the plain-text password. There are a number of hashing algorithms, such as SHA256, SHA512, and more.
While implementing a salted password hashing can be more time consuming, it could save your users from having their passwords exposed or stolen. It is definitely a good idea to do this as a safeguard for the people using your services.
Another way to help protect your users is to make sure the database itself is secure. Keeping the database on site may be difficult for your business, but there are companies that offer databases as a service in the cloud.
One such company is Morpheus, which includes VPN connections to databases and online monitoring to help keep your database secure. In addition, databases are backed up, replicated, and archived automatically on an SSD-backed infrastructure. So, give Morpheus a try and get a secure, reliable database for your business!