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Best Practices for Access Control in SQL Databases

28 September 2023

Best Practices for Access Control in SQL Databases

Implementing proper access control is crucial for securing any SQL database. Without adequate access restrictions, sensitive data can be exposed. This article will outline some best practices for configuring access control in SQL databases to lock down your data. JBI Training offers our  SQL training course please feel free to get in contact to discuss how we can meet your training needs. 

The Importance of Access Control for SQL Database Security

Access control refers to the methods used to restrict access to resources and data within a SQL database. Also known as authorization, access control regulates what users can view or modify within the database.

Some key reasons why access control is so critical for SQL database security include:

  • Preventing data breaches - Unauthorized access to sensitive information, such as customer details, can lead to catastrophic data breaches. Granular access control minimizes this risk.
  • Enforcing segregation of duties - Access can be restricted based on roles to prevent overlapping or conflicting privileges.
  • Protecting intellectual property - Access control ensures proprietary data assets remain protected.
  • Compliance - Many regulatory compliance standards, like HIPAA and PCI DSS, require access control as part of database security.
  • Providing accountability - By restricting and auditing access, it's possible to trace actions back to specific users.

Step 1: Use Database Roles to Manage Access Control

The first step in implementing access control for an SQL database is to leverage database roles. SQL Server and most database platforms provide built-in fixed database roles that cannot be changed, like db_owner or db_datareader. However, user-defined database roles can also be created to manage permissions.

Some best practices for utilizing database roles include:

  • Group users with similar access needs into the same role to simplify management.
  • Give descriptive names to custom roles based on organizational functions.
  • Only grant necessary permissions to each role according to the principle of least privilege.
  • Revoke or modify role memberships promptly when user responsibilities change.

For example, an ecommerce site may define SalesRole, InventoryRole, and HRRole to segment access across departments.

The following SQL code demonstrates creating a custom HRRole in SQL Server:


This grants read-only permission on the Employees table to anyone added to the HRRole role.

Step 2: Grant Granular Privileges to Users

While roles are an effective way to manage access requirements for groups of users, permissions can and should be tailored for individual accounts when needed.

The principle of least privilege is key - users should only be granted the most restrictive privileges necessary to perform their duties. Excessive permissions enable abuse and heighten vulnerability.

To apply least privilege, database administrators can:

  • Grant explicit SELECT, INSERT, UPDATE, DELETE, and EXECUTE permissions on specific tables, views, rows, and procedures rather than blanket access at the database level.
  • Revoke or deny unnecessary privileges from users and roles.
  • Frequently review privileges and remove any that are no longer required.

For example, an accounting clerk may need access to view and modify rows in the Invoices table. But granting update permissions on all tables would be excessive.

Step 3: Use Views and Stored Procedures to Restrict Access

Granting direct table access can expose entire data sets and should be avoided where possible. For tighter control, views and stored procedures can be leveraged.

Views - Views join or filter tables to provide customized subsets of data. Users are granted permissions on the view rather than underlying tables.

For example, a view could be defined that only shows invoices from the past month. This limits exposure of historical invoices.

Stored procedures - Require users to execute stored procedures that encapsulate data logic, rather than accessing tables directly. This avoids exposing table structures.

For instance, only a stored procedure that inserts orders may be granted, preventing direct table access.

Real-World Examples

Let's look at some real-world examples that demonstrate these SQL access control best practices in action:

1. Role-based access control

An e-commerce company implements three roles:

  • SalesRole - Allows SELECT on customers and orders. Can insert orders.
  • FulfillmentRole - Allows SELECT/UPDATE on orders. Can update order status and assign shipment carrier.
  • AccountingRole - Allows SELECT on invoices. Can generate invoices from orders.

This ensures departments only access necessary data.

2. Row-level access control

A SQL view is created that limits customer service reps to only view orders placed by customers assigned to them:


This provides row-level access control without touching the Orders table.

3. Access limited by stored procedure

Only a single stored procedure can be used to insert data into a UserPayments table:

  CREATE PROCEDURE InsertPayment @UserID int, @Amount money, @Date datetime AS INSERT INTO UserPayments VALUES (@UserID, @Amount, @Date)  

Even if a user has INSERT privileges on the UserPayments table, the procedure controls how data is inserted.


Properly implementing access control is imperative for any SQL Server database containing sensitive or proprietary data. While configuring granular privileges and role-based access can be tedious, the security benefits are tremendous. Following the best practices outlined here will help lock down your critical data assets.

Frequently Asked Questions

What are some built-in database roles in SQL Server?

SQL Server provides several fixed server roles including sysadmin, dbcreator, bulkadmin and db_owner. Database-level roles like db_datareader or db_denydatawriter also exist by default.

Is access control also required for non-production databases?

Absolutely. Non-production databases like test and development still contain sensitive data. Access should be properly restricted based on principles of least privilege even in lower environments.

Can row-level security be implemented without views?

Yes, SQL Server allows row-level security to be configured directly on tables. However, views provide an extra layer of abstraction and remain the most flexible option.

What kinds of access control policies exist besides role-based?

Other models like attribute-based access control (ABAC) or rule-based access control are possible. But role-based access control (RBAC) maps closest to how organizations manage permissions.

Next Steps

  1. Read our follow up article on Securing Business: How Companies are Using SQL Language
  2. Take one of our courses in SQL as well as our SQL training course we also offer
  3. SQL Server Administration Learn how to install, configure, and maintain SQL Server instances and databases. Master skills like backup/restore, security, high availability, and monitoring. Gain hands-on practice with administering on-premises and cloud-based SQL Server deployments.
  4. SQL Server Performance Tuning Discover techniques for optimizing SQL queries and database performance. Analyze execution plans to identify bottlenecks. Implement tuning best practices such as indexing, partitioning, and caching strategies. Diagnose and resolve common performance issues to improve throughput.
  5. T-SQL Master T-SQL programming. Learn to query, manipulate, and summarize data efficiently. Understand procedural programming concepts like variables, control flow, error handling, and cursors. Apply advanced T-SQL techniques like window functions, dynamic SQL, and set-based operations. Gain skills to write robust T-SQL code for reporting and app development.

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