Measures to Microservices Security

  • Articles
  • May 24 2019
  • 4 min read

IT teams are always wanting to build new applications enabling specific functions for the ease of processes or customers. Sometimes, in order to balance projects, they allow distributed teams to work on focused targets using reusable assets, templates, and best practices. While decentralizing and democratizing application development helps, managing security can be a task for strategizing different Lines of Business (LoBs) and functional business partners. 

Thus, microservices architecture is adopted by businesses to bolster security issues. Introducing aids in software development cycles, microservices architecture improves the development cycles and enhances the service scalability. 

But at the same time, they are speculated to fail in efficiently implementing authentication and authorization schemes. Amid this push and pull of significance, let’s start from the beginning to get a clear picture…

fence wires on a wall

What are Microservices? 

When a set of loosely coupled services are built as monoliths and are decomposed into smaller parts to run in a single process, that variant of service-oriented architecture is called Microservices. They run independently using API gateways in order to allow them to reconfigure separately. In an idealist process, they prevent interruptions during a running application. However, the other side of the same coin makes it complex and open for attacks. They can appear to be a large roadblock for security and hinder simpler processes.  

Key Concern Areas

Breaking a large monolithic project into finer sections where each one needs management, microservices can pose few concerns. Look out for these grey areas when operating the microservices architecture:

Monolithic Isolation

A core concept of microservices is isolation. It is like a box of a puzzle that makes a complete project with individually architected, created, deployed, maintained, modified and scaled pieces. 

However, areas like database level and deployment can extract full services of isolation offered with microservices. The monolithic applicabilities impact the performance of the database as one microservice access one data store while integration with the entire database is eliminated. 

For deployment, microservices makes sure that each deployment takes place without affecting another and in case of failure, it shouldn’t bring down other microservices.  

Cloud Infrastructure

Microservices should be effective uniformly across various cloud infrastructures. While organizations operate different parts in context with different vendors, the microservice security should be cloud-agnostic and perform relevant controls in any environment. 

DevOps Security and Interservice Communications

Being open-source by default has its demerits too. The most sought after tool built for DevOps teams in Agile developments lapses in the necessity of proper security. It often gives opportunities to attackers and leads to tools being infected with vulnerabilities due to some malicious code.

Similarly, interservice communications can be risky if not designed with utmost precision. It calls for high standards of security and encryption on the data level which is necessary for some autonomous projects. 

Data Managing

The integration of data is a critical topic under microservices. As each microservice manages its own data, the consistency of data can be a challenge during the planning of data stores which keeps single entries to avoid redundancy. According to the CIA triad of confidentiality, integrity, availability, data shouldn’t be duplicated across many stores from a security point of view. Microservices should provide organizations with a better level of performance in terms of management and security of data. 

Agile development methodologies are the core of microservices and adaptability should be the strength.

Tips to Enhance Microservices Security for Better Performance

The skeptical take on microservices is always divided in the industry. Often, they are called out for creating a level of complexity rather than solving issues. However, with due diligence, you can take the call with these tips: 

Use OAuth 

Among the list of almost perfect solutions, OAuth is the one embraced by a majority. When a degree of control and authorization handling is required for almost all of the applications, OAuth is like a regular industry practice. Avoiding reinventing the wheel, organizations are adopting its advantages to accelerate the development phase.  

‘Defense in Depth’ Concept

Sensitive services need layered security that safeguards them from attackers when firewalls are not enough. This demand of multiple layers of security controls throughout the functions is defined as ‘Defense in Depth’ approach. Once you identify the services that need it the most, a proper defense mechanism should be sought after to succeed. 

The architecture of microservices makes it easier for the diversification of security over critical areas. Even if an attacker is able to break one system, they won’t be able to access others with the same hack.    

Diversified Security

As microservices act like little containers with data that need authorization, they are code locked for safety. However, security should also be diversified in terms of tactics and patterns. One can always try to make sure that no two security codes are the same for each microservice and be absolute and secured. 

Similarly, you can use security scanners by including periodic vulnerabilities and security scannings of your containers that have verified signatures. 

Adopt principles of APIs

APIs act as necessary links between all microservices that become one big app at the joining. It is an essential task to understand the link between all components and keep a check on the sensitive data being in compliance with the rules and regulations. Therefore, updated security of APIs is an added step for them to use features like throttling, access tokens, and authentication features. Following are the four principles of API management for security:

  • APIs should be published for the clear understanding of purpose, scope, and interface of your microservice for developers. 
  • Policies of logic should cover security, quality-of-service, auditing, dynamic data filtering and similar functions for injectable adaptation of APIs.
  • A regular assessment of APIs should be held in order to strategize scalability and impact of your assets. 
  • You can have tailor-made APIs to practice decentralized or federated exercise in collaboration between LOBs and central IT and cater to the specific needs of the business. 

Encryption Strategies

Do not try to write your own crypto code when it comes to securing your microservices unless there’s a very strong reason. You can adopt various open source tools already available for encryption. This is to make sure that robust encryption algorithms are put to use while encrypting microservices. Organizations employ strategies for protection of data in transit with HTTPS transport security which is considered one of the best methods by many. 

Security Automation

If your system has a lot of components that require specialized skills and a higher level of protection, you should limit the access to a bare minimum. This can be done with inclusive automation processes from the early development phase. Further, atomic platforms make testing of an application with an updated library or language version easier. 

Make Testing your strength

Agile development methodologies are the core of microservices and adaptability should be the strength. With ever-changing environments and needs, the security features also need solutions that can be monitored and updated regularly. 

In conclusion

From a vantage point, one can still be skeptical about the microservices security and scrutinize it well. But one man’s fish is another man’s poison. Thus, the deciding factor should always remain in the subjectivity of your usage and nature of processes. These tips and practices can be kept handy when it comes to the protection of your applications. 

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