The transitioning of business organizations from a large monolithic architecture to smaller and flexible microservices has now been accelerating in recent years. In the words of Martin Fowler and James Lewis, microservices is the “approach to developing a single application as a suite of smaller services.” Technology giants like Google and Amazon are referring to microservices as “much more than a passing trend.”
As is the case with any software architecture, microservices have their share of security-related challenges. For instance, security considerations like identity and access control (in monolithic applications) have become more complex in microservices. At the same time, the large volumes of APIs make microservices highly vulnerable to cyberattacks like the man-in-the-middle, DDoS, and injection attacks.
What are the best strategies or practices that can secure microservices and protect their entire ecosystem? Let us look at 8 best practices to improve microservice security.
8 Best Practices to Secure Microservices
Here are eight of the best practices for securing microservices:
- Integrate security right from the beginning
Essentially, this means that security cannot be an “afterthought” but should be part of the development cycle right from the start of the project. Also referred to as “secure by design,” microservices security needs to be incorporated at every stage including the design, build, and deployment phase.
How does one integrate architecture security right from the beginning? For a start, developers can perform continuous stress testing of the architecture at the time of writing the code. This can be done through security testing methods like:
- Static analysis that detects any code vulnerabilities.
- Dynamic analysis that tries to “ape” malicious attacks to identify any vulnerabilities.
- Use the Defense in Depth (DiP) technique
To avert complex and sophisticated attacks, organizations can no longer rely on parametrized solutions like the firewall. The Microservices architecture requires multiple levels of security incorporated at every data and service layer. This is what the Defense in Depth technique is all about.
Unlike firewalls, the DiP technique effectively applies security practices at multiple layers, thus making it difficult for cybercriminals to penetrate through all the layers. This technique uses a combination of security-related tools including antivirus, firewalls, security patches, and anti-spam protection.
For microservices, the DiP technique can be applied to the most data-sensitive services before applying security layers to the rest of the services.
- Focus on Container security
Any microservices architecture is dependent on the underlying container security, which has its share of online threats. Container security can be compromised by a host of vulnerabilities, including application images, misconfigured registry, and runtime vulnerabilities.
Organizations need to focus on container security through a variety of practices including:
- Using automated container security tools and technologies
- Limiting permissions
- Updating and configuring the Host OS to address any vulnerabilities
- Limiting access to container resources
- Implement multi-factor authentication
A microservices security strategy is not complete without securing the endpoints and frontend applications. This makes user authentication and access control critical for securing a microservice application.
Multi-factor authentication (or MFA) is a proven technique for blocking malicious intent. For signing into microservices application accounts, users need to go through a two-step process that consists of entering their correct user credentials (username and password) followed by a unique verification code (that is sent only to their mobile phones or email address). Additionally, an effective MFA process can also “raise a red flag” for any intrusion.
- Make use of automatic security updates
This is probably the easiest and one of the most effective ways of ensuring the security of microservices architectures. Regular updates of third-party tools along with scanning them for any vulnerabilities can keep microservices safe and scalable at a time.
As a practice, automate your update process to avoid missing any major security fix or patch released by third-party developers. At the same time, ensure that the released updates are stable so that they do not end up “breaking” your application (or add more vulnerabilities to them). Security tools like Dependabot from Github work efficiently at automating updates through pull requests.
- Create an API gateway
Microservices are not designed to work in isolation but have distributed components over external networks and systems. This makes the use of APIs among the weakest areas of microservice implementation. An API gateway is the best way to secure microservices as it provides a single centralized point for handling all external requests.
On its part, a secure API can restrict information access to only authorized users, apps, and external resources. Additionally, API gateways can also support the DiP security practice while delivering external services to microservices.
- Look out for any dependencies
The large volume of third-party tools, libraries, and open-source components used in microservices makes it challenging to scan for any dependencies. What do enterprises do when a vulnerability is found in any of these dependencies?
Security failures can be eliminated in third-party dependencies through regular scanning of application source code, third-party contributions, and deployment pipelines. Independent scanning for dependencies is crucial as only 75% of application vendors report security issues (in their updated software version) and only 10% report any known vulnerability.
- Implement user identity and access control
Most modern applications are not secure without optimizing their access control and user authorization. The right security tools and standards are necessary for secure microservices as this architecture works across backend services, middleware, and the frontend UI. Effective authorization and authentication across microservices are crucial for delivering security.
Industry safety standards like OAuth/ OAuth2 are recognized for user authorization across distributed systems. For microservices, this standard can be deployed to secure server-based communication between the API client and server.
For today’s evolving digital world, microservices offer an agile and cost-effective mode of delivering efficient applications. While this list of 8 practices is not exhaustive, they do provide an eye-opener on how business enterprises can secure microservices deployment from external threats. The global move towards containerized application is driving the adoption of container-based microservices.
Since its inception, Benison Technologies have provided technology solutions that have enabled our customers to ensure security across their networks and applications. Here is an article that talks about how enterprises can improve their cloud-native security.
Have more questions? Do get in touch with us.