Security in Microservices

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Microservices are the future of applications developed for the cloud. Research giant IDC forecasts that nearly 90% of new apps deployed by 2022 will feature microservices-based architectures. The primary benefits of microservices are improvements to the ability to design, debug, update and leverage third-party code.”

While many organizations are adopting microservices for the amazing benefits on the table, but there are some security challenges on the road to success. You must examine these challenges from the start to ensure data is private and secure and that the system remains up when needed.

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Microservices Security

This Security in Microservices article will list the best security patterns and best practices to ensure security in microservices.

First of all, we’ll understand what microservices are before going further in the article.

What are Microservices?

Microservices or Microservices Architecture is an architectural style that divides a traditional monolithic model into independent, distributed services that can be deployed and scaled individually. Each service is organised throughout business capabilities and deployable individually by fully automated deployment machinery. 

If you wish to know more about microservices in-depth, then you can refer this article: What is Microservices

Security in Microservices

The Microservices approach is to develop a single app as a collection of services, each running its own process and interacting with lightweight mechanisms, regularly an HTTP resource API. Applications built on a microservices-based architecture are complicated and have several unique vulnerabilities due to their modular nature. They have a much larger attack surface area than traditional application models.

The services which communicate via APIs are independent of machine architecture and even programming language. Due to this, they have more exposure surface than traditional models that interact specifically with other parts of the same application. This results in more number of potential attacks.

Also, during the rapid development cycle and continuous integration/delivery processes, developers don’t perform code testing as a single event after the development stage, but rather it’s an ongoing process in microservices. This testing process must be appropriately managed to improve security.

Lastly, a unique set of threats target a container-based solution in which microservices are implemented. This stem from the integrity of container images themselves, the level of isolation between them, how they are managed, vulnerabilities within the containers such as security of the operating system, bundled libraries, and more.

------       Related Article: Cloud Native Microservices       ------

Securing Microservices Architecture

Microservices architecture provides teams with a new set of potential security risks which need to be addressed. The best way to secure microservices-based solutions is to implement security best practices and patterns into architecture patterns and design and integrate them into the development lifecycle so that data and apps remain protected.

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How To Secure Microservices - Best Patterns for Microservices Security

A number of best practices exist to integrate microservice security models, helping teams to update their APIs, endpoints and application data. Here are the 8 best practices and patterns for ensuring microservices security. 

#1. Be Secure By Design

The first step to secure a microservices-based solution is to ensure security is included in the design. Secure by design means baking security into your software design from the design.

Some fundamental tenets for all designs are:

  • Authenticate all access requests 
  • Encrypt all communications (using transport layer security or HTTPS)
  • Use DevSecOps tools to scan codes in microservices architectures
  • Do not hard code certificates, passwords, or any type of secrets within the code
  • Define APIs

Security measures need these kinds of precautions at the design level.

Microservices Tutorial for Beginners

#2. Scan Dependencies 

Third-party and open source components make up most of the software we create today. Many of the libraries we use for developing software rely on other dependencies. Transitive dependencies may lead to a large set of dependencies, some result in security vulnerabilities.

It’s important to track third-party dependencies to track and remediate security vulnerabilities as early as possible.

Use scanning programs on the source code repository to find out vulnerable dependencies. Should scan for vulnerabilities in deployment pipeline, code version releases, new code contributions, and in the primary line of code.

#3. API Gateways

One of the most vulnerable areas of microservices architecture is APIs. A secure API will hide the information processes by making it visible to only users, apps, and servers authorized to access it. It should only process data from clients and servers if it identifies data has not been transformed by the third party.

The best way to secure APIs and manage the authentication of users and processes is using API gateways. They act as a single point of entry that manages external requests, block users’ direct access to microservices, and prevent potential attacks from malicious users.

Another advantage of using API gateways is managing outside commands calls services, which provides fail-over and other load balancing services. It also provides logging, enabling a security information and event management/security operations center (SIEM/SOC) service to monitor apps and finds unexpected behaviour.

#4. Isolation

Isolation is the key principle of microservices. Each service must be an independent piece of the overall application. A microservice deploys, manages, and scales without affecting other services around it.

Isolation extends support functions beneath the architecture, such as the database level. Another vital area where isolation plays an important role is in failure mode. If any specific microservice fails, it should not bring down others as well.

#5. User Access and Identity Tokens

The majority of applications today perform some level of access control and authorization handling. Industry experts suggest OAuth/OAuth2 as the standard for user authorization. While using this, the app prompts users to authorize the 3rd party apps, use needed information, and generate a token for it. Generally, an authorization code is used to request the token to ensure that the user’s callback URL is not stolen.

So when we use microservices with OAuth, the services act as a client in the OAuth architecture to implement secure server-to-server communication. The benefits of using it are that you can rely on libraries and platforms that greatly accelerate your development phase.

#6. Use Defense in Depth Approach

One of the most critical strategies to adopt is the defence-in-depth approach. Believing a firewall on your network perimeter protect your software is a big misconception. The Defence-in-depth approach is defined as an information assurance concept where different layer’s security controls are added through the organisation’s software systems. In the microservices context, the services with the most sensitive data are the ones that require multiple layers of protection. The attacker cannot crack the security on a single attempt and has to go forward and break all the layer’s defence mechanism.

Also, the attacker who is successful in exploiting one of your services might not exploit another one.

#7. Application Security Testing Tools

While talking about vulnerable dependencies, the no of security vulnerabilities increases every day. It’s essential to integrate white box and black box application security testing tools throughout the DevSecOps pipeline.

Some of them are DAST (dynamic application security testing),  SAST (static application security testing), SCA (software composition analysis tools), and RASP (runtime application self-protection) throughout your DevSecOps pipelines. 

Frequently asked Microservices Interview Questions

#8. Container Security

Container security is critical in cloud-native environments where microservices reside. Container security risks can compromise container images, registries, orchestration, host OS, and more.

  • Images 

In the container environment, application images are the most vulnerable areas.  They include outdated images, apps carrying bugs, poorly configured images, and insecure software versions. You need to extend the third party containers you use that have the right policies to make sure that they refresh and review images regularly.

  • Orchestration

It’s vital to maintain what images you are using and how they communicate. Therefore, implement effective authentication methods like multi-factor authentication on cluster-wide administrative accounts for managing access control.

  • Registry

The registry is a key part of service discovery. The registry should undergo continuous monitoring to ensure all stale images that be risks are clear.

  • Host OS

Lastly, the host OS is vital to a thriving container environment. It lies at the lowest level of the container architecture and is a critical target for attackers. A compromise of host OS can lead to a compromise of containers running on it.

Wrapping up:

Microservices are evolving quickly and introducing many trends to the software world. It offers easy scalability and agility to today’s fast-paced digital world. Don’t let security fall by the wayside as we scale up our systems using microservices. The security patterns and best practices discussed above helps you to stay ahead of microservices security. 

Hope you liked reading the Security in Microservices article. If you have any queries, please drop the question in the comment box.

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Last updated: 03 Apr 2023
About Author


Madhuri is a Senior Content Creator at MindMajix. She has written about a range of different topics on various technologies, which include, Splunk, Tensorflow, Selenium, and CEH. She spends most of her time researching on technology, and startups. Connect with her via LinkedIn and Twitter .

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