Microservices Security: Big Vulnerabilities Come in Small Packages
Microservices Security: Big Vulnerabilities Come in Small Packages
We highlight key considerations when looking for a microservices security solution, to help devs and security professionals identify a solution that’s right for them.
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Most organizations today do recognize the security risks associated with their web applications. However, many will find that their efforts to “bolt-on” security to existing applications fall short of being effective. Just as we have seen an evolution in the software design process over recent years, we now must take a new approach to securing software design.
One of the major shifts in application development has been the widespread adoption of microservice-based architecture, largely due to the flexibility, resilience and scalability benefits it offers over a traditional monolithic approach. But as with any new approach or technology, unknown territory often creates new risks. In the microservices ecosystem, it’s essential for application security requirements to be addressed at the very beginning of the software-creation process. Having both a culture of security and mutual commitment from both the application developers and security team members is essential where microservices come into play. This is because the very characteristics that make microservices so effective for modern software development also make it more vulnerable to cyber attack if the right protection isn’t in place.
What Are Microservices?
The key principle behind microservices is that certain types of applications become much easier to build and maintain when broken down into smaller, modular units. These units, known as containers, can be separately maintained and continuously worked on, with the main application made up of the sum of its constituent containers. This modularity makes development much more efficient, allowing numerous small teams to adapt, deploy, and scale their respective services independently of each other without incurring lengthy downtime.
In the modern business environment, where downtime and poor reliability can have a significantly negative impact on long-term success, the appeal of a microservice-based architecture is obvious. By contrast, a traditional monolithic application is developed in one single piece, making it near impossible to isolate, test, and maintain specific aspects of it individually.
Why Are They More Vulnerable?
One drawback of microservices is that they can be more vulnerable to security threats. This is because adopting a microservices-based approach often involves exposing a lot more of your system’s functionality directly to the network, which in turn means it’s in closer reach of would-be attackers.
Furthermore, dealing with multiple small containers (often spread across many different systems and machines) that function as one means the potential threat landscape is significantly expanded. Each container must be properly monitored, managed and secured, which can be extremely time-consuming without the right tools.
The standardized, highly replicable nature of containers also means that a vulnerability in one microservice can quickly become replicated many times as the source code is used again and again. As a result, without due care, the security challenges that come with a microservices-based architecture can soon start to outweigh the benefits that make this approach so advantageous.
What to Look for in a Microservices Security Solution
Dealing with the security challenge that microservices present requires an entirely new way of thinking. Rather than a top-down approach focussing on the network, what’s needed is a level of security that mirrors the small, granular containers it is tasked with protecting. With that in mind, any effective microservices security solution must focus on the following key areas:
Automated code scanning: The ability to scan microservices code down to a single line (or even a partial line), across the whole environment, is critical. Doing so will allow vulnerabilities to be quickly identified and remediated before the code can be finalized and/or repeated elsewhere.
Elimination of false positives: For many developers and security professionals, one of the biggest barriers to efficiency is the dreaded false positive. Many of the security solutions currently available throw up far more false positives than actual threats/vulnerabilities and the time spent following up each one can soon damage productivity. However, the days of the ‘scatter-gun’ security solution are over. Leading microservices solutions now have the ability to identify vulnerabilities across the whole environment with incredible accuracy and near zero false positives, greatly improving team efficiency.
Bespoke assessment settings: Not everyone developing microservices has the same needs. For that reason, security should be adaptable to different scenarios. An effective security solution should allow assessments to be conducted whenever required, be that continuously throughout the development cycle, at scheduled moments within it, or on demand.
Robust source code protection: An organization’s source code is its crown jewel, subject to the very highest levels of data protection. As such, very few organizations are willing to upload it to the cloud or another public forum in order to be scanned for vulnerabilities, as required by some solutions. Ensure any solution being considered has the ability to accurately scan source code on-premise, eliminating this issue entirely.
Continuous updates: New vulnerabilities and attack vectors are being discovered every day. As a result, a security solution that isn’t being updated continuously will quickly become outdated and lose its effectiveness. Leading security firms all issue updates to their customers as soon as they find new vulnerabilities, so avoid any security solution that doesn’t offer this as a core feature.
The popularity of microservices-based architecture continues to grow rapidly, with no sign of slowing down. While its appeal is clear, in order to take full advantage of what it offers, developers and security professionals must also acknowledge and mitigate its security shortcomings.
Fortunately, there is an increasing number of security solutions available today, specifically for microservices, but not all of them offer the level of protection needed for complete peace of mind. This article highlights some of the key considerations when looking for a robust and effective microservices security solution, helping developers and security professionals identify a solution that’s right for them.
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