Until recently, businesses were run on monolithic applications developed as a single yet autonomous unit. A slight tweak to the monolithic application affects the whole process and slows it down.
For example, an edit made to a small section of the code demands developing and deploying an entirely new version of the application. And, if you venture into scaling a few specific functions of a monolithic application, you must scale the entire application.
In the past few years, the demand for microservices architecture, or microservices in general, has increased manifold. Thanks to enterprise needs for availability, scalability, and resilience, microservices architecture solves the challenges posed by monolithic systems by breaking them down into smaller yet manageable independent services.
These autonomous services, written in different programming languages, run on their own process. In addition, these independently deployable services may use other data storage mediums and communicate using language-agnostic protocols to perform the tasks efficiently.
This article debunks a few myths surrounding microservice architecture security, reveals its security challenges, and rolls out the solutions. It also provides the top three best security practices in building microservices-based applications.
Benefits of Microservices Architecture
A microservices architecture provides numerous benefits to business organizations. But the benefits happen only if the migration from a monolithic application to a microservices architecture is done correctly. The primary benefits include:
- Unlike monolithic architecture, microservices architecture lets organizations focus on smaller yet autonomous services managed by smaller teams, instead of diverting the focus of every team on one more extensive application.
- An enterprise can develop a microservice in a programming language of their choice and independently release and scale it at their own pace.
- Monolithic architecture offers faster time to market and better scalability.
- It provides better fault isolation since errors in one specific microservice can be contained without affecting the rest of the architecture.
- DevOps and Agile teams also benefit from microservices. Tech behemoths like Amazon, Netflix, eBay, PayPal, and Twitter have migrated to microservices from monolithic architecture.
Microservices architecture has been a rising trend over the past few years. In 2018, the worldwide microservices architecture market was valued roughly $2.1 billion. Furthermore, it is estimated to cross $8 billion by 2026, at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of above 18% during the forecast period.
Also read: Best DevOps Monitoring Tools for 2022
Challenges in Microservices Architecture Security
There are a few challenges to implementing a microservices architecture that utilizes several small, independent services with different technologies, programming languages, tools, and frameworks.
Here we will examine some of the leading security challenges in microservices architecture.
Larger Attack Surface
Microservices architecture is a conglomeration of several services that open different ports and expose several application programming interfaces (APIs) that increase the attack surface, which poses a severe security challenge. Therefore, all microservices should be adequately secured to overcome this security threat.
In a typical microservices architecture, an application can be developed, tested, extended, deployed, and maintained independently. That means any of these activities shouldn’t affect the working of any other microservices in the application.
To enhance the security of the process, the implementation of isolation at the database level is required. In other words, each microservice must possess its copy of data and should not let it access the data of other microservices in the application. The implementation of isolation at all layers makes your microservices-based application more secure.
A microservices-based application typically has stateless, distributed, and independent services that have been developed using diverse technologies spanning geographical boundaries. Therefore, the same old conventional logging in the monolithic applications is ineffective in a microservices-based application. Instead, an application should aggregate the logs and correlate the events across several platforms and services for effective logging.
Collaboration of DevOps Teams
There are benefits in creating applications by developing, deploying, and managing services independently, but security vulnerabilities increase when they are released without thorough testing. Microservices-based applications come along with frequent releases, but this improved agility comes at the expense of security.
To mitigate this microservices architecture security concern, a closer collaboration of the DevOps teams is essential in a business organization. They should interact closely, possess a good understanding of the processes, and mitigate security threats. In addition, their collaboration must be in a development, security, and operations (DevSecOps) ecosystem to prevent unauthorized access to any resource within the application.
During an event of failure of one or more components, an application’s ability to continue working is termed fault tolerance. It is often done by placing a fallback mechanism like a circuit breaker pattern. However, putting fault tolerance in a microservices-based application is a challenging endeavor. At times, the implementation turns far more complex and challenging than in a monolithic application.
Microservices architecture possesses an increased number of services and handles more requests. The complexity increases when a large number of services communicate over the network. In addition, microservices architecture should be fault-tolerant, which means it should handle service failures, since frequent service failures can destabilize the entire application.
The Top 3 Security Practices in Microservices Architecture
Now that you know the security challenges in microservices architecture, let’s take a look at how to deal with them.
Defense-in-depth (DiD) strategy
Defense-in-depth strategy can add many layers of security to an application that can also be used to safeguard essential services. As a result, a microservice’s successful security breach cannot guarantee a successful security breach in another. In other words, if an attacker has already successfully attacked one layer of protection in a microservice-based application, breaching different application security layers might not be easy.
Direct communication with the microservices is not possible for users in a typical microservices-based application. An API gateway possesses a single point of entry towards various microservices. This mechanism doesn’t let the users access the services and use them directly.
An enterprise should place the API gateway behind the firewall to add a layer of protection over the attack surface. It also helps to secure every microservice it uses in an application. Usually, token-based authentication is used to secure API gateways.
API and data security
In a typical microservices-based application, the services should communicate with one another, and data should be secured without affecting the application’s performance. Towards that end, maintaining security certificates and encrypting and securing the data in transit should be done correctly.
APIs should be secured by allowing access only to authorized users. An enterprise can also leverage restricted access to a resource, which means access to a resource is provided only when needed.
Devising a Microservices Security Strategy
Security matters less in a typical monolithic architecture, but the same approach doesn’t work in a microservices ecosystem where security is a complicated challenge. For example, the standard firewall that protects your enterprise data and applications doesn’t meet the security needs of a microservices-based application. Indeed, a robust defense mechanism is needed to combat security threats.
Hence an enterprise should develop a security strategy to combat these challenges. Automation should be implemented to monitor applications and potential security threats. Along with that, a centralized security system and tools should be put in place to efficiently monitor microservices-based applications. It is highly recommended that enterprises implement frequently updated, automated code-scanning and secure code protection to strengthen security.
Read next: Top Observability Tools & Platforms 2022