What Is Microservices Security?
Microservices are small, autonomous services, each of which supports a single function within an application, working together with other microservices. It is a useful design pattern for organizations that need to deliver applications rapidly and with high quality.
With microservices, it is possible to modify one service without affecting the other services in the application. Microservices applications are commonly built using cloud native technologies like containers and serverless functions.
While there are many advantages to building an application with multiple, distributed components, this also creates security concerns that are different from a traditional monolithic application. Specifically, a complex microservices application can consist of dozens or even hundreds of units, each of which represents an attack surface, and may have its own vulnerabilities and security concerns.
To run microservices in production, you must take measures to secure every microservice, as well as integration points between microservices. Microservices security can be enormously complex, and to reduce this complexity, you must shift security left and add security measures from the onset of the development process.
In this article, you will learn:
Benefits of a Microservices Architecture
Microservices-based architectures offer several advantages over monolithic architecture:
- Greater productivity: Microservices allow for better team autonomy, allowing each team to work in parallel without stepping on each other’s toes. Microservices are designed to be highly decoupled, meaning teams can use different programming languages and technologies for different services. Each part of the application is maintained independently.
- Easier operability: Microservices architecture makes it easier to manage and operate complex systems. Because each service is independent, it can be managed and monitored separately, which makes it easier to diagnose and fix issues when they arise.
- Increased scalability: With a monolithic architecture, scaling an application can be difficult because the entire application must be scaled as a single unit. With a microservices architecture, each service can be scaled independently based on its specific needs, allowing for more fine-grained control over scaling and significant cost savings.
- Improved business agility: Microservices are small, independent services that can be developed, tested, and deployed quickly and independently. This allows organizations to iterate and innovate rapidly, respond quickly to changing business requirements, and deliver new features to customers faster.
Microservices Security Challenges
Isolation is a challenging security concern for microservices because of the distributed nature of the architecture. In a microservices architecture, the application is broken down into multiple independent services that communicate with each other over a network. This presents new security risks and challenges that are not present in a monolithic application.
One of the main challenges with isolation in microservices is ensuring that each service is properly isolated from the others. Because multiple services are communicating over a network, it is essential to ensure that each service has only the minimum required access to other services and resources. This is important because a security breach in one service could potentially compromise the security of the entire system.
Complexity of Hybrid and Multi-Cloud
Hybrid and multi-cloud environments are a significant challenge for microservices security because it increases the number of attack surfaces and makes it more challenging to manage and secure the overall system. In a hybrid or multi-cloud environment, microservices may be running in different cloud environments or on-premises, making it difficult to ensure consistent security across all services.
One of the main challenges with hybrid and multi-cloud environments is managing security across multiple cloud providers and on-premises environments. Each environment may have its own set of security controls and configurations, making it challenging to ensure consistent security across all services. Additionally, each cloud provider may have its own set of security tools and services, making it difficult to manage security across multiple providers.
Another challenge with hybrid and multi-cloud environments is data protection. In a microservices architecture, data is distributed across multiple services, and in a hybrid or multi-cloud environment, it can be challenging to ensure that data is properly protected throughout its lifecycle, from storage to transport to processing. This requires a data protection strategy that includes encryption, access controls, and secure data handling practices, which can be more complex to implement in a multi-cloud environment.
Managing Data Layers
Managing data layers is a challenge for microservices security because microservices rely on distributed data storage, which can make it challenging to ensure consistent data security across all services. In a microservices architecture, data is often stored across multiple databases, caches, and other data stores, making it difficult to ensure that data is properly secured and protected.
One of the main challenges with managing data layers in a microservices architecture is ensuring that data is properly protected throughout its lifecycle. This requires a data protection strategy that includes encryption, access controls, and secure data handling practices, which can be more complex to implement in a microservices architecture with distributed data storage.
Another challenge with managing data layers is ensuring that microservices have the appropriate level of access to data. In a microservices architecture, each service is designed to perform a specific business capability and may require access to specific data. It can be challenging to ensure that each service has the appropriate level of access to data and that data is not accessed or modified inappropriately.
Microservices can also introduce challenges around data privacy and compliance. In certain industries or regions, data privacy regulations may require additional controls around data handling and storage. It can be challenging to ensure that data privacy and compliance requirements are met across all data layers in a microservices architecture.
Unsecured DevOps Tools
DevOps teams often use open-source tools that integrate into the CI/CD pipeline. While tooling is critical to achieve the efficiency needed for DevOps pipelines, open source tools do not always prioritize security.
Before integrating open source tools into your environment, you should carefully assess exposure and then adapt controls before you integrate. You should also continuously evaluate the tools, to ensure relevance and proper security. Since open source tools are often exposed to unknown parties, they may contain vulnerabilities. As part of the assessment and continuous checks, you should also scan for vulnerabilities.
Related content: read our guide to cloud native infrastructure
7 Ways to Secure Microservices
Here are best practices that can help you improve security for your microservices applications.
Implement User Authentication and Access Control
To ensure your microservices remain secure, implement measures that protect against improper access. User authentication and access control are especially important for this purpose. Standards-based IAM is critical, for example SAML, WS-Fed, or the OIDC/OAuth2 standards for user authorization. You should also add multi-factor authentication (MFA) to prevent and detect security issues.
Another way to secure access to microservices is to use Open Policy Agent (OPA), an open source framework that can help you standardize access control across microservices implemented via cloud native technologies such as Kubernetes.
To learn more, read our detailed guide to Open Policy Agent
Improve API Security
APIs are a significant attack vector for every microservices architecture, as the interface point between services. You can use API gateways to improve security. An API gateway serves as a single point of entry handling all external and internal requests. You can use it to prevent clients from directly accessing microservices, to protect against free lateral movement within a microservices architecture, and to reduce the risk of attacks.
Use Encryption and Secrets Protection
It is important to secure a microservices architecture by encrypting sensitive data and managing access to secrets. Sensitive data such as API keys, database credentials, and certificates are often stored in configuration files or environment variables, which can be easily accessed by unauthorized users or processes.
To mitigate this risk, encryption can be used to protect sensitive data while it is at rest or in transit. This can be achieved by using industry-standard encryption algorithms such as AES, RSA, or SHA, and by managing encryption keys securely.
Secrets management tools such as HashiCorp Vault or Kubernetes Secrets can be used to manage access to secrets such as passwords, tokens, and keys. This allows only authorized users or services to access sensitive data, and provides an audit trail of who accessed it and when.
A defense-in-depth strategy introduces several security layers into the application. This strategy enables you to provide relevant security for sensitive services, which require a security layer of their own.
The goal of a defense-in-depth strategy is to prevent potential attackers from exploiting the entire application. If one microservice is exploited, the attacker, ideally, should not be able to move laterally to other services.
Consider shifting security to the left as an integral part of your process. If you are already running a DevOps team, you already have a culture of collaboration in place. Instead of only including operations and development, you can integrate security and implement DevSecOps strategies. When security is part of the process, you can continuously ensure your microservices are secure and add automation to increase efficiency.