Microservices security: 6 best practice tips

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Along with a move to containerized deployments, many development teams have been shifting toward a microservices architecture. Microservices allow development teams to rapidly build and deploy applications in a more agile way and release features independently, which shortens development cycles, allows more freedom in choosing technologies to implement, and improves software resilience.

While microservices can be a great way to modernize previously monolithic applications, this approach can also introduce security risks. Let’s take a deep dive into microservice security and some best practices to consider.

What is microservice security?

Microservice security is the strategy that development and security teams use to minimize the risks associated with microservices application architecture. This security effort includes building secure microservices themselves and ensuring they communicate with each other securely as well.

Microservices — or independent software components that can be deployed separately — make it easier and more efficient to scale large applications. That’s because these independent services can be updated much more easily and developers can choose the right technology stack for each individual component. Since microservices can be deployed independently from each other, organizations can also scale certain aspects of the application without needing to scale the entire application, reducing resource usage and cost.

At the same time, this ability to quickly and independently build and deploy microservices poses security risks. If development teams aren’t using secure coding best practices, each new microservice deployment could introduce risks to the overall application.

6 Best practices for microservices security

As discussed, microservice security is an approach for improving the overall security posture of an application. Here are six best practices to consider when implementing microservice security.

  1. Secure by design

  2. Adopt a DevSecOps culture

  3. Integrate AppSec tools

  4. Implement dependency scanning

  5. Use secure containers

  6. Build API gateways

1. Secure by design

Most microservice-based applications  are deployed when organizations modernize monolithic systems. So the design phase is an ideal opportunity to improve the security of legacy applications. Development and security teams should make application security a priority when designing a microservice architecture so that the application has the right foundation to remain secure as it grows and evolves.

Designing secure software requires security to be considered at every layer of an application, starting with its architecture. Threat modeling is a process for examining the design of system operations and how data flows across subsystems or microservices. This enables teams to identify potential points of weakness and mitigate them early in the design process.

For a microservices-based architecture, it’s crucial that the code and open source components of an application are hardened against threats and that the containers and infrastructure running the microservices are protected. In addition, microservices should be able to communicate with each other without any security risks.

2. Adopt a DevSecOps Culture

One of the key benefits of microservices is that development teams can more rapidly deploy individual software components without redeploying the entire application. While this enables DevOps teams to build applications more quickly, it could introduce security risks as well. That’s why a mindset shift towards security testing during the development process itself is crucial.

That’s why a DevSecOps approach — where security measures are integrated directly into the development process and to the build and continuous integration environment — is crucial for reducing risk. DevSecOps calls for automation and creates a shared responsibility for delivering secure software without compromising on development speed. In fact, the DevSecOps approach can even reduce the cost and time needed for secure software delivery because developers will no longer need to retrofit security controls after deployment.

3. Integrate Application Security tools

A key aspect of DevSecOps is to integrate AppSec tools into an automated continuous integration and continuous delivery (CI/CD) pipeline. Integrating these tools into CI/CD pipelines enables organizations to shift security left, reducing the overall time and effort involved with improving the security posture of an application. That’s because it’s easier for developers to fix security issues directly within their IDE while they’re writing code rather than after the fact.

For example, static application security testing (SAST) enables development teams to find and fix security issues within an application’s source code earlier in the software development lifecycle (SDLC). This enables organizations to vet every new change to a microservice before the code is pushed into production.

4. Implement dependency scanning

Along with microservices, modern software often uses a large number of open source components. In most cases, the open source code an application relies on far outweighs the custom code that development teams write themselves. However, these third-party dependencies could include vulnerabilities that impact the risk profile of an application.

Since individual microservices often utilize different technology stacks, it’s difficult for developers to track third-party components and ensure they’re secure. Using an open source security management tool, development teams can more easily find and fix potential vulnerabilities in the open source code they use.

5. Use secure containers

Given that microservice-based applications consist of dozens or even hundreds of different components, development teams frequently use containers to make deployments easier. That means container security is a critical aspect of keeping microservices secure and implementing cloud native security.

Container security goes far beyond the images they’re based on. It also includes the container registry where images are stored and the tools used for orchestration. Scanning the container registry for vulnerable images is critical for reducing the risk of multiple microservices using the same base image. Another way to ensure microservices are securely deployed is to eliminate misconfigurations and other risks associated with container orchestration tools like Kubernetes.

6. Build API Gateways

APIs are the primary way independent software components communicate with each other in a microservices architecture, making them one of the most vulnerable areas of an application.

An API gateway is a tool that sits between a client and a collection of backend services. This API management tool handles authentication, rate limiting, and other tasks to protect the API from abuse. In turn, API gateways can protect a microservice-based application from unwanted third-party access or the large volume of traffic associated with a denial of service (DoS) attack.

Microservices security FAQ

Are microservices more secure?

While the size and complexity of an application determine its risk profile, oftentimes a microservices architecture is more secure than a monolithic application. Since microservices are decoupled, vulnerabilities are often limited to a particular component rather than impacting the overall application.

By using proper authentication for interservice communication, microservice-based applications can also have additional security checks than monolithic applications. Finally, when a vulnerability is discovered, it’s much easier to patch the issue and redeploy the microservice to quickly mitigate the security risk.

How do you secure microservices?

Securing microservices requires an effective application architecture design from the start. The individual software components are often built and deployed quickly, so integrating application security directly into the development process is crucial for delivering a secure microservice-based application. The threat landscape is always evolving, so it’s crucial to use automated AppSec tools to continually find and fix vulnerabilities that could put an application at risk.

Learn how Coveo integrated Snyk within their Microservices Deployment Pipeline to help them scale DevSecOps practices across their business.

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