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Best ways to test Microservices Security

February 13, 2020
Danko Kovacic

The use of microservices results in many new, open and vulnerable connections. Microservices expose endpoints which are usually referred to as APIs to the public. As such, you may ask yourself, with so many potential vulnerabilities, how can we test the security of our microservice architecture? Continue reading to find out!

Why are Microservices important?

In the past developers created applications as single-tier software. The applications were monolithic. These days with the advent of microservices that approach has changed. How? By dividing the application into various mini components that communicate with each other. A hundred soldiers form units that unite into one singular army. Applications now use microservices architecture often. Each microservice has a specific function. Yet together they form a complete application or they perform a global task. Developers can deploy and test each microservice independently. This reduces downtime in the development and accelerates the production process.

The main advantages of microservice architecture:
– Focused and small
– Shorter deployment process downtime
– Rigid architecture
– Least amount of shared concerns
– Seamless implementation tests
– Decoupled components

Why do security problems appear in microservice architecture? A lack of AppSec awareness. Secure coding is not something that most IT schools teach to the level they should. This represents a  concern when microservices are used as the development technique mainly due to factors like:

– Integrity of data/message
– Segmentation (Isolation)
– Multi-cloud deployment
– Swift rate of change
– Identity management
-Access control

Microservice architecture has a bigger attack surface. The large number of services and assets comes with greater risks. How can you prevent vulnerabilities while using a microservice architecture? By reviewing existing implementations often and doing security audits on a regular basis. Microservice architecture has its advantages, but it also comes with many disadvantages if security isn’t handled properly. 

Microservice security requires special attention

Testing a microservice architecture as a whole isn’t effective. This is due to the independence, flexibility, and modularity of this architecture. Tools that can scan the interaction between them and each individual microservice are needed.

The security of microservices should be a high priority. It’s important to layer your entire security network to protect them. Each microservice can be seen as a container. You want to protect these containers so unauthorized users can’t access them. What’s the best practice for microservice security? Using different security strategies for each individual microservice. It also helps to create a map for all services and how they communicate with each other. 

Now that you understand how microservices work, let’s talk about why APIs are important in this context. Microservices are tiny components that work together to create a large app. But, how do all these tiny parts communicate with each other to achieve such a goal? Via APIs that serve as bridges between them, helping them connect with each other or other inter messaging protocols. In order to secure the microservice architecture you have to be able to secure the APIs that power it. The most effective APIs have authentication, input validation, ACLs and request throttling as their security measures.

Code scanning is another important part of keeping your microservices safe. Services are replicated during scaling leading to the same bug/flaw/issue being contained in multiple microservices. This is why it’s important to scan every single line of code for vulnerabilities. Separate software testing is important as well. Why? Because each microservice is custom in a way. This entails a need for security measures that can be adjusted to adapt to the purpose of the microservices.

With all the basics out of the way, let’s discuss how users can test their microservices security.

The best ways to test Microservices security

Always start with the most basic things. See if your software works by testing all the basic functions. This is a good starting point that will let you identify any potential issues. If the system is stable, you’re fine. If an error pops up, then you start looking for solutions. 

Next up is individual component testing and testing the safety of the communication. Test each microservice to see if it works on its own. Then test the communication between these microservices. Each microservice needs to be individually functional and the communication between microservices via APIs needs to be tested also. Any interruptions between the communication of microservices will be a major problem. The microservices architecture relies on a huge amount of small moving parts. If just a couple of these parts don’t communicate properly with each other, the whole thing falls apart.  Each unit in your army has to be effective on its own for the army to be functional.

With that done, endurance performance is next. Can your application handle intense pressure? That’s a question you need to answer. Interservice communication, concurrent calls, race conditions and so on. All things that can slow down your app. Long response time latency, glitches, and outages are all behaviors that need to be sorted out swiftly. 

So your app can handle pressure, but what is its performance limit? Conduct a wide variety of tests and push your app to its limits. See how much the app can take and perform smoothly and how much pressure makes the app crash.

In the end, we have the most important question, is your application subject to failure? Microservices are replicated over and over again. Any errors in code mean the damage is going to spread continuously. To stop this from happening, resilience testing needs to be conducted before the production phase occurs.

DAST VS SAST: Which handles Microservices security better?

Microservices architecture security requires a lot of attention and care. Now the question is, DAST or SAST, which one helps ensure the security of your application better? When it comes to scanning each line of code, SAST is the solution for you. Any errors in the code need to be remediated as the microservices are replicable meaning errors are spread like a plague. These small errors will cause a ripple effect that will affect the entire microservice unit.

Yet, SAST solutions have their shortcomings when it comes to microservices. They can scan each microservice individually. But can they scan how they interact and communicate with another? On their own, any microservice can be fully functional and SAST reports 0 issues. Problems occur when one microservice component doesn’t communicate with another component properly. All parts are functional on their own, but as a whole, they aren’t doing their job efficiently. This is where end-to-end DAST scanning comes into play.

End-to-end tests examine your entire system and verify the entire microservice architecture. Does it meet the requirements and does it fulfill its goal? End-to-end DAST solutions run tests while your application is in a running state. The whole system is treated as a black box while the test examines the APIs.

End-to-end tests also let developers adapt while developing. This is incredibly useful with complex microservice architecture. The main advantages of DAST are:

– Able to scan with end-to-end coverage
– Confirming if the app is ready to be deployed to production
– Detecting and handling microservice architecture scan barriers
– Tracking, recording, and scanning application traffic in its runtime

In summary, the microservice architecture allows for faster app deployment and delivery. Yet the complexity of this architecture comes with a wide attack surface. Testing your microservices security often and in ways that we covered is integral for keeping your systems safe and sound. Making sure the communication between microservice components works properly is important. DAST is the perfect tool for that. 

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