|By Application Security||
|May 17, 2012 08:00 AM EDT||
Enterprises often frustrate developers. Why do Enterprises always seem so behind when it comes to the very latest technology? In particular, a trend we are seeing is the continued struggle to marry Enterprise authentication with the burgeoning world of REST APIs. Developers want to use REST, but Enterprises need enterprise grade API security.
We think this problem will only worsen as Enterprises continue their rapid adoption of APIs. It seems clear that SOAP, while capable of Enterprise grade authentication through X.509 and SAML, will be left behind as the “Skinny jeans Facebook generation” puts the final nail in SOAP’s coffin.
Among our own customers and the stories we’ve heard, Enterprises are left with a dilemma with four horns concerning the protection of REST APIs:
(a) Use mutual authentication with client-side SSL
(b) Use HTTP authentication (password or digest) with server-side SSL
(c) Use OAuth, either 3-legged or 2-legged
(d) Use a de-facto standard or “roll your own”
Each option has challenges and benefits. In particular, the challenges balance time to market and time to value (which I term developer friction), security, and manageability. The success of an API is directly related to it’s perceived ease of access and the amount of friction involved in using it. An Enterprise will get more value out of an API that is actually used versus one that lies dormant. At the same time, however, as APIs become a new tunnel into the Enterprise, security and manageability cannot be sacrificed for the sake of adoption.
Current Options and Challenges
Let’s consider the options and “score” each of them. In option (a), most developers would rather shoot themselves than deal with client-side X.509 certificates, especially after experiencing the apparent ease of use of OAuth as evidenced by SaaS providers such as Salesforce.com and social platforms such as Facebook and Twitter. To compound this, the issue of key rotation and certificate management is a weighty burden to deal with from an Enterprise perspective. Echoes are heard from the grave, “But this year, will be the year of PKI!” Now, the “Year of PKI” conjures up not a picture of a secure Enterprise, but an enterprise fraught with wasteland scenes of Armageddon.
SSL with Mutual Auth Score:
- Security: High
- Friction: Extremely High
- Management Burden: Extremely High
- Developer Attitude: I hate my life
- Result: A secure API that nobody uses has lowered value to the Enterprise
In option (b), HTTP Authentication with server-side SSL, we’ve overloaded an interactive web-authentication mechanism developed in 1996 and tried to marry it to the API economy of 2012.
Well, you say…. At least it is a standard – and we console ourselves by the fact that it is a protected channel. The issue here of course is the proliferation and management of passwords.
Security is reduced because we’ve coded in a username and password and we’re probably using the same username and password for multiple applications and not telling management about it. Security is low when the password is in the clear and somewhere around medium-low when digests are used, depending on your perspective on rainbow tables. Friction is high because eventually I’ll need to (or should) rotate that password if I have even a rudimentary password policy
HTTP Basic Auth with SSL Score:
- Security: Medium-Low
- Friction: High
- Management Burden: High
- Developer Attitude: Really? We’re doing this?
- Result: An API with a “hackish” authentication method and suspect security.
In option (c), OAuth, developers will cheer but problems remain. First and foremost, traditional 3-legged OAuth is an authorization protocol that puts permission control in the hands of a user, who ostensibly owns an asset they are expressing authorization for.
In the traditional Enterprise context, however, control should be given to administrators, not users. Most users don’t own Enterprise assets, the Enterprise owns their own assets. With X.509 certificate authentication models, administrators can revoke permissions easily by revoking a certification while OAuth delegates permissions to users. This is why OAuth works well for social websites – content is owned by users.
One solution to this is to use 2-legged OAuth or some organic variation such as xAuth, which is notionally similar to SAML in that it allows the exchange of a username/password for an access token. Note: If xAuth is still OAuth why is it called something different? Answer: It is different (?)
2-legged OAuth has advantages over the previous option in that it stops the proliferation of passwords, which is a good thing, but the failure of the OAuth 2.0 specification to carefully define what 2-legged OAuth entails is a bit worrisome for both security and interoperability.
Third, depending on the specific OAuth data flow, such as the authorization code flow, implicit grant flow, or client credential flow, these all have varying levels of security and friction associated with them. The most secure OAuth data flows involving a confidential client demand strong client authentication….. …with a public/private key pair (ssshhh!!).
Finally, as history has taught us, never place all your bets in the security of a protocol. Many of us were shocked at the late 2009 news of a critical man-in-the-middle attack on SSL. If we count the Netscape days to the time of the vulnerability, the protocol was battle tested in industry for 14 years before the vulnerability was found. Some would argue that OAuth just hasn’t been around the block long enough.
- Security: Medium (or Low, depending on your view of history)
- Friction: Medium-Low
- Management Burden: Medium
- Developer Attitude: I love my job, it’s like Facebook
- Result: An API that uses a rapidly emerging protocol and avoids the use of passwords with low developer friction
In option (d), roll your own, we’ve seen a number of solutions that involve API keys or shared secrets along with authenticators like HMAC-SHA1. Amazon web services (AWS) is a famous example of this approach, and many of our own customers have copied this approach as a best practice.
These solutions have the advantage over HTTP Basic Authentication in that they don’t shoe-horn themselves into an outdated standard designed for another purpose. The flip-side is that these aren’t official standards. The idea is to use an HTTP header to store the credentials in a bespoke way defined by the Enterprise. The security model here is essentially the same as username and password, except for the fact that we’re calling it an API key to make it sound like it’s not a password. Management burden is increased here because interoperability outside the organization is reduced.
“Roll Your Own” Score:
- Security: Medium-Low
- Friction: Medium
- Management Burden: Medium-High
- Developer Attitude: Eh, It’s not OAuth, but at least I don’t have to deal with X.509 certificates
- Result: A reasonable, albeit non-standard solution to API authentication. Friction is reduced but password or shared secret proliferation remains a problem
Appease your Developers
One approach to solving the API access mechanism dilemma is to reject the dilemma and have it all. This can be done with a front-end or security intermediary that, much like a diligent mediator can make both sides happy. In this model, a front-end proxy is used on top of existing APIs, essentially retrofitting them for OAuth without having to get into the ‘weeds’ of actually modifying enterprise APIs. Everything is done on the wire at network layer 4 and above.
To take one example, if you are an Enterprise with REST APIs that use mutual SSL authentication, you don’ t have to enforce this fact on your developers. Instead, have a gateway handle it for you. You can give your developers a choice – they can fall on the sword of X.509 if they’d like, or use OAuth.
Conceptually, it looks like this:
In the previous diagram the gateway handles the OAuth dance for incoming clients and maps the identity to a username from Active Directory. Then, the gateway initiates a mutual SSL connection to the Enterprise REST API and sends the username of the original requestor over this secure channel in an HTTP header. Simple.
Developers are happy because the Enterprise is now “living in the 21st century” and the enterprise application developers are happy because they don’t need to retrofit something that already works, and the security architects are happy because they can manage it all on a security gateway with a few clicks and drop downs. Party down!
A thumbnail screen shot is shown from the “AAA” Policy from Intel® Expressway Service Gateway:
While there are a few more settings required, particularly to enable the full OAuth dance, as well as exception handling, the screen shot shows that the main credential mapping can be done with selectors and not code. This helps bridge the gap between Enterprise Applications and new emerging standards. At Intel we think this gateway or proxy model is a superb answer for solving some of these real challenges. After all, Enterprises can’t wait for the standards to catch up with the new generation of developers.
17th Cloud Expo, taking place Nov 3-5, 2015, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA, will feature technical sessions from a rock star conference faculty and the leading industry players in the world. Cloud computing is now being embraced by a majority of enterprises of all sizes. Yesterday's debate about public vs. private has transformed into the reality of hybrid cloud: a recent survey shows that 74% of enterprises have a hybrid cloud strategy. Meanwhile, 94% of enterprises ar...
Jul. 3, 2015 08:00 PM EDT Reads: 707
The 5th International DevOps Summit, co-located with 17th International Cloud Expo – being held November 3-5, 2015, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA – announces that its Call for Papers is open. Born out of proven success in agile development, cloud computing, and process automation, DevOps is a macro trend you cannot afford to miss. From showcase success stories from early adopters and web-scale businesses, DevOps is expanding to organizations of all sizes, including the ...
Jul. 3, 2015 07:15 PM EDT Reads: 621
IT data is typically silo'd by the various tools in place. Unifying all the log, metric and event data in one analytics platform stops finger pointing and provides the end-to-end correlation. Logs, metrics and custom event data can be joined to tell the holistic story of your software and operations. For example, users can correlate code deploys to system performance to application error codes. In his session at DevOps Summit, Michael Demmer, VP of Engineering at Jut, will discuss how this can...
Jul. 3, 2015 07:00 PM EDT Reads: 889
DevOps Summit, taking place Nov 3-5, 2015, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA, is co-located with 17th Cloud Expo and will feature technical sessions from a rock star conference faculty and the leading industry players in the world. The widespread success of cloud computing is driving the DevOps revolution in enterprise IT. Now as never before, development teams must communicate and collaborate in a dynamic, 24/7/365 environment. There is no time to wait for long development...
Jul. 3, 2015 07:00 PM EDT Reads: 753
"Plutora provides release and testing environment capabilities to the enterprise," explained Dalibor Siroky, Director and Co-founder of Plutora, in this SYS-CON.tv interview at @DevOpsSummit, held June 9-11, 2015, at the Javits Center in New York City.
Jul. 3, 2015 06:30 PM EDT Reads: 1,269
The 17th International Cloud Expo has announced that its Call for Papers is open. 17th International Cloud Expo, to be held November 3-5, 2015, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA, brings together Cloud Computing, APM, APIs, Microservices, Security, Big Data, Internet of Things, DevOps and WebRTC to one location. With cloud computing driving a higher percentage of enterprise IT budgets every year, it becomes increasingly important to plant your flag in this fast-expanding bu...
Jul. 3, 2015 05:30 PM EDT Reads: 585
"AgilData is the next generation of dbShards. It just adds a whole bunch more functionality to improve the developer experience," noted Dan Lynn, CEO of AgilData, in this SYS-CON.tv interview at 16th Cloud Expo, held June 9-11, 2015, at the Javits Center in New York City.
Jul. 3, 2015 05:00 PM EDT Reads: 942
The basic integration architecture, as defined by ESBs, hasn’t changed for more than a decade. Most cloud integration providers still rely on an ESB architecture and their proprietary connectors. As a result, enterprise integration projects suffer from constraints of availability and reliability of these connectors that are not re-usable across other integration vendors. However, the rapid adoption of APIs and almost ubiquitous availability of APIs amongst most SaaS and Cloud applications are ra...
Jul. 3, 2015 04:45 PM EDT Reads: 862
SYS-CON Events announced today that Secure Infrastructure & Services will exhibit at SYS-CON's 17th International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on November 3–5, 2015, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. Secure Infrastructure & Services (SIAS) is a managed services provider of cloud computing solutions for the IBM Power Systems market. The company helps mid-market firms built on IBM hardware platforms to deploy new levels of reliable and cost-effective computing and hig...
Jul. 3, 2015 04:15 PM EDT Reads: 733
"We help to transform an organization and their operations and make them more efficient, more agile, and more nimble to move into the cloud or to move between cloud providers and create an agnostic tool set," noted Jeremy Steinert, DevOps Services Practice Lead at WSM International, in this SYS-CON.tv interview at @DevOpsSummit, held June 9-11, 2015, at the Javits Center in New York City.
Jul. 3, 2015 02:45 PM EDT Reads: 835
The most often asked question post-DevOps introduction is: “How do I get started?” There’s plenty of information on why DevOps is valid and important, but many managers still struggle with simple basics for how to initiate a DevOps program in their business. They struggle with issues related to current organizational inertia, the lack of experience on Continuous Integration/Delivery, understanding where DevOps will affect revenue and budget, etc. In their session at DevOps Summit, JP Morgenthal...
Jul. 3, 2015 02:45 PM EDT Reads: 922
The time is ripe for high speed resilient software defined storage solutions with unlimited scalability. ISS has been working with the leading open source projects and developed a commercial high performance solution that is able to grow forever without performance limitations. In his session at Cloud Expo, Alex Gorbachev, President of Intelligent Systems Services Inc., shared foundation principles of Ceph architecture, as well as the design to deliver this storage to traditional SAN storage co...
Jul. 3, 2015 02:00 PM EDT Reads: 2,145
One of the hottest areas in cloud right now is DRaaS and related offerings. In his session at 16th Cloud Expo, Dale Levesque, Disaster Recovery Product Manager with Windstream's Cloud and Data Center Marketing team, will discuss the benefits of the cloud model, which far outweigh the traditional approach, and how enterprises need to ensure that their needs are properly being met.
Jul. 3, 2015 02:00 PM EDT Reads: 2,184
Overgrown applications have given way to modular applications, driven by the need to break larger problems into smaller problems. Similarly large monolithic development processes have been forced to be broken into smaller agile development cycles. Looking at trends in software development, microservices architectures meet the same demands. Additional benefits of microservices architectures are compartmentalization and a limited impact of service failure versus a complete software malfunction. ...
Jul. 3, 2015 01:30 PM EDT Reads: 1,171
Discussions about cloud computing are evolving into discussions about enterprise IT in general. As enterprises increasingly migrate toward their own unique clouds, new issues such as the use of containers and microservices emerge to keep things interesting. In this Power Panel at 16th Cloud Expo, moderated by Conference Chair Roger Strukhoff, panelists addressed the state of cloud computing today, and what enterprise IT professionals need to know about how the latest topics and trends affect t...
Jul. 3, 2015 12:30 PM EDT Reads: 1,405