Last night saw the final chapter of Logging in Action with Fluentd go back to my editor. The next step is that Chapter (and others I hope) will go to MEAP, so early readers not only get the final chapter, but also the raft of improvements we’ve made. Along with that, the manuscript goes for a full peers review. Once that’s back, its time for a round of edits as I address the feedback then into copy editing and Manning sign off review.
As you might have guessed, we’ve kept busy with an article in the 25th edition of OraWorld. This follows Part 1 talking about GraphQL with a look at considerations for API Security.
In addition to that we’re working on a piece around automation of OCI management activities such as setting up developers, allowing them a level of freedom to experiment without accidentally burning through all your credits by spinning up Exadata servers or 500 node Kubernetes clusters.
We might even have some time to write more about APIs and integration.
The latest edition of OraWorld has become available to today. With its blend of insight into the Oracle community, and Oracle technologies from database to modern apps. I have to own up and say, I mention the magazine not only because of the beautifully crafted independent insights, but also it includes an article from myself. Taking a look at GraphQL what it is and how recent new Oracle product features could make a big difference to the GraphQL adoption opportunities.
The next edition should include a follow up article to this focussing on API security considerations.
A couple of years ago I got to discuss some of the design ideas behind API Platform Cloud Service. One of the points we discussed was how API Platform CS kept the configuration of APIs entirely within the platform, which meant some version management tasks couldn’t be applied like any other code. Whilst we’ve solved that problem (and you can see the various tools for this here API Platform CS tools). The argument made that your API policies are pretty important, if they get into the public domain then people can better understand to go about attacking your APIs and possibly infer more.
Move on a couple of years, Oracle’s 2nd generation cloud is established an maturing rapidly (OCI) and the organisational changes within Oracle mean PaaS was aligned to SaaS (Oracle Integration Cloud, Visual Builder CS as examples) or more cloud native IaaS. The gateway which had a strong foot in both camps eventually became aligned to IaaS (note that this doesn’t mean that the latest evolution of the API platform (Oracle Infrastructure API) will lose its cloud agnostic capabilities, as this is one of unique values of the solution, but over time the underpinnings can be expected to evolve).
Any service that has elements of infrastructure associated with it has been mandated to use Terraform as the foundation for definition and configuration. The Terraform mandate is good, we have some consistency across products with something that is becoming a defacto standard. However, by adopting the Terraform approach does mean all of our API configurations are held outside the product, raising the security risk of policy configuration is not hidden away, but conversely configuration management is a lot easier.
This has had me wondering for a long time, with the use of Terraform how do we mitigate the risks that API CS’s approach was trying to secure? But ultimately the fundamental question of security vs standardisation.
Any security expert will tell you the best security is layered, so if one layer is found to be vulnerable, then as long as the next layer is different then you’re not immediately compromised.
What this tells us is, we should look for ways to mitigate or create additional layers of security to protect the security of the API configuration. These principles probably need to extend to all Terraform files, after all it not only identifies security of not just OCI API, but also WAF, networks that are public and how they connect to private subnets (this isn’t an issue unique to Oracle, its equally true for AWS and Azure). Some mitigation actions worth considering:
- Consider using a repository that can’t be accidentally exposed to the net – configuration errors is the OWASP Top 10. So let’s avoid the mistake if possible. If this isn’t an option, then consider how to mitigate, for example …
- Strong restrictions on who can set or change visibility/access to the repo
- Configure a simple regular check that looks to see if your repos have been accidentally made publicly visible. The more frequent the the check the smaller the potential exposure window
- Make sure the Terraform configurations doesn’t contain any hard coded credentials, there are tools that can help spot this kind of error, so use them. Tools exist to allow for the scanning of such errors.
- Think about access control to the repository. It is well known that a lot of security breaches start within an organisation.
- Terraform supports the ability to segment up and inject configuration elements, using this will allow you to reuse configuration pieces, but could also be used to minimize the impact of a breach.
- Of course he odds are you’re going to integrate the Terraform into a CI/CD pipeline at some stage, so make sure credentials into the Terraform repo are also secure, otherwise you’ve undone your previous security steps.
- Minimize breach windows through credentials tokens and certificate hanging. If you use Let’s Encrypt (automated certificate issuing solution supported by the Linux Foundation). Then 90 day certificates isn’t new.
This may sound a touch paranoid, but as the joke goes….
Just because I’m paranoid, it doesn’t mean they’re not out to get me
Fundamental Security vs Standardisation?
As it goes the standardisation is actually a dimension of security. (This article illustrates the point and you can find many more). The premise is, what can be ensured as the most secure environment, one that is consistent using standards (defacto or formal) or one that is non standard and hard to understand?
I presented at an online Meetup on today (Thursday 16th April) with a shortened version of my API technology overview (A quick look at gRPC, GraphQL, REST APIs – Which way to go?). Aside from an early interruption to the event, the evening was an excellent series of speakers covering a number of API centric subjects.
More about the event and future events – https://www.meetup.com/TechItaliaTuscany/events/269621146/
When it comes to deployment of API Gateways, there are a couple of well-known patterns, that of the Internal Gateway and External Gateway (described in several resources including here).
These two deployments essentially reflect the considerations of offering endpoints up to less secure network segments such as the internet (external gateways) and trusted network zones (internal gateways). But in addition to the physical deployment within a network, these deployments are likely to host APIs with different characteristics, reflecting levels of trust, and emphasis on enterprise decoupling/abstraction (internal) – the reason why APIs are sometimes associated with the idea of SOA 2.0. Compared with security sensitivity, and potentially monetization or at least usage metrics to help protect specific attack vectors.
These deployment patterns can be seen in the following diagram.
Both the internal and external gateways are reflective of interest in the origin of the API traffic. However a rarer 3rd pattern does exist.
This pattern of crops up when you need to consider the ability to manage how internal solutions connect to outside services, for reasons such as:
When it comes to development, we have had coding standards for almost as long as we have been coding. We tend to look at coding standards for purposes of helping to promote good quality code and reduce the likelihood of bugs and so on. But they also help with readability, making it easy to navigate a code base and so on. This is sufficiently important that there is a vast choice of tools to help us ensure we align with good practices.
That readability etc, when it comes to code interfaces lends to making it easier to use an interface as it promotes consistency and as Don Norman would say avoids ‘cognitive load‘, in other words, the effort involved in performing actions with the interface. Any Java Developer will tell you, want to print out an object (any object) you get a string representation using the .toString() method and direct it using the io packages.
That consistency and predictability are important not just for code if you look at any API best practises documents you’ll encounter directly or indirectly the need to use conventions that drive consistency – use of singular or plural for the name of entities, application of case – camel case, snake case etc. Good naming etc and we’ll see related things appear together in the documentation. Products such as Apiary and SwaggerHub include tooling to help police this in our API design work.
But what about policies that we use to define how an API Gateway handles the receipt and routing of API invocations? Well yes, we should have standards here as well. Some might say, governance gone mad. But gateways are often shared services, so making it easy to see and logically group APIs together at very least by using a good naming convention will help as a minimum. If API management is being administered in a more DevOps fashion, then information security professionals will probably want assurance that developers are applying policies in a recommended manner.