With the advent of DevOps, the development world has quickly moved to agile development practices and containerized applications. At Forum Systems, we have responded to this trend by putting our API security software, Forum Sentry, into virtual form factors such as Amazon Machine Image, Azure Image, VMware Image, Linux, Windows and Docker.
Why do we feel it’s necessary to containerize API security in this way, and what benefits does it deliver over traditional software or even hardware-based API security?
What Is API Security?
Before we explain why we containerized our API security software, it is first necessary to define exactly what we mean by API security. As a result of the major IT trends of the last decade–in particular cloud, mobile and IoT–more people and applications are connecting to IT assets than ever before.
What’s more, the majority of these interactions are from untrusted entities outside the organization’s network perimeter (and as you will read below, across container boundaries). Securing your organization’s systems, data and business-critical processes is harder than ever.
Almost every interaction relies on an API to communicate to an application or system somewhere in the world. The simplicity of APIs makes it easy for developers to connect their projects to other systems to enhance their functionality, with data being easily shared between a myriad of external partners, cloud providers, virtualized data centers and on-premise applications.
As a result, APIs have become the primary channel for business transactions and the traditional boundaries of data exchanges have become blurred. APIs provide many benefits but also present risks, as wherever there is innovation, there is also the dark side of threat and attack, and always someone who will aim to exploit weaknesses.
In many environments, APIs and their underlying technologies are designed primarily to share data; they are not designed to thwart threat and attack. This is where API security gateways are necessary to validate both the data and the identity of users, systems and devices interacting with the API.
API security goes far beyond just access control, it requires specialized technology to perform dynamic data security to inspect and ensure the specific and unique characteristics of each API communication are correct. The API security policies are designed to prevent intrusion, data leakage and other forms of data loss as a seamless and transparent part of the technology architecture.
API security gateways differ greatly from API gateways; the key word “security” immediately distinguishes this technology from simple API gateways, which serve only to provide proxy and simplified access control points. API security gateways are purpose-built to protect against API threats, and the dynamic data security capabilities they offer provide centralized protection of bi-directional API communications. API security gateway technology provides essential risk mitigation at each layer of the API architecture, and as rising adoption of containers and micro-service architectures arise, it provide zero-trust concepts within and across the container boundaries to protect the assets and technologies therein.
Why Containerize API Security?
Container technology such as Docker has become a popular means to deploy API micro-services, a collection of loosely coupled services which are fine-grained and lightweight. The move toward virtual and cloud was initially driven by fully virtualized images with their own operating system, but the adoption of lightweight services and on-demand environments has led to widespread adoption of container technologies run on a shared operating system. These container architectures provide flexibility and ease of deployment, but come with the same set of API risks.
The concept of containers also brings into focus the trust model that needs to be considered for communication among technology components within and across containers. Containers become a new API boundary layer and thus represent the same type of risk paradigms, where a rogue container application can gain access or otherwise wreak havoc if the proper security controls are not put into place (commonly known as an insider attack).
By deploying API security directly into a container, organizations can automate their API security into their existing workflows and provide zero-trust security capability that ensures real-time enforcement and protection of container-based APIs. This means API security becomes autonomous and baked into the architecture, rather than tacked on at a later stage.
As mentioned earlier, dynamic data security is essential wherever information is traversing. The traditional cyber umbrella approach no longer applies in the interconnected API world. It’s like using an umbrella in a water park, it may stop the water from the top, but not from the sides. By having automated API security at the container and virtual layers, the ability to visualize, connect and secure information becomes an integral (and necessary) aspect of the container security strategy and a fundamental baseline for secure API enablement and trusted data exchanges.
API security gateways deployed as container nodes allow DevOps teams to harness the power of virtualization, cloud computing and containers while at the same time protecting the organization against API threats from both the inside and the outside. With API security baked into the container, developers are free to focus their time on building the best functionality in their apps.