Introduction

The microservice architecture is being increasingly used for designing and implementing application systems in both cloud-based and on-premise infrastructures. There are many security challenges need to be addressed in the application design and implementation phases. In order to address some security challenges it is necessity to collect security-specific information on application architecture. The goal of this article is to provide a concrete proposal of approach to collect microservice-based architecture information to securing application.

Context

During securing applications based on microservices architecture, security architects/engineers usually face with the following questions (mostly referenced in the OWASP Application Security Verification Standard Project under the section V1 “Architecture, Design and Threat Modeling Requirements”):

  1. Threat modeling and enforcement of the principle of least privilege:
    • What scopes or API keys does microservice minimally need to access other microservice APIs?
    • What grants does microservice minimally need to access database or message queue?
  2. Data leakage analysis:
    • What storages or message queues do contain sensitive data?
    • Does microservice read/write date from/to specific database or message queue?
    • What microservices are invoked by dedicated microservice? What data is passed between microservices?
  3. Attack surface analysis:
    • What microservices endpoints need to be tested during security testing?

In most cases, existing application architecture documentation is not suitable to answer those questions. Next sections propose what architecture security-specific information can be collected to answer the questions above.

Objective

The objectives of the cheat sheet are to explain what architecture security-specific information can be collected to answer the questions above and provide concrete proposal of approach to collect microservice-based architecture information to securing application.

Proposition

Collect information on the building blocks

Identify and describe application-functionality services

Application-functionality services implement one or several business process or functionality (e.g., storing customer details, storing and displaying product catalog). Collect information on the parameters listed below related to each application-functionality service.

Parameter name Description
Service name (ID) Unique service name or ID
Short description Short description of business process or functionality implemented by the microservice
Link to source code repository Specify a link to service source code repository
Development Team Specify development team which develops the microservice
API definition If microservice exposes external interface specify a link to the interface description (e.g., OpenAPI specification). It is advisable to define used security scheme, e.g. define scopes or API keys needed to invoke dedicated endpoint (e.g., see).
The microservice architecture description Specify a link to the microservice architecture diagram, description (if available)
Link to runbook Specify a link to the microservice runbook

Identify and describe infrastructure services

Infrastructure services including remote services may implement authentication, authorization, service registration and discovery, security monitoring, logging etc. Collect information on the parameters listed below related to each infrastructure service.

Parameter name Description

Parameter name | Parameter description |Service name (ID) | Unique service name or ID |Short description | Short description of functionality implemented by the service (e.g., authentication, authorization, service registration and discovery, logging, security monitoring, API gateway). |Link to source code repository | Specify a link to service source code repository (if applicable) |Link to the service documentation | Specify a link to the service documentation that includes service API definition, operational guidance/runbook, etc.

Identify and describe data storages

Collect information on the parameters listed below related to each data storage.

Parameter name Description
Storage name (ID) Unique storage name or ID
Software type Specify software that implements the data storage (e.g., PostgreSQL, Redis, Apache Cassandra).

Identify and describe message queues

Messaging systems (e.g., RabbitMQ or Apache Kafka) are used to implement asynchronous microservices communication mechanism. Collect information on the parameters listed below related to each message queue.

Parameter name Description
Message queue (ID) Unique message queue name or ID
Software type Specify software that implements the message queue (e.g., RabbitMQ, Apache Kafka).

Identify and describe data assets

Identify and describe data assets that processed by system microservices/services. It is advisable firstly to identify assets, which are valuable from a security perspective (e.g., “User information”, “Payment”). Collect information on the parameters listed below related to each asset.

Parameter name Description
Asset name (ID) Unique asset name or ID
Protection level Specify asset protection level (e.g., PII, confidential)
Additional info Add clarifying information

Collect information on relations between building blocks

Identify “service-to-storage” relations

Collect information on the parameters listed below related to each “service-to-storage” relation.

Parameter name Description
Service name (ID) Specify service name (ID) defined above
Storage name (ID) Specify storage name (ID) defined above
Access type Specify access type, e.g. “Read” or “Read/Write”

Identify “service-to-service” synchronous communications

Collect information on the parameters listed below related to each “service-to-service” synchronous communication.

Parameter name Description
Caller service name (ID) Specify caller service name (ID) defined above
Called service name (ID) Specify called service name (ID) defined above
Protocol/framework used Specify protocol/framework used for communication, e.g. HTTP (REST, SOAP), Apache Thrif, gRPC
Short description Shortly describe the purpose of communication (requests for query of information or request/commands for a state-changing business function) and data passed between services (if possible, in therms of assets defined above)

Identify “service-to-service” asynchronous communications

Collect information on the parameters listed below related to each “service-to-service” asynchronous communication.

Parameter name Description
Publisher service name (ID) Specify publisher service name (ID) defined above
Subscriber service name (ID) Specify subscriber service name (ID) defined above
Message queue (ID) Specify message queue (ID) defined above
Short description Shortly describe the purpose of communication (receiving of information or commands for a state-changing business function) and data passed between services (if possible, in therms of assets defined above)

Identify “asset-to-storage” relations

Collect information on the parameters listed below related to each “asset-to-storage” relation.

Parameter name Description
Asset name (ID) Asset name (ID) defined above
Storage name (ID) Specify storage name (ID) defined above
Storage type Specify storage type for the asset, e.g. "golden source" or "cache"

Create a graphical presentation of application architecture

It is advisable to create graphical presentation of application architecture (building blocks and relations defined above) in form of services call graph or data flow diagram. In order to do that one can use special software tools (e.g. Enterprise Architect) or DOT language. See example of using DOT language here.

Use collected information in secure software development practices

Collected information may be useful for doing application security practices, e.g. during defining security requirements, threat modeling or security testing. Sections below contains examples of activities related to securing application architecture (as well as its mapping to OWASP projects) and tips for their implementation using information collected above.

Attack surface analysis

Implementation tips

To enumerate microservices endpoints that need to be tested during security testing and analyzed during threat modeling analyze data collected under the following sections:

  • Identify and describe application-functionality services (parameter “API definition”)
  • Identify and describe infrastructure services (parameter “Link to the service documentation”)

Mapping to OWASP projects

Data leakage analysis

Implementation tips

To analyze possible data leakage analyze data collected under the following sections:

  • Identify and describe data assets
  • Identify “service-to-storage” relations
  • Identify “service-to-service” synchronous communications
  • Identify “service-to-service” asynchronous communications
  • Identify “asset-to-storage” relations

Mapping to OWASP projects

Application's trust boundaries, components, and significant data flows justification

Implementation tips

To verify documentation and justification of all the application's trust boundaries, components, and significant data flows analyze data collected under the following sections:

  • Identify and describe application-functionality services
  • Identify and describe infrastructure services
  • Identify and describe data storages
  • Identify and describe message queues
  • Identify “service-to-storage” relations
  • Identify “service-to-service” synchronous communications
  • Identify “service-to-service” asynchronous communications

Mapping to OWASP projects

Analysis of the application's high-level architecture

Implementation tips

To verify definition and security analysis of the application's high-level architecture and all connected remote services analyze data collected under the following sections:

  • Identify and describe application-functionality services
  • Identify and describe infrastructure services
  • Identify and describe data storages
  • Identify and describe message queues

Mapping to OWASP projects

Implementation of centralized security controls verification

Implementation tips

To verify implementation of centralized, simple (economy of design), vetted, secure, and reusable security controls to avoid duplicate, missing, ineffective, or insecure controls analyze data collected under the section "Identify and describe infrastructure services".

Mapping to OWASP projects

Enforcement of the principle of least privilege

Implementation tips

To define minimally needed microservice permissions analyze data collected under the following sections:

  • Identify and describe application-functionality services (parameter “API definition”)
  • Identify “service-to-storage” relations
  • Identify “service-to-service” synchronous communications
  • Identify “service-to-service” asynchronous communications

Mapping to OWASP projects

Sensitive data identification and classification

Implementation tips

To verify that all sensitive data is identified and classified into protection levels analyze data collected under the following sections:

  • Identify and describe data assets
  • Identify “asset-to-storage” relations

Mapping to OWASP projects

Application components business/security functions verification

Implementation tips

To verify the definition and documentation of all application components in terms of the business or security functions they provide analyze data collected under the following sections (parameter “Short description”):

  • Identify and describe application-functionality services
  • Identify and describe infrastructure services

Mapping to OWASP projects

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