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API Security in the Cloud Native Era

6 May 2024

API Security in the Cloud Native Era

Modern cloud native applications are composed of dozens of loosely coupled microservices, enabling developers to create complex applications with great ease and speed. This type of architecture constantly changes based on customer needs, and the decoupled nature of microservices enables developers to push new code and functionality very frequently. The connectivity and communications among microservices are via application programming interfaces (APIs) such as REST, gRPC and GraphQL. In cloud native applications, a single client’s web request (i.e., north-south traffic) that hits your Kubernetes® cluster can spawn tens or even hundreds of API calls between internal microservices (i.e., east-west traffic). It is never enough to only secure the front-end web interface of your cloud native application—you must also apply rigorous application layer protection for your cloud native APIs.

The Traditional Approach

The common approach to securing web applications in the monolith application world was to deploy a traditional web application firewall (WAF) at the perimeter, so it would be able to intercept and inspect HTTP traffic sent by web clients. This approach made total sense when the potential risk to the application was mostly from malicious user input embedded in standard HTTP web form submissions or browser requests. However, when dealing with highly distributed, cloud native microservices architecture, this approach is no longer suitable for the following reasons:
• Modern applications often consume input from a much wider range of sources. These include standard web requests, mobile device API calls, cloud events, IoT device telemetry communication, cloud storage, etc. Inspecting input at the (web) perimeter does not provide full security coverage and may miss potentially hazardous payloads.
• Client inbound HTTP requests (i.e., north-south traffic) are often the first step in a long sequence of communication flows. In many cases, a single inbound request will generate dozens of internal API calls (i.e., east-west traffic). If those internal API calls are not properly inspected and validated, API endpoints are left unprotected.
• Internal API endpoints are often misconfigured and may allow unauthorized direct access to individual microservices, essentially exposing application logic to malicious actions. For the reasons above, it is critical that all API endpoints, both external and internal, are continuously monitored and protected rigorously

SITC – Your Palo Alto Networks partner

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