When It Comes to Microservices, Identity and Access Management Is Key

Today, tech giants like Netflix, Amazon, Uber, eBay, and Groupon are embracing microservices as part of their technology and business strategies. But it’s not just the giants embracing this approach: companies of all sizes are realizing that microservices are an essential part of their business.

But first, let’s back up: what are microservices, anyway? Microservices are small, loosely coupled services that make up a larger application. Unlike monolithic architecture—where all services and code are contained within a large and complex application—microservices are autonomous units that deliver on the various components of an application. They present a number of benefits for developer teams and the broader business. But as with any other application architecture, it’s important that organizations consider the security implications that come alongside them. Here are some benefits and the best practices businesses should know.

What are the core benefits?

As independent units, microservices are easier and more cost-effective to create, update, scale, and support than their monolithic counterparts. For instance, while a monolithic application might have to be relaunched in its entirety to deploy an update, microservices architecture allows developer teams to selectively work with and deploy specific components of their applications—without causing major disruptions to the customer experience.

Implementing microservices architecture can also improve an organization’s productivity and speed in developing applications, as separate teams will be able to tackle different components simultaneously. This is also true for testing, as each service can be tested individually without disrupting the development of the rest. For organizations that have distributed, international teams that may work in different time zones or under different mandates, this benefit is especially helpful.

Also, due to their autonomous nature, each microservice can technically be designed with a different programming language or technology. This means developer teams can choose the right tools to both develop and scale their microservice effectively—while also empowering them to choose the process that works best for them.

Where does identity come in?

While microservices provide ample benefits with regards to agility and productivity, they present a unique challenge when it comes to security. Each individual service requires authentication and authorization support to grant secure access to customers, third-party applications, and other microservices. For organizations looking to adopt microservices architecture, there are various things they can do to ensure they’re implementing strong and frictionless customer identity and access management (CIAM) practices.

Establish a secure point of access

In order to centralize access to your microservices, an API Gateway can help by providing a common point of entry for all end-user requests and securely interfacing with each microservice behind the firewall. This can be further secured with OAuth 2.0, which helps assess and verify a user’s identity as part of the authentication process.

Microservices security can also benefit from a token-based approach to user authentication. JSON Web Token (JWT), for instance, is a safe, open-standard method for verifying users. These tokens store information pertaining to user sessions and provide specific details about the issuer, refresh token, and levels of access. As such, they can also help determine which microservices the user has access to, and to what degree.

Choose the right authentication interface

With a large number of users and applications requesting access to each microservice, it’s important to have identity and access management processes that are both simple and secure. Implementing streamlined authentication tools such as Single Sign-On (SSO) allows users to log in just once to get access to all the services they need, without having to remember multiple passwords. Then organizations can incorporate an added layer of security with Adaptive Multi-Factor Authentication (MFA), which evaluates the context and risk of the access request, including location, time, anomalies in customer behavior, device, IP address, and more.

Centralize access and control

Microservices require centralized access policies that apply to all access requests. Deploying policy changes to each individual microservice would become time consuming and burdensome, negating the efficiency benefits of microservices architecture. It would also leave an organization open to potential security threats and costly breaches, as there would be no way of guaranteeing that all updates were properly deployed. Alongside these centralized policies, it’s important to have an administrative interface that can help you manage users, applications, groups, devices, and APIs from one central location, giving you real-time visibility into what’s happening in your environment.

Adopt a reliable identity management tool

When it comes to securing customer access to microservices, Okta’s CIAM products help centralize the management of microservice authentication, authorization, and user management. This can lower development costs and allow developers to focus on what matters most: building transformative products and applications.

Adopting microservices architecture is becoming a valuable piece of the puzzle for companies looking for their tech to be agile and scalable. But like any new approach to technology development, it’s critical that organizations evaluate the security implications and mitigate against potential threats. Adding a strong authentication and authorization layer that secures your data—and that of your customers—without compromising the customer experience, can ensure you develop a microservices architecture that’s secure and successful in equal parts.

Learn more about how to use modern CIAM to bring both secure and frictionless customer experiences.