Baking security into your cloud-native application

The importance of authentication and authorization in modern app development.

By Kevin Hoffman
October 18, 2016
Stack of bread Stack of bread (source: DESPIERRES via Pixabay)

In Beyond the Twelve-Factor App, I present a new set of guidelines that builds on Heroku’s original 12 factors and reflects today’s best practices for building cloud-native applications. I have changed the order of some to indicate a deliberate sense of priority, and added factors such as telemetry, security, and the concept of “API first” that should be considerations for any application that will be running in the cloud. These new 15-factor guidelines are:

  1. One codebase, one application
  2. API first
  3. Dependency management
  4. Design, build, release, and run
  5. Configuration, credentials, and code
  6. Logs
  7. Disposability
  8. Backing services
  9. Environment parity
  10. Administrative processes
  11. Port binding
  12. Stateless processes
  13. Concurrency
  14. Telemetry
  15. Authentication and authorization

There is no discussion of security, authentication, or authorization in the original 12 factors. But security is a vital part of any application and cloud environment. Security should never be an afterthought.

Learn faster. Dig deeper. See farther.

Join the O'Reilly online learning platform. Get a free trial today and find answers on the fly, or master something new and useful.

Learn more

All too often, we are so focused on getting the functional requirements of an application out the door that we neglect one of the most important aspects of delivering any application, regardless of whether that app is destined for an enterprise, a mobile device, or the cloud.

A cloud-native application is a secure application. Your code, whether compiled or raw, is transported across many data centers, executed within multiple containers, and accessed by countless clients—some legitimate, most nefarious.

Even if the only reason you implement security in your application is so you have an audit trail of which user made which data change, that alone is benefit enough to justify the relatively small amount of time and effort it takes to secure your application’s endpoints.

In an ideal world, all cloud-native applications would secure all of their endpoints with RBAC (role-based access control). Every request for an application’s resources should know who is making the request, and the roles to which that consumer belongs. These roles dictate whether the calling client has sufficient permission for the application to honor the request.

With tools like OAuth2, OpenID Connect, various SSO servers and standards, as well as a near infinite supply of language-specific authentication and authorization libraries, security should be something that is baked into the application’s development from day one, and not added as a bolt-on project after an application is running in production.

Post topics: Operations