And the solution is … SSL!

Today I attented a talk from Microsoft about their new Azure Cloud Computing platform. They had hired David Chappell to present the first topics that introduced the whole concept and the specific offering Microsoft is making in this area.

It was all interesting, David Chappell is a gifted speaker. At one point however I got disappointed. David was explaining how REST was a very good choice for communicating with cloud services. Amazon, Google, Microsoft … they all have cloud data services that can be accessed using a REST api. Someone in the audience asked how, if they don’t use SOAP with WS-*, how can they secure this. David’s answer came quickly “oh … use SSL … it’s only one endpoint talking to another endpoint, SSL can secure that”.

The days that there was always single network connection between the consumer (client) and the producer (server) are also over. At both sides, the message passes through various firewalls, gateways, messaging infrastructure … before being delivered to the real message endpoints. You can’t use SSL to protect it all. SSL will just protect a single network connection.

With the current solutions and architectures, people need to understand that message level (or application level) security can never be achieved by depending on transport level security alone. There are just too many hubs between the two endpoints. You need appropiate security controls at the message level as well. If people insist on using REST for scenario’s that go beyond low assurance needs, they must think about message level security and trust controls that are independent of the transport layer. If we continue to neglect message level security in REST while at the same time promoting the usage of REST in cloud data services, we are destined for a security nightmare in the near future.

The topic of REST and security is also definitely not new.

While we are at the topic of “built security in, from the start” … may I kindly ask both Microsoft and Adobe to support WS-* security standards in their RIA technologies (SilverLight and Flex). If Microsoft really is serious about security as they so often claim these days, then why does SilverLight 2.0 does not have support for web services security beyond just SSL? It looks like a missed opportunity for which we will pay dearly in a couple of years.

On the bright side … a lot of the services Microsoft will offer on their Azure platform will have full and first class support for claims based access control. At least a standards based authentication is possible. They do seem to think it also solves the authorization problem … that is wrong. Perhaps more on that later.