Serverless operations don’t have to worry about infrastructure, network, or host security, but new attack vectors have developed to threaten this serverless model. If you want your organization to remain resilient to cyberattacks, you’ll need to update your security infrastructure and policies to better guard against them.
What Is Serverless Computing?
To understand serverless security, you first have to understand serverless computing. Serverless computing is a model that relies on cloud computing, where the cloud provider dynamically allocates machine resources to applications as needed. You might use something like Google Cloud Functions, Azure Functions, or AWS Lambda Functions to do this. There are many benefits to this approach, including built-in automation and practically infinite scaling capacity. Additionally, you’ll see much lower operations overhead.
New Serverless Attack Vulnerabilities
There are several unique attack vectors and vulnerabilities introduced by serverless operations, despite their advantages elsewhere. These include things like:
- Greater attack surface. Serverless operations have high demands, and rely on data from a number of different sources, including HTTP APIs, data stored in the cloud, and even device communications. And as you’re already aware, more nodes in these relationships mean more potential avenues for attack.
- Architectural complexity. While serverless computing is designed to simplify things and make your life easier, under the hood, things are a bit more complex. The architecture for serverless is relatively new, and can be hard for developers to learn and adapt. Accordingly, there are many opportunities for misconfigurations and errors—representing a point of attack for cybercriminals.
- Event logging. In traditional environments, security experts can rely on event logs and other systems to monitor and visualize activities on the network. However, in a serverless environment, this can be difficult to manage.
The Classic Security Dilemma
In a traditional environment, you’ll have access to a plethora of “standard” measures of data protection to keep your organization secure. Things like firewalls, WAF, and IDF exist to erect a kind of wall between your data and would-be attackers; even the simplest barriers can deter opportunistic attacks.
But in a serverless environment, these classic security measures aren’t as reliable as options for organizations. For starters, the velocity of serverless makes it harder to configure security for these measures. Additionally, security tools could multiply the processing time it takes for all requests, ultimately compromising your speed.
Serverless Security Threats
The types of people that would attack you in a conventional environment are the same types of people that would attack you in a serverless environment; opportunistic cybercriminals haven’t changed much. However, there are a variety of new types of attacks they can use to compromise your system, including:
- Groundhog Day attacks. Serverless functions are short-lived, which is technically a security advantage. However, these short-duration functions have simply changed how cybercriminals attack. As a result, attackers steal information in shorter, more frequent bursts, such as grabbing a few credit card numbers at a time, over and over again—like in the movie Groundhog Day.
- Poisoning the well. By “poisoning the well,” attackers can get around the ephemeral nature of cloud-native resources. Here, attackers utilize an upstream attack, including malicious code into common projects, often through third-party applications. Once the malicious code is established, it can receive further instructions and do its work.
- Excessive privileges. With a good serverless security policy, you can minimize the privileges applied to individual functions, restricting access to minimize the sheer number of possible attack vectors. However, most developers aren’t employing these restrictions. Accordingly, attackers have their choice of hundreds, or even thousands of potential weaknesses to exploit. Fortunately, this is easy to guard against by employing more limitations.
Getting Started With Serverless Security
Knowing the risks, you can employ your own serverless security policy, noting and addressing the key vulnerabilities that could interfere with your organization. Some of the best areas you can focus on to start include:
- Administrative controls. First, you can exercise tighter control over access and permissions. Make sure your functions can only access the tables and information they truly need. This will limit the impact of an attack and minimize the number of entry points simultaneously.
- Proactive scanning. Proactively scan your code and infrastructure-as-code on a regular basis. Look for things like configuration errors, roles with excessive permissions, and third-party dependencies that could leave you vulnerable.
- Runtime protections. You can also employ runtime protection to automatically detect anomalous inputs or function behavior that could be the result of malicious activities. When triggered, you can restrict access to files, hosts, and other assets.
These methods and strategies are just the beginning, however. The benefits of serverless operations are numerous, but if you want to protect your organization, you’ll need to compensate for its unique security considerations.
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