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Defeating the Facebook Hack

There aren’t many details available on the hack

This week, Facebook fell victim to hackers who managed to deface Mark Zuckerberg’s page, no doubt earning the perpetrators tremendous props within their own social community. Facebook quickly closed the door on that particular exploit, but by then of course the Internets were abuzz and the damage was done. The company quickly followed up with some unrelated security distractions: HTTPS, good for countering Firesheep (I love that name); social authentication instead of CAPTCHAs (this is actually interesting and plays to their strengths); and an announcement that this Friday is “Data Privacy Day” (Ouch).

There aren’t many details available on the hack (the Guardian has a great investigation examining some of the clues that were left behind), but it appears that one particular API didn’t perform sufficient authorization on a POST. This is a common problem when you don’t make the configuration of basic security functions like AAA highly visible, auditable, and tunable. Leave security to the developers, and rigor is often overlooked because of a coder’s naturally intense focus on functionality. Decouple security out of the API, promoting security management to a first class citizen administered by internal experts—well, then you have a much greater chance to avoid embarrassing gaffs like this one. Consistency is the soul of good security, and the decoupling strategy makes consistency an achievable goal across all of an organization’s APIs. Specialize where necessary, but make everything highly visible to the experts so they can easily move from big picture to necessary minutia. Make security configuration highly declarative both to advance understanding and facilitate rapid change in response to evolving threats. This is how API management must be in 2011.

Facebook has its pick of the best and brightest these days—and they still face these problems. As other, less privileged organizations attempt to create APIs—and this is very much the trend of the day—we can expect to see many more such attacks. Having the CEO’s page defaced is certainly embarrasing. But in the long run, it’s a lot less expensive than a real privacy breach, or cleaning up from massive sustained fraud.

The time for do-it-yourself security and management of APIs has passed. This is the time to deploy professional solutions to the problem that have been proven out by the military, intelligence community, and health care—groups that have come to understand the best practices around API security out of absolute necessity.

To learn more, take a look at Layer 7 Technologies solutions for securing and managing APIs.

More Stories By Scott Morrison

K. Scott Morrison is the Chief Technology Officer and Chief Architect at Layer 7 Technologies, where he is leading a team developing the next generation of security infrastructure for cloud computing and SOA. An architect and developer of highly scalable, enterprise systems for over 20 years, Scott has extensive experience across industry sectors as diverse as health, travel and transportation, and financial services. He has been a Director of Architecture and Technology at Infowave Software, a leading maker of wireless security and acceleration software for mobile devices, and was a senior architect at IBM. Before shifting to the private sector, Scott was with the world-renowned medical research program of the University of British Columbia, studying neurodegenerative disorders using medical imaging technology.

Scott is a dynamic, entertaining and highly sought-after speaker. His quotes appear regularly in the media, from the New York Times, to the Huffington Post and the Register. Scott has published over 50 book chapters, magazine articles, and papers in medical, physics, and engineering journals. His work has been acknowledged in the New England Journal of Medicine, and he has published in journals as diverse as the IEEE Transactions on Nuclear Science, the Journal of Cerebral Blood Flow, and Neurology. He is the co-author of the graduate text Cloud Computing, Principles, Systems and Applications published by Springer, and is on the editorial board of Springer’s new Journal of Cloud Computing Advances, Systems and Applications (JoCCASA). He co-authored both Java Web Services Unleashed and Professional JMS. Scott is an editor of the WS-I Basic Security Profile (BSP), and is co-author of the original WS-Federation specification. He is a recent co-author of the Cloud Security Alliance’s Security Guidance for Critical Areas of Focus in Cloud Computing, and an author of that organization’s Top Threats to Cloud Computing research. Scott was recently a featured speaker for the Privacy Commission of Canada’s public consultation into the privacy implications of cloud computing. He has even lent his expertise to the film and television industry, consulting on a number of features including the X-Files. Scott’s current interests are in cloud computing, Web services security, enterprise architecture and secure mobile computing—and of course, his wife and two great kids.

Layer 7 Technologies: http://www.layer7tech.com
Scott's linkedIn profile.
Twitter: @KScottMorrison
Syscon blog: http://scottmorrison.sys-con.com

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