Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Less is more

I attended GigaOM's Structure Connect conference in San Francisco last week. The event was great, lots of interesting discussions & panels.

I was in a 'Securing the IoT' breakout session where one of the GigaOM analysts made the assertion (paraphrasing)
Developers need better training on security, they need to take more responsibility for securing their applications.
This actually runs completely counter to what I've been seeing as the overarching trend around application security, namely that developers need to take (or even be given) less responsibility for securing their applications - not more.

If their app has to handle $$, do developers directly track currency exchange rates? No, they find an API that does that and so removes them from a task secondary to that of the application itself. The currency API abstracts away from the developer all the messiness - they make a simple REST call and get back a tidy bit of JSON to parse & use.

From the developers point of view, why would security be different? Do they want to deal with the specific details of supporting different authentication protocols, crypto etc. Or would they prefer to focus on adding features and functionality to their apps?

The trend towards lightening the security load for developers manifests in various ways

  • Social 'Login with X' SDKs - the large social providers make it as easy as they can for native application developers to hook into their identities. For instance, Facebook Login promises
The Facebook SDK for iOS provides various login experiences that your app can use to authenticate someone. This document includes all the information you need to know in order to implement Facebook login in your iOS app.
Google has the comparable the Google+ Sign-In, the documentation for which asserts
Avoid the hassle of creating your own authentication systemGoogle+ Sign-In mitigates data-breach risks and reduces the burden and costs of identity security. The Google authentication window creates a trusted link between you, your users, and their Google account.

  • REST gateways - many enterprise REST APIs are fronted by a gateway that intercepts incoming calls from clients and applies processing before delivering the call on to the actual API. The API developer need not directly deal with the authentication tokens attached to the original call, insulated from that burden by the gateway. Instead the gateway 
  • IDaaS - or Identity as a Service, is the trend of enterprises moving out to the Cloud certain identity & authentication mechanisms (just like many other enterprise functions are being outsourced). Rather than directly dealing with user provisioning, federation, or password vaulting etc the enterprise subscribes to the services of an IDaaS provider. The IDaaS takes on the full burden of the complexity of dealing with multiple protocols, business partners, customers, SaaS etc and offers back to the enterprise developer a much simpler integration proposition.
The above are all examples of freeing application developers from having to bear full responsibility for securing APIs & native applications. And last I checked, both will be relevant for the Internet of Things. Freed from the burden of security, IoT developers will be able to focus their attention where they should - namely creating new & interesting visual paradigms for my wearable step data.

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