Defeating the Facebook 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).

Their 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.

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