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So What Is SOAP Security?

July 23, 2020

Cybersecurity is a major concern in today’s business environment. Every year, businesses lose over $3 trillion to cybersecurity breaches, and this figure may rise to $5 trillion annually by 2024 (1). API vulnerabilities are near the top of the cybersecurity vulnerabilities, and many businesses have responded rapidly to secure their businesses.

SOAP APIs make up about 15 percent of all API protocols (2), so understanding SOAP security is a crucial aspect of computer security in this age of the Internet of Things. There are unique security concerns with SOAP APIs. Learn what security concerns these are, and how businesses are closing the gaps to secure APIs against cyber threats.

What Is SOAP?

SOAP is an abbreviation that stands for Simple Object Access Protocol. During the implementation of web services in computer networking, structured information is exchanged in various ways. SOAP is one such messaging protocol, and it is used because it offers neutrality, independence, extensibility, and verbosity. The message format is in XML (eXtensible Markup Language), and it uses application layer protocols for negotiation and transmission, primarily HTTP, with some legacy systems using SMTP.

Using SOAP, developers can invoke processes running on separate operating systems. They use XML to authenticate, authorize, and communicate. Web language protocols like HTTP and are usually installed and run regardless of the operating system; therefore, SOAP allows clients to invoke these web protocols to communicate independently of the operating platform or markup language.

What Is SOAP Security?

SOAP is an API messaging protocol, and SOAP security is the strategy that prevents unauthorized access to SOAP messages and user information. Web Standards Security (WS Security) is the main aspect of ensuring SOAP security.

WS Security is the set of principles/guidelines to regulate authentication and confidentiality procedures for SOAP Messaging. WSS-compliant measures include digital signatures, XML encryption, X.509 certifications, and passwords, among others. XML encryption makes data unreadable when unauthorized users gain access.

On average, businesses lose $3.9 million in malware and ransomware attacks (3). SOAP Security protects the sensitive data in companies’ charge from access by the wrong hands. Basically, you integrate security into your API infrastructure to protect the interests of your customers or clients.

How SOAP Works

SOAP messaging is a stateless protocol, but a developer can build session control mechanisms into the header to build a state into the transaction. This SOAP specification allows asynchronous communication, which is artificially stateful, and it is thus error-prone and can create vulnerabilities in the session-key management.

Web developers that know how to program in stateless environments can also build SOAP states using more traditional methods. For example, you can set the session attribute in the SOAP envelope header tag to mimic HTTP session cookies. You can also explicitly use cookies if using HTTP on the Transport Layer.

SOAP Message Transmission

SOAP messages are transmitted across multiple SOAP nodes – the SOAP sender, SOAP receiver, and SOAP intermediaries who act as both senders and receivers. With this model, dynamic routing across diverse transport layer protocols is possible.

Today, HTTP is the primary transport layer in use. The distributed transaction model reduces the functionality of transport layer security and increases the possibility of attacks in the middle. HTTP is stateless and has some security vulnerabilities, requiring that both client and server be online for communication to happen.

You can use other protocols to transport SOAP messages if you have different service level objectives that need to be accommodated. For example, if asynchronous transport mechanisms are required.

SOAP Security Risks

There are several kinds of cyber-attacks and vulnerabilities, and those uniquely targeting APIs make the bulk of SOAP security risks. Some of them include:

  1. Code Injections – in SOAP, XML code injections introduce malicious code into an application or database. Careful access control prevents these attacks.
  2. Leaked/Breached Access – most attacks begin with breached or leaked access. You must ensure SOAP messages are shown to authorized users only.
  3. (Distributed) Denial of Service – DoS or DDoS attacks overwhelm web services with overly many or long messages. Limiting message length and volume in SOAP security prevents these attacks.
  4. Cross-Site Scripting – code injection, but happens from the web application side to the website
  5. Session Hijacking – an unauthorized user obtains session ID, and that user gains full access to the application and/or another user’s account

How to Build Secure Web Services

Creating secure SOAP Web Services is as simple as adding security layers to your SOAP headers. You can add a security credential to the SOAP header, including username and passwords, as variables. This way, when SOAP messages are generated, these credentials are also generated, and the username and password will be required when a user calls the web service.

The above is the most basic security measure, but there are best practices to ensure that your API is secured. These include:

Regular Testing

In this IoT era, few people perform regular testing on all devices connected to their server networks. You must implement testing procedures to ensure your SOAP API stands up to common threats and highlight vulnerabilities that hackers may exploit. Some types of tests include injection testing and fuzz testing. The former determines how your API reacts to unexpected input, while the latter detects vulnerable points where ransomware or malicious code can be introduced.

Identity and Access Management (IAM)

This is the basic layer of any cybersecurity protocol. It includes everything from usernames and passwords to advanced authentication techniques like two-step verification. IAM should prevent external users from accessing the application outside hours or stealing session tokens and gaining entry into the sessions.

Request Monitoring

Involves monitoring SOAP messaging and requests for abnormalities. You should, therefore, quickly identify and resolve any data leaks or vulnerabilities. This uses logging systems, which you can regularly check for any irregularities.

Input Validation

In SOAP, input validation is divided into SOAP response validation and schema compliance validation. The former ensures that the response to the SOAP message follows the correct format, and the latter ensures that the message follows XML schema and the Web Service Description Language (WSDL).

Redundant Security Standards

There are many places of overlap in SOAP, XML, and WSDL standards. The purpose of redundant security standards is to provide insurance in these areas of overlap. With them in place, you have less chance of exposing sensitive data and a better chance of identifying vulnerabilities before hackers exploit them.

Do You Need SOAP Security?

If you have implemented SOAP in your company, you need professional assistance setting up your SOAP security to eliminate all vulnerabilities. In this era of the Internet of Things, it isn’t easy to secure and consistently monitor your servers. Contact us if you need SOAP services, including API management and SOAP messaging.