Attaining web services security

Monday, 20 October 2003, 1:34 PM EST

The siren song of interoperable, platform-agnostic distributed services via a service-oriented architecture is a potent lure. But unlike the illusory sea nymphs of legend, it's within our grasp thanks to an open, well-documented set of standards that includes SOAP (Simple Object Access Protocol) and WSDL (Web Services Definition Language), both based on XML.

Still, some precautions are in order. Because XML is human-readable and there's nothing remotely resembling security in the core Web services standards, Web services are inherently treacherous. Some of the perils are germane to the architecture's specific protocols and implementation, while other threats are common to all Web-based applications and services.

The problem is, SSL is not--and should never be considered--a security panacea. Although SSL and similar transport-encryption protocols protect your content in transit, the vulnerabilities against which those protocols protect are not peculiar to Web services. These mechanisms do not begin to address the real insecurities inherent in Web services.

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