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SOA Web Services Journal - Collect(ing) Calls

I'm sitting in the airport, waiting for my end-of-week flight, and listening to the latest security controversy

I'm sitting in the airport, waiting for my end-of-week flight, and listening to the latest security controversy. Apparently the government has compiled a database of phone records as part of their fight against terrorism - the theory being that by analyzing the call patterns and using some social engineering, they might be able to identify terrorist activity.

I have no idea if this is legal or not, but certainly it's something I never expected while I was using my phone. I suspect that many people besides me expected their communications to be confidential. Apparently the phone companies felt that was not the case.

A few months ago, a bank that I do business with lost a tape with all sorts of personal information pertaining to its customers. They later recovered the tape, but not before they'd had to send out a note to all of us letting us know our identities were in jeopardy.

Sadly, these are just some of the problems that present themselves in the wired world. They're not even examples of malicious behavior (I give the government the benefit of the doubt); they're just things that happen in the course of doing business, or running the country.

While these incidents don't pertain directly to Web services security, or to securing an SOA, they certainly illustrate the complexity of the problem and the seriousness of the issues.

Security is a fundamental IT issue, one that has been growing in complexity and difficulty since the invention of the network card. We all have information that is important to us, and keeping that information private is something we expect from the organizations that we share our information with.

SOA and Web services provide ease of communication and mechanisms for widespread distribution of application functionality, often outside the boundaries of the enterprise. Many business-to-consumer sites, for example, provide Web services interfaces to do things like bid on an auction or purchase an item. During the transaction, sensitive information is transmitted.

It's our expectation that this information will be protected, both when the transaction occurs and in the future. This requires security in many areas. During the transaction, establishing a secured connection and protecting the information transfer from snooping eyes is critical. Once the information is inside a company that employs an SOA infrastructure to support its applications, it's critical that all avenues to that information be safeguarded as well. This includes protecting databases from attacks, as well as ensuring that access to all of our sensitive information is both controlled and monitored, so that the classic disgruntled employee or corporate spy cannot simply siphon off all of our information to sell to criminals. This is not an easy task, and the various legislative programs such as HIPPA, which requires privacy for health records, can make the task even more challenging.

There's a balance too, between privacy and efficiency. Yes, I'd like my doctors to be able to see my records in an emergency, but at the same time, I'm not sure I want my insurance company to be able to do the same thing. Without question, creating an intelligent approach to information security is a complex task. Data never really disappears once you provide it to another source - and we have to all realize that providing information may have consequences that we never imagined. We have a responsibility as well to be diligent and to not allow social engineering and Internet scams to take us in. Responsibility starts with us, and extends to the people we trust with our information.

Our focus in this issue is on SOA and Web services security. This is always an important topic and, certainly in light of recent events, one of interest to all of us who work in information technology.

More Stories By Sean Rhody

Sean Rhody is the founding-editor (1999) and editor-in-chief of SOA World Magazine. He is a respected industry expert on SOA and Web Services and a consultant with a leading consulting services company. Most recently, Sean served as the tech chair of SOA World Conference & Expo 2007 East.

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