Stuck in the Middle(ware)
You may have never heard of it, but it’s been on your computer the whole time. It’s called middleware, and it deserves a little more spotlight than it gets.
What is Middleware?
Middleware is any software that connects the operating system and kernel to the other applications on the device, and it is often described as the “plumbing” of a computer. Middleware’s purpose is to move data from one software to another, allowing the user to avoid having to transfer data manually. But wait, there’s more! Just as middleware is found between the operating system and other applications, it is also found between client/server interactions. Therefore, a more general definition would be that middleware is a software that connects one entity or program – large or small – to another, separate entity or program. While it may seem trivial compared to the capabilities of much of modern technology, middleware performs a very important function. In fact, it is as crucial to your device as plumbing is to your home. (Hence the nickname.)
What kinds of middleware are out there?
There are many kinds of middleware. Two types that can be found in almost every computer are the application programming interface (API) and the application server. APIs are sets of tools, definitions, and protocols for building application software, which lets your product or service communicate with other products and services without having to know how they’re implemented. An application server allows for applications coupled with the API to be stored and/or used on the computer or on the web.
Among the many slightly less common breeds of middleware is the type programmed to integrate data. In general, data integration is the process in which data is combined from different sources that vary in content into a unified view that can be accessed and manipulated by users. This is important when data from the operating system needs to be displayed with data not provided by the OS, but there are other instances.
Say you are visiting a new restaurant in your favorite city, and you want to post a picture of you with your oh-so-delicious food on your preferred social media. While you are typing up the post, you notice you have the option to post your picture along with your location. A software on your phone is communicating with your social media – well, with their server – and the two sets of data can be viewed on a single page.
Many people have an app or apps that record steps, calorie intake, heart rate, etc., and another that compiles and displays all of the information. For the apps to work properly, the data is compiled with application integration, and the API and server allow that information to be viewed and used – perhaps to keep track of progress or post the results on the web.
Transaction processing is another form of middleware that many of us have experienced, regardless of whether or not we even knew it existed. A big part of the purpose of middleware is the execution of tedious functions between the computer and applications. That includes the protocols necessary to perform transactions. When a customer purchases an item, they don’t manually enter the serial number, the price, tax information, and required bank information. Instead, when an item is scanned or ordered online (and recorded for inventory purposes), the price is displayed along with tax, payment is provided, and the computer completes the transaction of funds (also recorded).
If you haven’t already noticed, much of the software mentioned is often used together. In the case of transaction processing, a piece of middleware performed the actual transaction, but it was also paired with software that displayed what was occurring, kept track of inventory, and recorded the transaction. Everything recorded was stored on a server, and all of the software was accessible because of an API.
Can middleware affect my security?
With middleware, a computer can exchange and access its data. But since it serves as a mediator for information, that middleware can be a security risk. Anywhere that information is exchanged can become a target for cybercriminals. The greatest risk is posed when the information is sensitive data, such as CUI. When information is sensitive it has value, and it thus more commonly targeted by hackers and can lead to cyberattack.
Different servers communicate with each other and exchange information over a path made up of middleware. Rather than trick a user into downloading a virus, a hacker can create a worm to follow this path and use it as an alternative attack vector for injecting malware.
How can I avoid cyberattack?
Optimizing your network security should always and forever be the minimum. This does not mean purchasing the most expensive software and services. Rather, mold your security around your enterprise’s needs. While unfortunate, but not very surprising, many enterprises take shortcuts that end up making their networks vulnerable.
The next step is to maintain your system. This includes periodic security scans, becoming familiar with network traffic, and following the policies and protocols established by the enterprise’s security experts.
Last but not least, incrementally improve your security. If something needs to be updated or changed, that should be done as soon as possible. Your network is your home and keeping it tidy is a must. Is the plumbing operating as it should? Are strangers walking in and out of your home unhindered? When you find a tiger in your living room do you throw a shag rug over it and act like it isn’t there?
Middleware is in all of our computers, whether they be desktops, laptops, cellphones, checkout kiosks, even vehicles. Without it, users would have to manually initiate every function performed within an application. Regardless of application, operation system, or client/server interaction, middleware makes computer operation seamless and efficient. But with that increased convenience comes an increase in potential security risks. So the next time you’re thinking about your cybersecurity, don’t forget about what’s stuck in the middle.
If you, your organization or company, or someone you know would like more information on our company or how middleware can put your system at risk, please do not hesitate to reach out to Mission Multiplier at firstname.lastname@example.org.