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Alternatives to User-based Authentication

I have a utility (userless application that runs on a schedule) which is hosted in amazon cloud and will need to store data in salesforce.  I would like to have some means by which the application can authenticate without needing the credentials of a specific user.

What I have seen in the past is a instance with many of these outside utilities all tied to one special "system process" account that no individual actually uses.  My concern here is that if this account becomes comprised, all of these critical utilities will have to be updated with the new credentials.

REST on a public site is one way to achieve this but the concern is that it allows anyone to post data to that endpoint and could be used in a malicious attack.  I have used a hardcoded password in the REST handler class before that looks for that password in a POST variable which, if not present, aborts the process but this seems less than ideal.

Any thoughts?