API best practices cybersecurity

5 Essential API Security Practices to Keep Your Data Safe

Published: October 7, 2022
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Application programming interface (API) security refers to the practice of preventing or mitigating attacks on APIs. APIs work as the backend framework for mobile and web applications. Therefore, it is critical to protect the sensitive data they transfer. 
 
For example, there is an API that runs Google Maps. A web designer can embed Google Maps into a page they are building. When the user uses Google Maps, they are not using code the web designer wrote piece by piece, but they are simply using a prewritten API provided by Google. API security covers the APIs you own, as well as the ones you use indirectly.

APIs are all the rage these days, with enterprise developers increasingly relying on them to support the delivery of new products and services. That’s not surprising given that they enable programmers to integrate functionality from externally provided services rather than building those functions from scratch.

However, while APIs have provided interconnections since the first programs were written, the landscape is changing with mobile application development. ProgrammableWeb maintains a directory of approximately 15,000 APIs used in mobile and web applications.

With the rise of APIs comes the potential for more security holes, which means that coders must understand the risk to protect corporate and customer data. The difficulties begin with the priority lists of programmers. Developers are more concerned with things like functionality and agility than security. As a result, businesses require guidelines to ensure that their API deployments do not cause security issues.

Outlined below are five essential best practices for API security.

1. API Gateway

New API management and crime data API tools are being developed by various sources, ranging from start-ups to established vendors. To save time, money, and resources while improving your time to market, you should choose a mature and high-performing API Management.

A good quality API Gateway will assist you in securing, controlling, and monitoring your traffic. An API Management solution can also help you make sense of your API data to make technical and business decisions: the key to success.

2. Focus on authorization and authentication on the front end

APIs do not exist in isolation. Developers incorporate these components into other pieces of software. To properly secure the code, developers must employ a multi-pronged approach.

This begins with solid authentication, which is the process of determining whether or not a person is who they claim to be. Enterprises are shifting away from simple password systems to multistep authentication, with an increased emphasis on biometric solutions such as fingerprints. Once authenticated, the individual must pass an authorization check to gain access to various types of information.

3. OAuth & OpenID Connect

It would be best if you delegated API authorization and authentication to third-party Identity Providers (IdP). This can be ensured by adopting a single sign-on (SSO) strategy like OAuth 2. It’s a magical mechanism that keeps you from having to remember 10,000 passwords. Instead of creating an account on each website, you can connect using the credentials of another provider, such as Facebook or Google.

The same applies to APIs: the API provider defers authorization management to a third-party server. The consumer provides a token by the third-party server rather than their credentials. It protects the consumer because they do not disclose their credentials, and it does not require the API provider to worry about protecting authorization data because it only receives tokens.

OAuth 2 is a popular delegation protocol for transferring authorizations. You can add an identity layer on top of your APIs to further secure them and add authentication: this is the OpenId Connect standard, which extends OAuth 2.0 with ID tokens.

4. System protection with throttling and quotas

To protect your backend system bandwidth, limit access to your system to a certain number of messages per second based on the capacity of your servers. You should also restrict API and user (or application) access to ensure that no one abuses the system or any API in particular.

Throttling limits and quotas, when correctly set, are critical for preventing attacks from multiple sources from flooding your system with multiple requests (DDOS – Distributed Denial of Service Attack). A DDOS can prevent legitimate users from accessing their network resources.

5. Monitor add-on software carefully

Other issues arise as APIs become more sophisticated. One popular application of interfaces is to allow third-party developers to create add-on apps for a platform. Mobile solutions and social media platforms, such as Facebook, rely on third parties to add value to their core system. A potential flaw is that such interfaces frequently grant developers extensive authorization rights (system administrator functionality sometimes). Hackers covet those privileges and will work tirelessly to find such system flaws.
Common attacks against web APIs include:

Man-in-the-Middle (MitM)

When an attacker intercepts traffic between two communicating systems and impersonates each other, the attacker acts as an invisible proxy. MitM attacks on APIs can happen between the client (app) and the API or between the API and its endpoint.

Injection

When an attacker can insert malicious code or commands into a program, usually where ordinary user input (such as a username or password) is expected, this is referred to as a backdoor attack. SQL injection is a type of injection attack that allows an attacker to take control of a SQL database.

Bottom line

Regrettably, internet threats abound, and hackers are relentless. Implementing a solid API security strategy is critical for protecting your data. The ultimate best practice, however, is to incorporate API security into the general mindset and process of how APIs are designed and developed.

An API Management Platform makes securing your digital experiences more straightforward than ever. It not only monitors and protects your API but also provides you with all the information you require in one location. You will never be vulnerable to cyber-attacks, allowing you to focus on the tasks at hand. And by combining the right technology with a more deliberate process incorporating security from the start, you can detect and address security threats before they occur.