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Application programming interfaces (APIs) are double-edged swords.
They can help accelerate your digital transformation programs. They can help improve developer productivity and build new revenue streams.
However, if neglected or built poorly, they can expose your organization to an increasing number of threats that can make your organization bleed profusely.
To help you in your API initiatives, we’ll talk about the fundamentals of API security in this blog. We will also explore some of the best practices that your team can implement with ease and secure your API landscape. Let’s begin.
Understanding the basics of API security
As a practice, API security is about taking all the steps and building the plans to protect all the APIs you build or consume.
Successful API security starts right from the planning and design stages of the development lifecycle. Then, it is intelligently embedded in the remaining parts of the development and deployment pipeline. When you keep hardening your APIs regularly, you reap substantial benefits such as increased customer trust, accelerated innovation, and improved productivity and profitability.
As APIs facilitate communication between applications and systems, if the responsible API is poorly maintained and is largely insecure, it is more like an open invitation to criminals to hack into your systems and bring your operations to a halt. It is, therefore, pivotal to use the best practices to preserve the integrity of your APIs and keep the data safe and secure.
Why should you protect your APIs?
Every organization that has anything to do with digital transformation or integrating people, processes, and systems must think about API security. These are the tools you use to drive digital transformation across the organization, and thus their security has to be your top priority.
Spare a few moments to review the graph we are sharing right below this paragraph. What this graph tells us is scary. At the same time, it can be a strong indication for every IT or business leader to thoroughly review their systems, applications, and APIs and determine whether they need some immediate actions.
Almost every business and every industry is investing in keeping their APIs safe and secure for the following reasons:
- To protect data: APIs are all about data. And often, they transmit critical information such as customer data, financial information, or intellectual property. If the APIs are not powerful enough, hackers can break into the API systems. And this can lead to data breaches, privacy violations, and eventually significant financial and reputational damage.
- To comply with the data protection laws and regulations: Data protection and privacy regulations, such as GDPR, HIPAA, or CCPA, require companies to implement robust security measures to protect personally identifiable information (PII) or customer data.
- To combat cybersecurity threats: Companies everywhere are witnessing dramatically increasing cyberattacks on their web assets, including APIs. Inadequately secured APIs can be easily compromised by threat actors to hack into the systems and launch DDoS attacks. To build resilience against these threats, you must invest in your API security.
API security best practices
In a way, every new API is a fresh new opportunity for hackers to exploit personal data.
However, this does not and should not stall the dramatic rise in the demand and adoption of APIs in businesses of all shapes and sizes.
If the trends and experts could be believed, APIs are not going away anytime soon. So, it is imperative to learn about API security best practices and implement them across the API lifecycle so that your APIs and the data they carry stay safe from malicious third parties.
1. Implement authentication and authorization
Data theft and software attacks are at an all-time high. Often, it’s the insecure APIs that let the bad actors hack into the systems and wreak havoc both financially and technically. Robust authentication and authorization systems can significantly help reduce the risks associated with APIs.
Authentication is a powerful and time-tested method to confirm that only authorized parties (individuals, applications, IoT devices, etc.) gain access to the APIs or the resources they are connected with. For successful authentication, users are required to enter valid credentials such as usernames and passwords into the systems.
Authorization is another API security function that lets you safeguard your data and customer interests. Successful implementation
For robust authentication and authorization mechanisms, you can use standards such as OAuth 2.0, OpenID Connect, and JSON web tokens. It is also beneficial to follow POLP (Principle of Least Privilege.) So, someone needs to read only the content and share it on social media, those are the only permissions that should be assigned.
2. Embed security across the API development lifecycle
Whether it’s any other software or API, security should not be an afterthought after development. As is followed in DevSecOps practices, the team building the API must think about API security right from the planning and design stages.
As API developers, the focus should be on writing a robust codebase and rigorously testing the product for any possible vulnerabilities.
3. Do not lose sight of new and upcoming security patches and updates
Building robust APIs is one part of the equation. The other part is constantly looking for loopholes or vulnerabilities that your APIs might have and can be exploited by malicious actors.
Dedicate resources (team members and/or automated systems) to stay updated on emerging security updates and integrate them into your APIs as soon as they hit the market.
The Open Web Application Security Project's "API Security Top 10" vulnerabilities list is a good resource for keeping tabs on existing attacks and malicious software.
4. API rate limiting
API rate limiting is a practice of limiting the access of an API for its users - both bots and people.
Rate limiting is essential to the growth and performance of the API; if the access is unlimited, you run the risk of overwhelming your digital asset if its access is unlimited - which means any number of users can use the API or access what it offers as many times as they want and at any time they want.
5. Fortify your API defense with WAF
WAPs, or web application firewalls, have been around for long. And they have proved their worth time and again. WAPs are software and hardware components/pieces designed to protect a website, application, or API from some of the most common attacks, such as cross-site scripting (XSS) and SQL injections.
WAPs come in different types, including a Cloud product, a hardware, or a software. Depending on the API ecosystem your organization has built over the years, you can bring in WAFs to secure your precious APIs.
APIs can have a profound impact on how you build software applications and share data with clients or third parties. Scores of organizations across geographies and industries are leveraging APIs to drive innovation and build new revenue streams.
However, APIs demand robust security measures as well. Often, protecting APIs requires a proactive and collaborative approach that focuses on 1) building secure APIs (shifting security to the left), 2) encrypting data at transit and in-store, 3) using robust security tools and practices such as web application firewalls (WAFs) and rate limiting, and 4) applying the latest security patches and fixing vulnerabilities.
Kellton is a frontrunner in the realm of API development and management. We have helped many clients build on their API capabilities and succeed in their industries. We can help you too. Whether you are new to APIs or need professional guidance on API development, management, and security, we can help. Talk to our API experts here.