APIs have become essential tools in how apps, software, networks, and computer systems communicate. As we continue implementing them in the fast-growing tech world, we need to consider API security. Since APIs are available via public networks from any location, they have become an easy target for cyber attackers. In the first half of 2022 alone, there were 817 data compromises affecting over 53.35 million individuals.
This article will discuss API security, its importance, and best practices.
What is API security and why is it important?
API security safeguards application programming interfaces (APIs) from misuse, mitigates and prevents attacks. It ensures that all API requests are valid, from legitimate sources, and that the responses are not exploited or intercepted. The main aim of API security is to ensure the safe transfer of data from a system to external users.
APIs define how various apps interact by controlling requests between software and the data formats they use. They are backend frameworks for web and mobile applications that collect and process data within their environment. Therefore, organizations must protect the sensitive data that APIs collect, process, and transfer at all costs.
API security oversees API access control and privacy, detects and prevents attacks that leverage API vulnerabilities. APIs are particularly susceptible to man-in-the-middle, broken access control, Denial of Service (DoS) attacks, and reverse-engineering because they are well-documented. Most cyber attackers side-step the client-side apps to steal sensitive data or disrupt an application's working. API security secures this application layer and mitigates the consequences of a hacker interacting directly with the API.
API security has become more critical with the rise of the Internet of Things (IoT).
Best practices for API security
API security is essential in preventing data breaches and other forms of cyberattacks. However, for it to be effective, developers and their organizations must follow these best practices.
1. Identify API vulnerabilities
Being aware of all API cycle elements that are insecure and vulnerable enables the IT team to use the right measures to prevent security attacks. This is especially informed by the fact that many organizations use software with numerous APIs making it challenging to identify vulnerabilities.
API testing, therefore, is one of the best ways to identify vulnerabilities. Testing should begin at the initial development phase and continue after the final release and implementation. There are various types of tests, including:
- Integration and unit testing
- Load and performance testing
- Security testing and runtime error detection
- Fuzz and interoperability testing
- Validation testing
Encryption is an essential data security tool. Nothing should be left to chance in the internal and external communication environments. Encryption converts data into code, making it difficult for hackers to assess it. In the event they steal it, they may not be able to decrypt it, and it won’t be useful to them.
Cybersecurity engineers must use encryption tools and ensure that only authorized users can decrypt, access, and modify the data. They should use the latest two-way TLS versions that include mutual encryption.
3. Minimal data sharing
Being paranoid and cautious is critical in protecting data. Organizations should remove all data that shouldn’t be shared from their APIs. Developers should eliminate all confidential information, such as passwords, before the API goes public. Maintaining such data in an API environment allows hackers to access an API and steal data or change it.
You should also display very little information, especially error messages, because they may highlight vulnerabilities. Lock down email subjects and hide IP addresses because they show location. Provide role-based access and limit the administrators.
4. Establish rate limits
The risk of cyberattacks increases as an API becomes more popular. Rate limits can help manage API issues and prevent cyberattacks on widely used APIs. Rate limits control the number of requests an API can handle and minimize unsanctioned connections.
For instance, cyber attackers are likely to attempt a DoS attack on a popular API handling numerous requests simultaneously. They do so by continuously sending requests until the server crashes.
5. Validate all API parameters
The developer should check all parameters and confirm that the incoming requests do not damage the API. Validating API parameters involves developing models determining the permissible inputs into an API. These models allow the developer to detect and prevent malicious requests to the API. Only the requests that adhere to specific parameters are allowed into the API.
6. Use API firewalls
An API firewall is a micro firewall that serves as a security gateway. It is a single entry and exit point for all API requests. An API firewall should have two layers:
- A demilitarized zone (DMZ) works with the API firewall to perform core security measures, such as checking the request size, HTTP layer security, SQL injections, and stopping attackers early.
- LAN is the second layer and has advanced security mechanisms for information content.
7. Use Dynamic Application Security Testing (DAST)
DAST tests web applications and focuses mainly on API security testing. It uses a variety of API architectures, including GraphQL, REST API, and SOAP, to test legacy and modern applications. It uses a black-box testing technique to identify vulnerabilities without accessing the source code.
8. Use OAuth and OpenID Connect
This practice allows users to delegate authentication and authorization of APIs. OAuth saves you the trouble of having to remember multiple passwords. It makes it possible to connect through other credentials, such as Google, instead of having accounts on all websites. The API provider controls authorizations using third-party servers.
9. API security gateway
Security gateways are essential in managing and controlling API traffic, such as routing requests. In addition to traffic management, a robust API gateway will validate traffic and analyze the use of API, thus minimizing security risks.
10. Stay updated on security risks
Developers and cybersecurity experts must stay current with the latest developments, tricks, and methods that cybercriminals use to hack networks and computer systems. There are numerous ways of staying updated, such as online communities and forums, cyber security news portals, newsletters, and blogs.
Cybersecurity certifications may also help professionals stay updated because renewing them requires one to be up-to-date with the current security trends. Being up to date with the current trends allows developers and security experts to develop and configure API security solutions that effectively detect and deter the latest attacks.
Cybercriminals are increasingly targeting APIs and this means that API security is now a critical issue for any organization that relies on APIs whether that means providing access to its APIs or using external APIs. Start by implementing a strong API strategy that follows these practices.