What is API security?
Application programming interfaces (APIs) are a standard way to store and share information online. These virtual databases give websites and other applications enhanced functionality through data access. Many businesses depend on an API to store information about clients and customers. While the API makes it easy to recall and modify information, any storage tool for sensitive data must be secure.
API security is everything that a business does to make certain that information in the database remains safe. Security measures range from regularly assessing the structure of the API, limiting requests, and establishing levels of user authorization.
Establishing API Security Best Practices
Web API security is a critical concern. A data breach leads to compromised information and a loss of trust from customers. A DDoS attack will disrupt an organization’s ability to function. Every business that uses this kind of database must look at several security concerns.
1. Assess the Data Value
The level of security necessary depends on the value of the data. APIs created for entertainment purposes do not require the same level of protection as client information. If an API is organizing information that is readily accessible on the web, there is little need for complex security solutions. However, if the API holds data such as a customer’s credit card information, it needs a high level of protection.
2. Examine API Vulnerabilities
People who want to steal information are constantly at work looking for ways to take advantage of vulnerabilities in the structure and design of an API. IT personnel must be informed about potential issues and recode the program accordingly. Some organizations employ a threat modeling process to look for vulnerabilities as well as potential attackers. Regular review will help developers find coding errors that might make the API subject to infiltration.
3. Encryption or Tokenization
Data encryption is a standard safety practice for sharing information online. Unless it is an open-source project, most APIs require the user to have an encryption key that protects data as it travels. At the user’s endpoint, the browser uses the key to decrypt information. If a hacker can access the key, he or she can decipher the data.
Tokenization is another API security strategy. This security technology began as an online payment safety solution. More recently, it has been adopted for the secure transfer of other sensitive information. Unlike traditional encryption, data travels as a randomized placeholder or token with no direct relationship to the client. Even if a hacker intercepts the token, there is not a simple way to extract the information.
4. Using an API Gateway
As APIs grow in popularity, third-party programmers are developing tools to make these databases more secure and functional. An API gateway is a layer of structure and protection between users and API data. For companies with limited IT resources, a third-party gateway has the advantage of handling several API features. In addition to providing web API security through encryption and authorization, the gateway can also assist with billing, request rate limits, and analytics.
5. Placing Limits on Requests
REST API security involves more than protecting data. Cybercriminals can also cause problems by disrupting the API. To communicate with an API, an application makes a GET request to receive information or a POST request to add information. With no limits on access, a cybercriminal can carry out a nuisance attack by flooding an API with requests. If the database is trying to process thousands of requests from a single application, it will not be able to provide data to other users. Requests from valid users will time out and fail.
For this reason, many public APIs charge customers for frequent access. A user that accesses the API a few times a day may be able to use it at no cost. More advanced users or professional applications will pay a fee. Private APIs must develop safety measures to prevent abuse. The system will block users who submit requests too frequently.
6. Establishing Authorization Levels
Unless the API is a fully open-source project, it is important to create access limits. In a typical arrangement, basic users can only retrieve data from the database and cannot modify information. The next level of access may allow a user to add information such as new accounts. It may require another authorization level to change entries in the API. Finally, an IT professional will have full access to modify the underlying code.
Limiting access is about limiting the amount of damage an unauthorized user can cause. If a typical user can only retrieve low-level information, it lowers the risk of a data breach.
7. Data Validation
An API stores and releases data according to rules established by the developer. If there are no clear rules in place, it damages the functionality of the database. Hackers can disrupt the API by posting large entries that take up extra storage space. Invalid entries can cause corrupted files that throw error messages. For data entry, validation will include making sure that an entry is not empty and is in the proper format.
For retrieval, data validation will include concerns about the format so that the data works well with applications making requests. An important security concern is preventing requests that produce unnecessary data. The organization wants to be certain that the API is not releasing extra information that might create a weak spot in the security.
8. Security Analytics
While some cyberattacks are big and disruptive, others are subtle. If a cybercriminal is trying to steal information without the organization noticing, there may not be an obvious attack. API analytics is a helpful tool in REST API security. An organization can not only track the frequency of requests but also the location or origin of those requests. The IT professional responsible for a private API might set it up so that the system flags suspicious IP addresses or requires extra authentication.
The Benefits of Employing API Security
Protecting an API benefits both users and the organization. Limiting access, validating data, and conducting threat assessments will help make certain that information is only seen by those authorized to view it. Adopting API security best practices keeps both businesses and clients safe.