APIs Security Challenges

Tue Jun 07 2022

4 min read

Most of the issues that are associated with APIs are its security and data validation. As APIs are very commonly used, so it is prone to attackers. APIs may have vulnerabilities like broken authentication and authorization, insufficient logging and monitoring, lack of rate limiting, etc. All these issues have a few common things that if not taken care of can break down your whole system.

Before digging into a few challenges that APIs face today, let’s define the role an API plays nowadays.

What is an API?

The Application Programming Interface (API) is like a middle man, connecting two sides; a waiter takes your order and brings you food. It is a channel that applications utilize to talk with each other. You put some information at one end, the API takes that information and gets back with a result.

Many different types of APIs exist. You can use them to build web, desktop, mobile applications, CLI tools, extensions, and much more.

Here are different types of APIs that are available to use:

  • GraphQL API
  • Web API
  • Browser API
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Today’s API Security Challenges

While developing APIs, API developers have to face certain challenges to protect the API from problems. By understanding and gaining more knowledge about them, API developers will be able to make better and safer APIs.

Let’s talk about those challenges:

Upgradation of API Security

With the advance of APIs, we get to see APIs surrounding us. The more distributed our applications are, the more APIs we have and have to manage. Thus, development of APIs are taking place at a very fast pace according to growing needs.

This expandable nature of API development does not mean that a lot of care is taken for its security. Even though the number of APIs introduced in the market is increasing day by day, API security is not scaling to the same ratio.

As APIs are linked to lots of data exchange, so protecting data requires context. Traditional security is not working anymore because they don’t understand that context. This leads to different vulnerabilities.

We need an upgrade in the security system on a regular basis as more threats are encountered daily. This is one of the main issues faced by the users today.

API’s Application Identity - API’s Key

APIs have a unique feature that identifies the application calling the API also known as an API key. These API keys are hidden inside the client application calling code, a smart developer can find them and exploit an API giving them full access to the system. This is very dangerous and can lead to various problems.

Poorly Configured APIs

As explained earlier, an API is like a middle man connecting two sides, at times hacker sits right in the middle of the sender and the recipient. This poses a serious security threat. APIs that are not properly configured using TLS/SSL are quite prone to this sort of attack. If the transport layer communication is not secured then the whole system is at risk.

These types of attacks are very common and one of the major challenges good API developers face while developing APIs.

Authentication & Authorization

Authentication and authorization are other common issues linked to APIs of today. Authentication differs from app to app as risks to consumer data transported through APIs are very different. You need to decide how authentication will be done based on threat modeling, manipulation and consumption of data, etc.

The issues that arise due to authentication are similar to that because of authorization. Authorization is about specific users being allowed to use specific areas of an application or specific account accessing a specific resource. Thus, certain best practices should be incorporated to avert these issues from occurring.

Designing Correct Error Responses

Properly designed error responses will make sure that you are not giving too much information to the hackers. Knowing your data is very critical as without knowledge of what is coming in and what is going out will let your system be at risk. Thus, designing correct error messages is highly crucial and one of the challenges API developers face today.

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