API Security: What it is and Why it Matters

Encora | April 21, 2022

Cybersecurity threats are on the rise in general and with APIs specifically. Because organizations use APIs to connect services and transfer data, an API attack can easily lead to a data breach. These threats highlight the importance of API security. In this article, we’ll address what is API security, why it’s important, its best practices, and how to find support for your API security. 

What is API Security?

API stands for Application Programming Interface. This is software that allows applications to communicate with one another using a set of protocols and definitions. They are a crucial part of modern mobile, SaaS, and web applications. API security is how you protect the APIs you own and any that you use. This overarching term covers any practices or products that fend off hostile attacks or abuse of APIs. Multifactor authentication (MFA) uses security tokens and is an example of API Security.

Authentication is the beginning step of API security. This process verifies that the client application is trusted and authorized to use the API. Authorization is the next step and specifies which data or actions the authenticated application can use while interfacing with the API. While these steps are vital, API security is often built-in with the code used to write the API. One example of this is the use of SQL queries with bind variables. These effectively protect an API from SQL injection. 

API security boils down to good management. Three security schemes that many API management platforms support use are:

  1. Using a single token string as an API key. This is a small piece of hardware that gives unique authentication information. 

  2. The use of Basic Authentication is made up of a two token string solution such as a username and password.

  3. Using OpenID (OIDC) Connect, which is a straightforward identity layer used on top of the OAuth framework and is used to verify basic user information using an authentication server.
 

Why is API Security Important?

In the first six months of 2021, API attacks increased 348%, with 94% of surveyed companies reporting a security event related to API in the last 12 months. Additionally, 55% of companies had found API vulnerabilities, 19% suffered exposure of sensitive data, 23% had DoS (denial of service) attacks, 16% experienced brute-force attacks or credential stuffing, and 12% suffered scraping. While it makes sense that security threats would increase as the bulk of businesses and organizations moved some to all of their operations online during the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, the threat increase only highlights the importance of API security. 

Best Practices in API Security

Instead of putting your money in your couch, you put your money into a bank. A bank is a secure, trusted environment and any deductions from your account must be authorized. This is similar to API security, which creates a safe environment for the transfer of data through authentication and authorization. Here are some API security best practices.

1. Token use

This establishes trusted identities, which allows you to control access to services and resources. 

2. Use of signatures and encryption

Encrypting data adds a layer of security. Then you can require signatures to decrypt and change your data, so only the right users have access.

3. Keep an eye on vulnerabilities

Constantly, or at least regularly keep up your operating system, network, drivers, and API source components. This monitoring will allow you to see how everything is working together, and where any vulnerabilities could lead to an API hack. You can use sniffers to detect weak spots in security and to track any data leaks as they’re happening.

4. Use throttling and quotas

Create guidelines for throttling, which can protect your APIs from DoS (denial of service) attacks and from spikes. Another tactic is to have quotas on the number of times your API can be called, and then to monitor its use over time. Excessive calls on your API can show abuse or a programming error like an endless loop call. 

5. Have an API gateway

Using an API gateway creates a solid place to enforce security measures on API traffic. A well-programmed gateway supports authenticating traffic, as well as giving more control over how your APIs are used. Good gateways also help analyze this use.  

 

API Security Testing with Encora

Here at Encora, we know that a product is only as good as its security testing. Our team of engineers are experts on API testing and help identify any API security vulnerabilities of products in development or that are already deployed. We also know that there isn’t one correct API design that works for every organization. Our team will customize a solution based on your unique product and organization. Reach out to us today to get started. 

 

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