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API Security: Best Techniques To Keep Your APIs Fully Safe

Alekh Verma | February 8, 2023
API Security

API security is extremely important to protect the integrity of your data and user privacy. In the current digital age, massive data and applications are being integrated through APIs. It is the foundational part of the modern app-driven world.

From transportation to autonomous vehicles and banks to eCommerce, APIs are critical elements of mobile, web, SaaS other several kinds of applications. APIs are also a boon for numerous service providers for new revenue streams by providing valuable data and services available to developers.

As APIs become a vital part of mobile app development, the attack surface is also continuously increasing. Gartner's report suggests that by 2022, API abuses will become the most frequent attack vector, resulting in data breaches for enterprise web applications.

Therefore, it becomes highly essential for businesses that use APIs in their applications. If your business has a mobile app or web application integrated with APIs, this blog is for you. Here in this post, eSearch Logix will describe the best techniques that will help you to keep your APIs fully safe.

What is API Security?

API security is the implementation of any security best practice applied to web APIs, which are prevalent in modern applications. API security involves its access control and privacy, along with the detection and remediation of attacks on APIs through reverse engineering and the exploitation of API vulnerabilities as mentioned in OWASP API Security.

Why Businesses Should Take API Security More Seriously?

API development has increased significantly in the last few years due to heavy growth in mobile, SaaS, and web development. This growth is making API security a highly serious concern.

In the How to Build an Effective API Security Strategy report, Gartner projects that by 2022, API abuses will be the most frequent attack vector resulting in data breaches for enterprise web applications.

To save you against these API threats, Gartner further recommends you should adopt a continuous approach to API security across the API development and delivery cycle designing security. As an organization, if you fail to secure your APIs, you may have to suffer from:

  • Business loss
  • Compliance issues
  • Reputation loss
  • Inflated infrastructure bills
  • Team morale
  • Competitors’ gain

What are the Potential Risks of APIs?

Because you have only access to your own APIs, API security focuses on protecting the APIs you expose either directly or indirectly. API security is less focused on the APIs you utilize which are provided by third parties.

However, analyzing outgoing API traffic can also disclose key insights whenever possible. API security includes network security concepts such as rate limiting and throttling, concepts from data and identity-based security, and analytics.

Potential Risk API

The drawback of publicly available web APIs is that they can potentially expose to high risks to API provides. Based on internal design, there is an endpoint- the server which response to API requests. This endpoint is similar to any Internet-facing web server; the more free and open access to the public, the greater the potential threat from malicious factors.

When you integrate third-party APIs into your app it becomes important to enforce strict security policy. You should ensure your developers are implementing the right coding practices to ensure your mobile app security and APIs.

The scope of API security is broad. Therefore, mobile app developers have to focus on each layer to achieve a better standard of data protection-

  1. OAuth and API Access Control
  2. API Data Governance and Privacy Enforcement
  3. API Threat Detection
  4. API Behavior and Analytics

You can't protect what you can't see. Hence, the first and foremost job is to identify all the potential risks which are associated with your API security. No matter what the attack vector is, a data breach can significantly damage your company's brand and reputation and could result in a lot of fines and revenue loss.

Even big brands like Google, Facebook, Equifax, Instagram, T-Mobile, Panera Bread, Uber, and Verizon had to suffer data breaches incidents. That is why it is important to understand all the potential risks associated with API security.

Common Attacks against Web APIs

  1. Cross-site scripting (XSS): It is a kind of injection attack that happens when vulnerability allows an attacker or unauthorized access to insert a malicious script (often JavaScript) into the code if a web app or webpage.
  2. Injection: It takes place when an attacker is capable to put malicious code or commands into a program, usually where ordinary user input (such as a username or password) is expected. This SQL injection is a certain type of injection attack, allowing an attacker to take control of an SQL database.
  3. Man-in-the-middle (MitM): This attack happens when an authorized person intercepts traffic between two communicating systems and impersonates each other, working as an invisible proxy between the two. With APIs, MitM can take place between the client (app) and the API, or its endpoint.
  4. Distributed denial-of-service (DDoS): These attacks make a network, system, or website unavailable to intended users, typically by flooding it with high traffic that it is capable to handle. API endpoints are the most targeting points for DDoS attacks.
  5. Credential stuffing: It is the usage of stolen credentials on API authentication endpoints to gain unauthorized accessibility.
  6. Insecure API key generation: Most APIs are secured by some type of API key or JWT (JSON Web Token). It provides a natural way to monitor and secure because API security tools can detect unusual API behavior and block access to an API key automatically.

However, hackers can even break this mechanism by creating and using a large pool of API keys from a large number of users just like a web hacker would use a large pool of IP addresses to hack DDoS protection.

  1. Insufficient Logging & Monitoring: It is an OWASP top 10 API Security guideline. Many data breach studies indicate the time to detect a data breach is over 200 days. So if you don't have regular and proper API logging and monitoring in place hackers can use the same vulnerability.

API Security Best Practices To Keep Your APIs Fully Safe

As we discussed above, the API security scope is wide. Its protection is designed according to its layers which start at the transport level with using SSL (HTTPS) and enforcing TLS 1.2. To make all layers fully secured, here are the API security best practices that could help you keep your APIs completely safe.

1. API Inventorying

The growing demand in mobile app development is accelerating the demands of new APIs. So when you integrate any third-party API, check for the appropriate security measures.

By using an AI engine, you can discover APIs which may not have been on the radar of your security measures. This level of API discovery makes sure that you reduce weak spots.

2. API Access Control

You should define your API access control using standards like OAuth and JWT to authenticate API traffic. If your API transactions pass through various network boundaries, you can enforce Zero Trust security rule and propagate identity to enable each security layer to make its own decisions. 

3. Apply Authorization Rules

You should enable access control rules for third-party applications acting on behalf of users and control the scope granted for each application. To implement this, map between token formats as appropriate when crossing boundaries, and enable definition and enforcement of user privacy and general data governance.

4. API Threat Detection

It involves an API gateway, or an agent applying a set of validation rules. Each API request and response is subjected to the below rules:

  • Implement rate limits to protect your API backend.
  • Validate incoming messages against API definition contract using JSON schemas and JSON paths.

There is a limitation to the layers of real-time security which can be applied in sequential mode before latency is negative. Here, an API engine detects an anomaly, while instructing the API gateway or load-balancer to start blocking the API client.

5. Monitoring and Analytics across API Silos

Top mobile application development company in India considers this technique as an important technique when it comes to securing APIs within an application.

To monitor your API traffic from inside, you should break traffic down per user, per IP, per token, and per API access across your silos. Your developers should integrate your API monitoring and threat detection to your existing security information and event management (SIEM) systems.

6. Encrypt Traffic Using TLS

Many organizations prefer not to encrypt API payload data which is considered non-sensitive e.g. weather service data. But for businesses whose APIs regularly exchange sensitive data such as login credentials, banking information, social security, credit card, etc., need to encrypt traffic using TLS encryption.

7. Limit Request Rate

Setting a limit above which subsequent requests would be rejected is a good idea to prevent any unauthorized attempt. For example, 10K request per day per account is sufficient to stop API attacks.

8. Auditing and Incident Response         

In Android application development, most developers get satisfied with detecting and preventing data breaches in their APIS of mobile apps. But this is where they stop their extra endeavor. Android apps mostly depend on APIs to provide different functionality.

Therefore, they should try to record detailed information about historical API traffic to generate forensic reports for a given token, API key, user identity, or IP address. Through this method, they can repair the damage which happens to the automatic detection and blocking of API security breaches.

Conclusion

APIs have become an inevitable part of modern applications. They are being used in mobile apps, web apps, SaaS, and other different applications.

Most organizations are aware of the API security but they need to dive deeper to stop prevailing API threats. API is a great asset to make your application fully functional that is why you should build a solid API security policy and manage them proactively over time.

Now it’s your time to take action

Are you using any APIs in your mobile or Web app?

To ensure your app performs better and keeps user information safe, it is important to check the quality standard of your API integration.

And eSearch Logix is here to assist you on this.

Our expert team is filled with software engineers, quality analysts, certified developers, and professional programmers who use the best tools and implement modern security techniques to upgrade your existing API integration and make your all APIs fully safe.

Just Book a Free Online Meeting and Talk to Our experts

Alekh Verma

CEO and Founder at eSearch Logix Technologies!

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