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The API is a fundamental component of innovation in the world of apps we live in today. APIs are an essential component of modern mobile, SaaS, and web apps and can be found in partner-facing, internal, and applications for banks, retail, transportation, IoT, autonomous vehicles, and smart cities.

Due to the sensitive nature of the data they hold, APIs are some of the most preferred targets for threat actors, so keeping them safe is crucial for business.

In this article, we’ll explore the different components of API security and how organizations can ensure their APIs are secure from threat actors. We’ll also look at some best practices for keeping your APIs safe and secure for your users.

API Security Explained

To figure out what API security is, we must first point out what is an API. Short for ‘Application Programming Interface’, an API is an interface that defines how software applications interact with each other, and allows them to do so.

It governs the different requests that are made between programs, how they are made, and the different data formats that are employed. Applications for the Internet of Things (IoT) and websites both use APIs. They frequently collect and handle data or let users enter data that is handled in the environment that houses the API.

Because APIs are commonly used today, and because they enable access to sensitive software functions and data, they are a primary target for threat actors, looking for ways of breaching systems and reaching sensitive information. To protect them, API security tactics are needed.

API security consists of all the practices used to protect APIs against disturbing factors, and is a key component in modern web application security.

APIs could be vulnerable to issues with code injection, faulty authentication and authorization, and rate restriction. Companies must routinely test APIs to find vulnerabilities and fix them by following security best practices.

Why Is API Security Important?

APIs are used by businesses to link services and move data. Major data breaches are caused by compromised, broken, or exposed APIs. They make private and delicate financial, medical, and personal information available to the public.

Implementing API security tactics is important in keeping your data and information safe and sound from unauthorized access or theft. It’s also a good prevention method for malicious attacks on your system.

REST API Security vs. SOAP API Security

In modern APIs, there are two mainly used architectural styles:

  • Representational State Transfer (REST): an approach to APIs using HTTPS as the transport protocol, and the JSON format for data transfer;
  • Simple Object Access Protocol (SOAP): a messaging protocol based on Extensible Markup Language (XML) that supports multiple low-level protocols.

The two architectures support both HTTP requests and responses, as well as Secure Sockets Layer (SSL), but the similarities end here.

REST APIs do not have build-in security capabilities, so the API security depends solely on its design. Security has to be built in for deployment, data transmission, and interactions with clients. REST APIs must resend data when an error occurs since they lack built-in error management.

A typical architectural approach is to deploy REST APIs behind an API gateway. Instead of connecting directly to the REST API, clients connect to the gateway, which serves as a proxy. This enables the API gateway to address numerous security issues.

SOAP APIs offer extensions to the protocol that address security matters. SAML tokens, XML encryption, and XML signatures are all included in the W3C and OASIS recommendations that SOAP is based on. It also supports the Web Services (WS) specifications, which allows the usage of security extensions such as WS-Security, which provides enterprise-grade security for web services. SOAP supports WS-ReliableMessaging which provides built-in error handling.

Users may choose SOAP over REST because SOAP services can be simpler to create and because SOAP can operate without modification over proxies and firewalls.

API Security Best Practices

With APIs being one of the main targets for threat actors, keeping them secured is crucial. Make sure that you consider following these practices to keep your data safe:

Encrypt Your Data

All data controlled by an API, especially sensitive data protected by compliance rules and regulations, personally identifiable information (PII) or other sensitive data, must be encrypted. Implement encryption at rest and in transit using Transport Layer Security (TLS) to ensure that attackers who gain access to your API service cannot utilize it. To ensure that only authorized users can decrypt and modify the data provided by your API it is recommended to require signatures.

Use OAuth And OpenID Connect

One of the most important aspects in securing your APIs is access control for authentication and authorization. OAuth, a framework for token-based authentication that permits third-party services to access data without disclosing user credentials, is a potent tool for restricting API access. Clients can verify the user’s identity thanks to OpenID Connect (OIDC), an authentication layer built on top of OAuth.

Use a Service Mesh

Similar to API gateways, service mesh technology applies different layers of control and management when routing requests from one service to the next. The coordination of these moving pieces, including proper identification, access control, and other security measures, is optimized by a service mesh.

Use Tokens

When using security tokens, a communication must first be authenticated by a token on both ends before it can continue. Because any application or user attempting to interact with a network resource without the appropriate token would be refused, tokens can be used to restrict access to network resources.

Adopt the Zero-Trust Model

The zero-trust security model assumes that no traffic, whether it comes from a network or the outside, can be trusted. Therefore, the user’s rights must be authenticated before traffic may enter or pass via the network. By preventing unwanted users from accessing a system, even repeat users that an imposter can impersonate using a previously authenticated device, a zero-trust strategy can provide security for data and applications. Both the user and the device are untrusted under a zero-trust approach.

Use Throttling And Quotas

Throttling helps by limiting the speed at which the data is transferred, while quotas limit the amount of data that can be transferred. These methods are helpful in stopping attacks that seek to overwhelm a system, such as DDoS attacks.

Identify Vulnerabilities

To effectively secure your APIs, you must first identify and understand the risks to be found in your API lifecycle. It can prove to a quite a complex task, especially for businesses that operate a large number of APIs. However, implementing an automatic patching solution, such as Heimdal®’s Patch & Asset Management, can make the process miles easier, and safer.

Heimdal®’s Patch & Asset Management solution will automatically analyse your APIs, identify the vulnerabilities present in the API lifecycles, and deploy safe, pre-tested patches to get rid of the dangers associated with the said vulnerabilities.

The solution can patch any Microsoft and Linux OS, third-party, or proprietary software, and is a ‘on-the-fly’ solution, meaning that you can access it and fully control it from anywhere in the world, at any plus. More than that, by being a fully customizable solution, it will fit perfectly the needs of your organization.

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And to wrap up this article, we can draw the conclusion that API security is an important component of software development. By following best practices and taking a layered approach to security, you can ensure that your APIs are secure and protect your organization from potential threats.

Furthermore, using the right tools will help improve the security of your APIs even further. With this information in mind, we hope you have a better understanding of what API Security is and why it’s important for protecting digital assets.

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Author Profile

Cristian Neagu


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Cristian is a Content Editor & Creator at Heimdal®, where he developed a deep understanding of the digital threat landscape. His style resonates with both technical and non-technical readers, proof being in his skill of communicating cybersecurity norms effectively, in an easy-to-understand manner.

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