API Security

API Security 101: The What, The How, and The Why

April 10, 2022
7 min read

TLDR Key Takeaways





APIs occupy a significant position in software application architecture. They have revolutionized the way web applications are used by building communication pipelines between multiple services. With the growing need for new and disruptive digital solutions, it is ever more critical to ensure the security of APIs.

According to a study by MIT of a major banking data breach, despite investing heavily in IT infrastructure and efficient security systems, the bank faced a severe unauthorized external intervention that exposed customer information. The resulting breach affected around 100 million individuals in the United States and approximately 6 million in Canada.

The effects of these types of security breaches cannot be underestimated, and APIs continue to present a dangerous entry point for cyberattackers. This article will discuss API security and examine some of the fundamental reasons why API security strategy is a critical part of the application development lifecycle and infrastructure in today’s world.

What Is API Security?

API security is a set of best practices aimed at protecting an organization's APIs. Apart from the infrastructural security parameters, companies should also secure APIs programmatically at the application logic level. Appropriate API permissions and rules should be in place to ensure that only the desired audience consumes the right kind of permissible APIs.

Why Is API Security Important?

APIs are the backbone of today’s digital ecosystems. They are deeply integrated into software systems and are a significant driving force behind successful application execution. Since the software industry is widely dependent on APIs, it becomes a necessity for organizations that provide access to APIs to make them more secure and trustworthy.

Nowadays, typical client-server applications exchange information using APIs. Moreover, third-party API consumption is also a very popular model of integrating APIs with existing systems. At the end of the day, it all boils down to how we can securely manage such processes and integrations to provide a smooth, transparent, and trustful user experience.

Apart from the conventional client-server or third-party communications, APIs are also the key stakeholders in microservices which is the most disruptive and frequently used application architecture model these days. Hence, securing the APIs to reduce their chances of being attacked and contributing to a transparent API economy becomes a responsibility that businesses simply can’t avoid.

Differences Between APIs and Web Interfaces

When it comes to matters of security, APIs and web applications have a few differences that must be addressed.

For instance, for web interfaces, the security parameters revolve around the phenomenon of downloading and displaying the entire web page as a single unit. As a consequence, the tools designed for such applications are optimized to serve the purpose of securing these types of models.

On the other hand, the revolution of client-server communication with APIs brought its own challenges. The tools built for securing web interfaces can’t be directly used to secure APIs because of the basic underlying infrastructural change. APIs are more programmatic, making them a lot more exposed to hacker intervention and automation.

Here’s a handy table that compares both:

Web ServicesWeb APIsBandwidth usageUsers more bandwidth over the internetUses less bandwidthClient-server couplingTighter server-client couplingLooser client-server couplingData formatsXML onlySupports multiple formatsSecurity optionsNumerous security optionsLess but more mature security optionsBest suited forSystem-to-system communicationUser interface to system communication

Common API Security Mistakes

Most APIs are made available to the public for consumption. However, when providing access to APIs, businesses must be wary of these common security mistakes:

Logic Flaws

A significant portion of the API security breaches in many instances is caused by logic flaws and vulnerabilities. Development and operations teams often ignore the impact of logic flaws and use the tools for security that only test the infrastructural layer and protect it. However, the business logic layer is even more susceptible to security vulnerabilities and the main target for hackers nowadays.

Too Much Reliance On Specifications

A common mistake while securing APIs is to rely on specification-based automation tools. These tools rely on exact specifications, which isn’t applicable to logic flaws.

Inline Security Solutions

Relying on inline security solutions also does not prevent logic vulnerabilities from being exposed before deploying to production.

Delaying Automation

While manual pen-testing is often used by organizations to protect their APIs, it can be time-consuming and also doesn’t occur often enough, leaving organizations susceptible to vulnerabilities.

How to Tackle API Breaches

Knowing about API security and figuring out the potential security mistakes is not enough. Whether you are a small company or a large enterprise, finding ways to effectively manage the security of your APIs is the most important part of this discussion.

As we advance towards more and more digital involvement and infrastructure improvements, preventing API security breaches using automated and reliable in-house or third-party tools must be your utmost priority.

The most important aspect of securing an API from a cyberattack is to protect the logic written inside the APIs. It is extremely important to expose the logic flaws and vulnerabilities before deploying the system to production.

As soon as the system is deployed and is made available over the network, there are millions of hackers out there looking for opportunities to intervene in your system, steal important information, and break the system.

Logical flaws and vulnerabilities in the deployment stages of production

While common vulnerabilities such as SQL injections or XSS attacks can be prevented using firewalls and occasional pen-testing, attacks that target APIs specifically are growing in frequency. Therefore, enterprises need to rely on tools that help them test the application and figure out potential logic vulnerabilities before even shipping to production.

Strengthen Your API Security With APIsec

If you have understood the importance of API security and are concerned about API breaches and want to prevent them, APIsec is the tool you should be looking for. With APIsec, you can find critical API logic flaws with automated testing before even deploying the system to production.

Apart from automating the manual pen-testing and static and dynamic AppSec testing, APIsec is the finest solution to find data logic vulnerabilities with continuous and automated testing with zero human involvement. The best part about APIsec is that it does not require access to your code in any manner yet allows you to find logic flaws in efficient ways.

To know more about APIsec and how you can use it for securing your API logic layer, please download our Best Practices guide.

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