4 API Security Best Practices You Should Adopt Today
APIs have become an integral part of today’s web applications. Developers use APIs to access internal functionality of application software. Most apps use third-party APIs to build an ecosystem around their products.
Security practices for API integration are rapidly evolving in response to the growing threat of cyberattacks. This article explains four important API security best practices to prevent API hacks.
What is an API?
A Application programming interfaceWhere APIs, is software that serves as an interface between applications. Everyone uses APIs in daily life. For example, when you check the weather on your phone or message someone using an app, you are using an API either directly or indirectly.
APIs can allow apps to access sensitive functionality such as embedding Google Maps on your website or retrieving data. Thus, they have become a common target for attackers, advancing API security.
What is API Security?
API security is a practice of protecting and securing APIs. APIs can be vulnerable and may leak sensitive information due to poor design. It is therefore important to address API vulnerabilities using security best practices. Now that we understand what API security means, let’s see why it matters.
Some companies do not adopt security best practices when developing APIs. Instead, they wait until there is a breach that results in a data leak or some other risk. This leads to an increase in the number of successful API attacks. Secure your APIs to prevent API data leaks or hacks.
Let’s look at some of the best security practices you can implement to protect your APIs.
4 Common API Security Best Practices
Here are our four API security best practices.
1. Use an API Gateway
An API Gateway is a tool that handles all API calls from a client. It acts as an intermediary between the client and the backend services. API gateways accept all API calls and send them to all the services needed to fulfill them to provide the appropriate results. It acts as a single entry point into your microservices system.
Why adopt an API Gateway?
API Gateways manage functions used across all services like authentication, logging, rate limiting, etc. The functions of an API gateway vary depending on your company’s implementation and requirements.
For example, if you want to log usage of an API, you can integrate it into an API Gateway. This saves you from implementing the security features individually for each API, while protecting against security vulnerabilities in any of the individual APIs. An API gateway conveniently secures your services and ensures that you don’t miss any security vulnerabilities in one or more microservices.
2. Implement Rate Limiting
We know that excessive use of an API can slow down performance, and that’s why we need to apply a limit to API requests, called rate limiting, but what is rate limiting?
Rate limiting is a method to control or limit network traffic. It limits the number of times a user can access a given service in a given period. It reduces pressure on your web servers and prevents malicious activities such as brute force attacks.
Rate limiting is a crucial part of API security that prevents a distributed denial of service, or DoS attack, from filling your server with unlimited API calls. Rate limiting also helps in scaling APIs because it can efficiently handle high traffic and prevent your server from slowing down.
You implement rate limiting based on user ID or IP address.
- Rate limiting based on IP address: You would use this method when a user is performing an attack against an API and has already prepared a large number of unique email addresses to send unlimited requests using different accounts. A rate limit based on IP address would not allow attackers to send unlimited requests from the same IP address, even when they have many unique identifiers.
- Rate limiting based on user ID: When malicious actors attack an API (as discussed above), they can switch to different IP addresses, while maintaining the same user credentials. In this case, you would use rate limiting on user IDs to limit the number of requests from an ID in a given time period.
Enterprises typically implement hybrid rate limiting by mixing the two approaches.
Why Use API Rate Limiting?
API rate limits can throttle the connection instead of completely disconnecting users if they send too many requests. You can achieve this by creating a delay in the execution of a function or by calling a function only once in a specified period. The limit protects the API but keeps the client connection intact and provides full services to the client.
You can choose one of many convenient and easy-to-use existing services for request queuing. Examples include Amazon Simple Queue Service (ASQS) and Android Volley.
Rate limiting protects the server against delays and provides a good experience on both client and server side. It secures the APIs and the server against an unlimited number of requests, executed on purpose or not, without actually disrupting the functionality of the APIs.
3. Avoid relying on user-controlled inputs
For better API security, you should not depend on user-controlled input to provide a response or data. Attackers can tamper with a request or response to obtain any user’s sensitive information. Rather than relying on query input from a user, you should fetch most of the required input from protected signatures.
Let’s explain this more with a Example: Suppose a user visits his profile page and tries to view his credit card details. The API used to retrieve the details relies on the user id and returns it to the user in response. In this case, the user ID is a user-controlled entry. User can replace user id with someone else’s user id and get that user’s private details using any proxy tool.
So avoid relying on user input, but if you do, verify that the person’s information is only passed to the right person. One of the ways to achieve this is to use a checksum. The checksum is a digital signature that verifies the source of the message. It prohibits others, for example, from sending payment requests on your behalf, as well as falsifying other requests.
4. Use Proper Authentication and Authorization
Before we explain how authentication and authorization can help you secure your API, let’s take a look at what these terms mean.
Authentication: This is the task of identifying and verifying a user. Authentication is accomplished by providing a set of credentials (a username and password, for example) to an API, which then checks a database of usernames and passwords. valid passwords, and grant or deny access accordingly.
Authorisation: When developing complex applications, you may encounter cases where information should only be available to someone in a specific role, such as an admin or super admin. This information should always be in safe hands, as it may contain sensitive data. Checking whether or not a user should have access to that information or resource is known as Authorisation.
The most commonly used authorization token these days is JSON web token (JWT). But what exactly is a JWT? A JWT is a way to transfer information between servers and browsers using a JSON object. It is a base64-encoded string made up of three dot-separated parts: a header, a payload, and a signature. JWT is a secure authentication method to validate a user. Using token-based authentication reduces reliance on user-controlled entries.
Please note that all the approaches mentioned above may have different implementations in different programming languages, but the concepts remain the same.
Wrap it all up…
We’ve covered how you can use API security to protect your apps, business, and users. I hope we agree on the importance of taking a proactive approach, because it’s not just about protecting your business and your users. It’s also about protecting your brand. We hope you found this guide useful. If you want to learn more, we recommend you check out the Traceable AI API Security guide, which is a comprehensive reference guide. It’s a great resource.
This post was written by Keshav Malik. Keshav is a full-time developer who loves building and breaking stuff. He is constantly on the lookout for new and interesting technologies and enjoys working with a diverse set of technologies in his spare time. He loves music and plays badminton whenever the opportunity arises.
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*** This is a syndicated blog from the Blog Security Bloggers Network written by Keshav Malik. Read the original post at: https://www.traceable.ai/blog-post/4-api-security-best-practices-you-should-adopt-today