5 API security best practices you must implement

As outside economic pressures continue to shape how organizations think and allocate resources, data security continues to be a high priority. Due to their dependence on data to innovate and reduce expenses, many businesses are significantly more exposed to the threat of cybersecurity incidents than they may realize.

APIs security risk

APIs are also being targeted as the data reachable through them could prove highly lucrative for hackers.

How attackers target APIs

Bad actors can target APIs through a variety of methods. Some of the more prevalent ones are:

  • DDoS: DDoS attacks request a huge number of connections, to exhausts resources and potentially lead to a crash as the attack overwhelms both APIs and the backend systems that supply data to the APIs.
  • Man in the middle (MITM) attacks: MITM attacks occur when an outsider discreetly positions themself in a conversation between a user and an API endpoint, eavesdropping or impersonating one of the parties in a bid to steal or modify private data.
  • Mismanagement of tokens or API keys: Tokens and API keys are valid credentials that grant user access. If compromised, they can be misused by unauthorized parties to access private systems.
  • Non-encrypted credentials: Usernames and passwords are frequently hardcoded into unencrypted configuration files, which make them more vulnerable to theft.

Tried-and-true practices for better API security

By practicing the right fundamentals, organizations can utilize API integration and similar technologies to keep their systems secure from multiple forms of attack.

1. Evaluate the processes and infrastructure of your organization

With the increased use of highly connected APIs and microservices across various on-premises and cloud settings, finding your possible weaknesses can be quite challenging. You must evaluate:

  • Customer-facing APIs: By leveraging APIs, companies can share information with customers without having to let them into their underlying database or system. They can limit what a customer can access, revealing only specific segments of data. Using an API to expose only a section of your database guarantees that users can’t access the entire system, but the revealed data must still be safeguarded.
  • Internal APIs: The low entry barrier makes it simple for any staff member to select and use top cloud services without assistance from IT. So IT teams must make sure they synchronize services via APIs to offer only necessary access, rather than allowing access to a variety of services for everyone in every department, which can quickly turn into a heavy administrative burden.

If you neglect to consider the potential weaknesses in your infrastructure, you leave the door open to attacks, both from within and outside your organization.

The most important thing here is to create a comprehensive collection of policies and standards in collaboration with your internal security and compliance groups. Some businesses might also need to consider regulatory obligations (GDPR, CCPA, HIPAA, etc.) and make sure security practices are up-to-date and compliant.

2. When storing data in the cloud, exercise caution

There is a perception that switching to a cloud service makes you more vulnerable to cybersecurity incidents, but this impression stems mostly from having less control and less insight into the system. Transitioning to the cloud can offer a degree of security that cannot be replicated in-house as many companies lack the budget and human capital necessary to achieve such a high level of security. However, by placing an increased focus on APIs, it’s still possible to improve cloud security.

3. Ensure that users can only access pertinent data

Your organization’s departments and users require varying degrees of access to its systems and data, and it should be granted according to job function rather than across the board. A developer, for instance, normally doesn’t require complete access to accounting or HR systems. By limiting access, it is less likely for private information to be mistakenly revealed. You can also set up specific credentials to grant a user temporary access to a service they generally don’t use.

4. Require multi-factor authentication

Login credentials involving a username and password are no longer sufficient to guarantee security. Employing standards like two-factor authentication (2FA) or secure authentication with OAuth is imperative. To achieve this goal, make sure your network can authenticate users using OAuth 2.0 with endpoints as identity providers.

5. Keep certificate keys in a keystore

Make sure you use a trustworthy keystore that has the certificates required for HTTPS-secured communication when installing software. For instance, you might have to include a new certificate in your Java keystore if you want to enable secure communication between a local client and a proxy server.

It’s not just APIs that pose a potential risk to security. Everything that has an externally facing “surface” could become a target for a bad actor. Because of this, it’s crucial to prioritize security and adopt a “zero trust” mentality to have the greatest chance of protecting your data and preventing an expensive cyberattack.

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