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Parth Bari
Parth Bari

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API Security best Practices: What to keep in mind for apps?

API(Application Programming Interface) is one of the essential parts of any application architecture. It is a protocol that regulates the data exchange between heterogeneous systems. Next time, if you are wondering how your smartwatch is showing relevant data on an application on the smartphone, it’s API’s magic. But what if this API is not secure? That is where you can lose essential data, even personal information.

According to Gartner, API attacks are bound to rise for enterprise data breaches year over year at an alarming rate. With the pandemic talking most IT assets online and making remote working capabilities necessary, the stress on API security is high.

There have been repeated phishing and data theft activities by hackers on APIs, making IT executives worldwide worried. A Salt Security survey on "The State of API Security – Q1 2021" indicates that in 2020, 91% of enterprises have seen at least one incident of API security breach.

So, worrying about your organization’s API security makes sense. Many scary server security vulnerabilities can happen if you don't follow best practices for API security. So, here are some of the best practices to follow for API security.

IT Asset Management

There are many different types of IT assets in a tech-based company. From the video APIs for creating video content to communication APIs offering functions like calling and messaging and even the kind of data on your servers, IT assets are diverse.

Creating updated documentation of the APIs and keeping records of all the data on your servers can help you identify the IT assets. Identification becomes vital to manage these assets.

For example, API documentation can help you manage different endpoints, deployed API versions, and others. Managing the API-based IT assets will also help you explore the vulnerabilities and debug risky endpoints.

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Source: https://www.f5.com/labs/articles/education/securing-apis--10-best-practices-for-keeping-your-data-and-infra

If you compare a web API to an interface-based web app like Postmates, additional endpoints’ exploitation is at low risk due to decentralized deployments with a microservice architecture. The problems lie with irregularities in the updates of outdated API versions that lead to a lack of security. Running of retired APIs can put your systems at risk of cyberattacks.

One of the best practices you can follow is updating and recording each API version for your applications and software.

User Authentications

Authentication mechanisms need correct execution, which can block attackers from compromising the authentication tokens. Such attacks help them exploit the implementation flames of the system and procure vital user data. This process allows the attackers to hide behind the user authentication tokens to compromise the system’s ability to identify them.

Attackers can easily access user data, extort sensitive information, mimic users, and even overtake the entire account. Especially in Fintech apps where digital banking is enabled through API gateways, authentication takes center stage. It can expose your consumer’s credentials which leads to monetary loss.

Take an example of an online banking website. There are many different APIs that you can use, like REST API, and yet you can be prone to security issues if the authentication is not executed well. Using a proper user authentication protocol is one of the best practices that you should keep in mind.

TLS/SSL

SSL is a cryptographic protocol that helps to secure websites. An SSL or Secured Socket Layer ensures that your web server’s connection with the browser is secure. It uses API keys to aid the security of browsers and ensure safe web browsing.

There are two sets of keys that are used-public and private. The fact that Google’s algorithm considers an SSL certificate ideal for indexing the website in search result page rankings makes it more than just an accessory.

Though SSL is a necessity, there are other protocols too that are far more advanced. For example, using a TLS or Transport Layer Security can help you against cipher block chaining attacks. The main difference between SSL and TLS is the usage of HMAC(hash-based message authentication code) by the advanced TLS that makes it more secure.

API Firewalling

API gateways provide firewalling capabilities by embedding Apache ModSecurity. It is a tool kit that enables real-time HTTP traffic monitoring, recording, logging, and data access control data threats. Such gateways allow organizations to reduce the risks of application-level attacks and data threats due to API vulnerabilities. API firewalling can help you avoid attacks like SQL injection, cross-site request forgery, XSS, and many more.

The ModSecurity engine can be configured to protect the APIs and reduce threats due to issues in HTTP traffic. These API gateways ensure that each threat is identified and monitored for any exceptions.

Broker Authentications

Two types of authentications occur in any network. One is direct authentication which works best for intranet networks where the authenticator and user are using the same network. Simultaneously, when heterogeneous systems are interacting over different networks, you need a broker to authenticate the access to data.
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Source: Direct vs. Brokered Authentication (brucejmack.net)

As the modernization of APIs increases, there has been a surge in data brokers or minors that dig users’ data to exploit the system. Through broker authentication on top of API encryption, your systems can identify such data minors and rectify the protocols to prevent any data theft.

Input Validation

One of the most significant API best practices to follow is validating each input that you pass on to the endpoint through an API. It is vital to the API security and reduces exposure of sensitive user data on the endpoint. Most of the endpoints are susceptible to data leaks, and that is where input validation can help reduce the risk on API security.

Conclusion

As more innovative technologies are integrated into the apps and web apps, the need for API security is bound to increase. Due to higher exposure of system endpoints and unique ways of attackers cloaking their presence behind user’s authentication data, the challenge of maintaining API security will be higher. But, organizations can help their systems stay alert by updating, maintaining, and inventorying API versions.

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