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API Security: An Increasing Concern

Application Programming Interfaces (API) act as an intermediary between users and service providers. Many web and mobile applications utilize the principles of API. They take your request and take it to the product service provider, where the query is solved, and then through the API, you get the results. Today, when all sorts of different businesses are going online, API has become an integral channel for communication between clients and users. However, this increased need also makes API’s a perfect target for all sorts of digital attacks and foul play. Which makes API security an increasing concern for all the stakeholders.

What Are the Threats?

API’s are being used to move data, which means they have access to the data at the client end as well as at the user end. Not only this, but API can be manipulated such that they serve the attacker’s agenda. Especially the public-facing or customer-facing applications are at a huge risk. If any API is breached, the consequences can be quite harsh. That being said, the biggest threat to an insecure API is the exposure of data.

Thousands of crucial applications follow the API protocol, and through these applications, a significant amount of critical data is processed every day. It can be your online banking application, or it can be some other daily use application that contains confidential data at the other end. Breaking into an API means the attacker has access to your query as well as the data at the backend. Even if the backend has multiple security layers, a data breach may expose your verification keys or codes, which means that your data can still be at risk. In such a scenario, all the businesses and service providers carry the responsibility and accountability.

What Makes an API Vulnerable?

There are quite a few factors that can make the API more prone to any sort of breach attacks and other sorts of compromises.

Issues with Coding

While most businesses today are thorough about the API development process, things can always go wrong at the coding end. Some bugs in the code may not affect functionality but still, make the API vulnerable to threats. Not only this but even after thorough debugging and optimization, a developer might miss out on a detail that may cause exposure. Coding is not a common vulnerability, but it is the most basic one. You need to make sure that there are proper tests in place to check the codes before making the system go online.

SSL Validation

The SSL certificates are basically there to secure the connection between the user and the host. They represent a domain’s authenticity and put protocols in place to ensure that communication is not being redirected to a non-host server. Moreover, they help encrypt the data by SSL/TLS protocols for encryption. In the case of invalid SSL certificates, there is an increased chance of the web app getting compromised.It is important to ensure all security measures for your system and have a frequent check and update protocol in place.

API Security Risks

Access Control

It is crucial to have a foolproof access control protocol in place. Object-level authorization is one of the most utilized protocols in API systems that ensures that you only get to access the data that you are meant to access. If there is a bug in the authorization protocol, it means that hackers can access the data centers without raising the red flags for security. The data can easily be breached while the attackers pose as a usual user of the service.

Authentication Protocols

While access control problems can allow hackers to tap into confidential data through their own user IDs, a problematic authentication mechanism can lead to hackers assuming different users’ identities. This means that they can access the data through someone else’s credentials. This puts the personal data of the user at risk. These attacks may or may not have the credentials beforehand. They can manipulate the system into identifying them as the user even if they don’t have the right verification.

Request Handling

When developing API, no restrictions are imposed on the user when it comes to accessing data. It means that there is no limit to the amount of data a user can request. Only a few systems that handle confidential data do impose such restrictions. Overlooking this can make it easier for brute force attackers. The data server’s efficiency will get affected if a large number of requests are asked to be processed at the same time, leaving it vulnerable. API’s can become the perfect channel to launch a distributed denial of service or DDOS attack on the system. A DDOS attack can cripple your system and especially if your business is heavily reliant on web services.

Interpreter Injections

Interpreter injections are attacks on your system that trick the interpreter. Your interpreter is responsible for understanding and processing your request so that the server can respond back to you. An interpreter injection is a set of data that contains a code designed to deceive the interpreter. The command may manipulate the system and gain access to data. One of the most common injections is an SQL injection. Manipulating an SQL query leads to the system believing that all records are being called. This is a significant data breach and can compromise all system records and data. There are many other types of injections, and if the API is not guarded against invalidated data, it becomes easier to launch an injection attack. The system should not accept invalid data or data from untrusted sources under any circumstance. Allowing your API to accept data from such sources puts you at a high risk of such attacks.

How to Maximize Your API Security?

Test and Trial for All Possibilities

Given all the system’s risks and vulnerabilities, it is only logical to test your system against all the vulnerabilities before going online. You will need to ensure that your API is foolproof and does not have any exposure to data breaches. Debugging your code and double-checking with the developers will only get you so far. Test and trial against possible attacks will help you identify if your system is capable of protecting your backend.

Token Authorization

Tokens are one of the simplest and the most effective ways of ensuring access control. Tokens can be used to form trusted identities in the system which can access particular data. Using a mechanism for token verification, one can ensure that only authorized personnel gets access.

Data Encryption

Data encryption is vital to keeping your data secure. Even in the case of a breach, encryption can come handy. If there is two-way encryption, even the server breach will prove to be ineffective, or at least not serve the purpose for the hackers. API is a channel for data transmission, and data needs to be secured while transport as well. Here, encryption protocols like Transport Layer Security can be very effective in nullifying any breach.

API Gateways

API gateways can be a great tool to ensure security against data breaches. These gateways act as a path for the request that is being sent to the API. These gateways can provide a secure and unified access point to the API. Moreover, they can also be used to employ rate limiting. Rate limiting ensures that only a certain amount of data can be requested at a time. It basically limits the traffic on the servers, which in turn enhances performance and reduces the denial of service attacks.