Reinforcing your APIs’ security is always a top priority, although many developers tend to ignore some of the crucial security measures in favor of authentication and authorization. While these two are essential security policies, other security provisions require just as much attention, like content-based security. Most companies have an API gateway or API management layer responsible for managing the different security elements when exposed for broader consumption.
It is important to note that APIs’ security requirements often vary among different sectors. Financial APIs often have much stricter security protocols than a retail or food sector API because of all the confidential information and money matters involved. Nonetheless, every organization will benefit from specific and simple security measures. Here are four security policies your APIs must have:
- Protection Against Sudden Traffic Spikes
While a sudden increase in traffic may sound like a good thing for your API, the reality is that backend systems must limit how many requests they can process within a certain period. If a client makes too many requests, they will risk overwhelming the backend servers, hampering legitimate consumers’ access to the API.
Even though this may not happen to bring down the back-end servers intentionally, it is essential to be aware of specific actions that cause this. Sometimes client systems conduct several load tests, which leads to excessive API calls. However, it can also result from a distributed denial of service or DDoS attack from a hacker. By having this security policy – also referred to as “rate limiting” – you’ll reinforce your APIs with a crucial safeguard.
- Transport Layer Security
All APIs must be available on the cryptographic protocol, also known as TLS, with an HTTPS URL. That means the link must be prefixed with https:// at all times; otherwise, having an HTTP URL will leave your API vulnerable to malicious attacks. Without enabling TLS, you are exposing your API to different attacks that can leave your business vulnerable. It can even allow someone to gain unauthorized access to your network, allowing them to listen to internal API traffic.
It is an API’s best practice to enable TLS even when it is in a secure network, as there’s no such thing as being too safe. You will want to get a one-way TLS from client to API gateway layer. It will also help to have a two-way TLS from the gateway to backend systems host for best results.
- Safeguards Against Parser Attacks
APIs generally accept JSON or XML payloads in the request, although in these situations, a hacker can try to send input that would quickly overwhelm parsers in the backend. They can choose to write lengthy values in particular fields or send an array instead of string values, with the hopes of eventually breaking the parsers.
When this happens, the servers will go down, allowing DoS attacks. If your API expects JSON or XML payloads, it is best to make sure it has structure level validation to guarantee that parsers are secure.
- Authentication and Authorization
Protecting your API against unauthorized access means having a robust authentication and authorization security policy. The specific mechanisms you’ll need highly depend on the API type and use case, but three general scenarios are possible.
If your APIs require end-user authentication and approval, you’ll need the OAuth2 Authorization Code Grant or OpenID Connect to protect them. These two comprise the standard security structure for user identity and authorization.
On the other hand, if your API does not need any user context or consent, then you can use just the OAuth2 Client Credentials Grant. Since the consumer is either an internal trusted user or partner app, this mechanism is sufficient to provide the required protection.
OAuth2 token flows are an essential aspect of development because of how straightforward they make log-ins. However, not all clients support this framework, so you must implement other API key security measures for improved safety.
Security is never a suggestion, so when you can reinforce your API’s protection, it is best to leave no stone unturned. By configuring the above four security policies and applying them to your APIs, you’ll cut down your worries and vulnerabilities to a minimum.
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