API security best practices

What is API Security and why it is important to protect your APIs?

API Security is the practice of protecting APIs (Application Programming Interfaces) from unauthorized access, misuse, and attacks. APIs are used to allow different software systems to communicate and exchange data.

APIs are intended to facilitate communication and data exchange between different software systems. As such, they are designed to be accessible to authorized users or systems also meaning that APIs can be accessed by unauthorized users or systems if not properly secured.

Furthermore, different types of APIs have different security considerations. For instance, web services APIs such as REST or SOAP are often designed to be accessed over the internet, making them more vulnerable to attacks than internal APIs.

However, if APIs are not properly secured, they can become vulnerable to malicious attacks that can compromise the confidentiality, integrity, and availability of the data and systems involved.

API security lies at the intersection of three broad security areas of Application security, network security and information security because APIs require robust application security measures, network security measures, and information security measures to protect them from unauthorized access, misuse, and attacks. By implementing these security measures, businesses can ensure the safety and security of their APIs and the data and systems they interact with.

  • Application Security: Application Security involves protecting the application layer of software systems from unauthorized access, misuse, and attacks. APIs are an integral part of modern software systems and require robust application security measures such as authentication, authorization, encryption, input validation, and rate limiting to prevent security vulnerabilities.
  • Network Security: Network Security involves protecting the network layer of software systems from unauthorized access, misuse, and attacks. APIs are often used to communicate and exchange data between different systems, and they need to be protected using network security measures such as firewalls, VPNs, and intrusion detection and prevention systems to prevent network-based attacks.
  • Information Security: Information Security involves protecting the confidentiality, integrity, and availability of data stored and transmitted by software systems. APIs are often used to exchange sensitive data between different systems and need to be protected using information security measures such as data encryption, access control, and logging to prevent data breaches and data leaks.

It’s essential to design, deploy, and protect APIs with security in mind for several reasons:

  • Protecting sensitive data: APIs are often used to exchange sensitive data between different systems. It’s critical to ensure that this data is protected and cannot be accessed or manipulated by unauthorized parties.
  • Mitigating cyber threats: APIs are a common target for cybercriminals who seek to exploit vulnerabilities and gain unauthorized access to systems. By implementing security measures, organizations can mitigate the risk of cyber attacks and protect their systems from harm.
  • Compliance with regulations: Many industries have regulations and standards that require organizations to protect their data and systems from unauthorized access. Failing to comply with these regulations can result in severe consequences such as fines, legal action, and reputational damage.
  • Ensuring business continuity: APIs are often critical to the functioning of a business. If an API is compromised or unavailable, it can cause disruptions to business operations and lead to financial losses.

APIs are an essential component of modern software development, allowing different software systems to exchange data and functionality. However, they can also be a point of vulnerability if not properly secured. That’s why API security is critical for protecting valuable data and systems from cyber threats.

Top 10 API Security Best Practices and Tips A Business Should Follow in 2023

suggest API security best practices to expand and elevate the security of an organization’s APIs. Here are some best practices that I recommend:

  • API Discovery and Inventorying
  • Implement A Zero Trust
  • Identify API Vulnerabilities and Risks
  • Enforce Strong Authentication and Authorization
  • Validate the data
  • Choose your web services API
  • Record APIs in an API registry
  • Hide your API keys
  • Implement Rate Limits

API Security Best Practice #1: API Discovery and Inventorying:

The first step is to identify all the APIs used in the organization and inventory them. It’s important to keep track of all the APIs used, their endpoints, and their dependencies to better understand how they work.

API Security Best Practice #2:Implement A Zero Trust Philosophy:

Adopting a Zero Trust philosophy ensures that every request is treated as if it’s coming from an untrusted source. This means that each request is authenticated, authorized, and validated before being granted access to the API.

API Security Best Practice #3: Identify API Vulnerabilities and Associated Risks:

Businesses must identify vulnerabilities and associated risks in their APIs. Common vulnerabilities include SQL injections, cross-site scripting (XSS), and API misconfigurations. By identifying these vulnerabilities and assessing their associated risks, businesses can prioritize their security efforts.

API Security Best Practice #4: Enforce Strong Authentication and Authorization

Businesses should enforce strong authentication and authorization methods such as OAuth 2.0, JSON Web Tokens (JWTs), or Basic Authentication. This ensures that only authorized users or systems can access the API.

API Security Best Practice #5: Validate the data

Validating the data received by the API is essential to ensure that it’s correct, complete, and secure. Businesses should implement techniques such as parameter validation, input filtering, and input normalization to prevent security vulnerabilities.

API Security Best Practice #6: Choose your web services API

Choosing a web services API that aligns with your organization’s security needs is essential. Some popular web services APIs include SOAP, REST, and GraphQL.

API Security Best Practice #7: Record APIs in an API registry

An API registry is a centralized repository that records all the APIs used in the organization. This makes it easier to manage and monitor the APIs and helps ensure that they’re properly secured.

API Security Best Practice #8: Hide your API keys

API keys should be treated like passwords and stored securely. Businesses should ensure that API keys are encrypted, stored in secure locations, and rotated regularly.

API Security Best Practice #9: Implement Rate Limits

Implementing rate limits helps prevent overloading or abuse of the API. Businesses should restrict the number of requests that a user or system can make within a certain time period.

API Security Best Practice #10: Encryption

Encryption is critical for protecting the confidentiality and integrity of data transmitted between the API and its clients. Businesses should implement protocols such as Transport Layer Security (TLS) or Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) to encrypt the data.

What OWASP API Security Top 10 Say about security risks of Application Programming Interfaces?

The OWASP Top 10 API Risks highlight the most critical security risks that affect APIs. By understanding and addressing these risks, organizations can improve the security of their APIs and protect their data and systems from unauthorized access, misuse, and attacks.

  1. API1:2019 Broken Object Level Authorization
  2. API2:2019 Broken User Authentication
  3. API3:2019 Excessive Data Exposure
  4. API4:2019 Lack of Resources & Rate Limiting
  5. API5:2019 Broken Function Level Authorization
  6. API6:2019 Mass Assignment
  7. API7:2019 Security Misconfiguration
  8. API8:2019 Injection
  9. API9:2019 Improper Assets Management
  10. API10:2019 Insufficient Logging & Monitoring

API1:2019 Broken Object Level Authorization

API1:2019 Broken Object Level Authorization is a security risk identified by the OWASP Top 10 API Risks. This risk occurs when APIs do not properly implement authorization controls at the object level, allowing attackers to access and manipulate data objects they shouldn’t be able to access.

Example of API1:2019 Broken Object Level Authorization

Suppose a banking application has an API endpoint that allows users to view their account balances. The API endpoint may be designed to accept a user ID parameter to retrieve the account balance for that user. However, if the API does not properly check if the user has authorization to access that particular account, it could allow an attacker to access the account balance of another user.

For example, imagine that a user with ID 12345 is authorized to access account A, but not account B. An attacker could intercept the request to the API and modify the user ID parameter to 12345, then modify the account ID parameter to B. If the API does not properly check if the user is authorized to access account B, it would return the account balance for account B to the attacker.

For example, suppose the API endpoint is implemented in the following way:

GET /api/userinfo?userId=<userId>

function getUserInfo(userId) {
    // retrieve the user information for the given user ID
    const userInfo = db.query(`SELECT name, address, phone FROM users WHERE userId = ${userId}`);

    // return the user information
    return userInfo;
}

In this implementation, the API endpoint trusts the client to provide a valid user ID without verifying if the authenticated user has permission to access the requested user’s information. This could allow an attacker to intercept the request and modify the user ID parameter to retrieve information for another user that they are not authorized to access.

How to mitigate API1:2019 Broken Object Level Authorization?

API2:2019 Broken User Authentication

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