02 Oct 2020

Securing APIs for Better Business

Ashli LoppNews  

Creating a secure architecture while developing APIs (Application Programming Interface) is critical for prevention against future cyberattacks.

API Debut

Private APIs have been operating behind the scenes for decades, but only recently have they been introduced publicly.  Salesforce.com was the first software company to launch a web-based API on February 7th, 2000, noting it as “Internet as a Service.”  Although these APIs were not meant to be released to the public, the company had potentially introduced a new platform for businesses to share information over multiple web applications.  Later that year, eBay followed suit and distributed their APIs to the eBay Developers Program, ultimately making these APIs accessible to the public.  The introduction of web-based APIs exploded, prompting developers to create thousands of private, partner and public APIs.

Public Accessibility

Applications using public APIs have created a new venue for economic growth for businesses through these various interfaces.  This connectivity between applications creates a seamless user experience and makes transactions seem effortless.  Allowing access through subscription, businesses using APIs have increased profitability for software companies.  According to a recent report by MuleSoft Inc., 35 percent of today’s technology leaders generated more than a quarter of their organizations’ revenue as a direct result of APIs.  Public and partner APIs have given rise to technical innovation by sharing protocols and data to improve settings and user functionality.  Sharing APIs has stimulated immense growth for businesses, but these advances do not come without drawbacks.  Through collaboration, developers can also expose weaknesses and vulnerabilities.  Applications communicating over various public interfaces creates a greater opportunity for the interception of PIIs (Personal Identifiable Information).

Building APIs with Secure Foundations

As APIs have gained momentum, public APIs are a direct source for cyber criminals to exploit consumers PII.  Since being introduced to the public, developers have been trying to understand the best protocols, as the build begins.  Integrating security into the primitive build can help prevent vulnerabilities that can essentially protect against cybertheft.  Understanding the fundamentals of APIs is extremely important when trying to secure a new API build.  For a list of rated API Gateways, click here.

There are three differing architects that are considered during the beginning stages of an API build: SOAP, REST and GraphQL.  These archetypes are still prevalent when creating a new API because each has a different functionality, depending on what the user is requesting.

Here is a quick guide to each format:

  • SOAP- (protocol) operates with the two basic functions – GET and POST. GET is used to retrieve data from the server, while POST is used to add or modify data
  • REST- (architectural style) changes the state of the corresponding source by making a request to the URI (Uniform Resource Identifier)
  • GraphQL- (query language) leverages requests of two types – queries retrieving data from the server, and mutations changing the data

During initial stages of the build, the writer must be specific on which format will be the best fit for the application and how they interact.  Each format will vary in data size and functionality making it unique to the overall purpose of the build.  At this early stage it is critical to incorporate security features that will be written throughout the API.

Security and Risk Prevention

Security features are often overlooked during development and this results in higher vulnerabilities that may be discovered during implementation.  APIs create avenues or transactions across multiple interfaces leaving valuable instructional data open for scrutiny.  The increase of APIs has been highly beneficial for businesses, but third-party IT integration has mostly been initiated later in the build.  Unfortunately, by introducing new APIs without proper security protocols has put many applications at risk to cybercriminals.  For a detailed list of API Security Risks, click here.

Attack Vectors that are the most common:

  • Parameter: attacks exploit the data sent into an API, including URL, query parameters, HTTP headers, and/or post content
  • Identity: attacks exploit flaws in authentication, authorization, and session tracking
  • Man-in-the-Middle: attacks intercept legitimate transactions and exploit unsigned and/or unencrypted data being sent between the client and the server

For strategies to mitigate API attacks, click here.

Understanding that security is critical for API development will help with vulnerabilities in the future.  By combining multiple interfaces information and data spreads and can possibly be intercepted during each transaction.  Knowing how to create a secure API is just the beginning because APIs are constantly shifting and evolving.  For a guide of security tips, click here.

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