What is API Security?

APIs communicate information within applications and from one application to another. Originally, they existed mostly in the background, hidden from end users and bad actors. However, as microservices, containers, and cloud-based services have become commonplace, the number of exposed APIs – and attacks against them – has exploded. As a result, API security has become a critical component of application security.

What is API Security?

API (Application Programming Interface) security refers to the practice of preventing or mitigating attacks on APIs. APIs work as the backend framework for mobile and web applications. Therefore, it is critical to protect the sensitive data they transfer.

An API is an interface that defines how different software interacts. It controls the types of requests that occur between programs, how these requests are made, and the kinds of data formats that are used. APIs are used in Internet of Things (IoT) applications and on websites. They often gather and process data or allow the user to input information that gets processed within the environment housing the API.

For example, there is an API that runs Google Maps. A web designer can embed Google Maps into a page they are building. When the user uses Google Maps, they are not using code the web designer wrote piece by piece, but they are simply using a prewritten API provided by Google. API security covers the APIs you own, as well as the ones you use indirectly.

api security

Why is it important?

API has become essential to modern software development, allowing different software applications to communicate and share data. However, this increased connectivity also poses significant security challenges. APIs can be vulnerable to attacks from malicious actors seeking to exploit them for their own purposes. This has led to a growing focus on API security in recent years, driven by several key factors:

Digital Transformation

More and more businesses are moving their operations online and embracing digital technologies. They increasingly rely on APIs to integrate different systems and services. However, this also means sensitive data is transmitted through APIs, creating potential security risks.

Cloud Computing

Cloud-based applications and services rely heavily on APIs to exchange data and interact with each other. Any security vulnerabilities in these APIs can have far-reaching consequences.

Easy to Bypass Security Measures

API vulnerabilities and security weaknesses are unique, and so are the security risks. Organizations often rely on security solutions built for web apps to detect and secure from API threats. Such solutions cannot detect unique vulnerabilities and gaps in APIs. So, attackers can effortlessly exploit APIs by bypassing security measures.

How does it work?

While authentication and permission are the primary tools APIs use to function, they can be built with additional security to make them less susceptible to intrusions from outside sources.

The following are some features and functionality of API security:

  • Authentication. API security relies heavily on authentication, as it’s the first step that verifies the client application possesses a safe identity and is allowed to use the API.
  • Authorization. Authorization is a subsequent step that involves determining what data and actions an authenticated application can access while interacting with the API.
  • Reduction of vulnerability attacks. In addition to properly implementing a secure authentication and authorization system, APIs should be developed with other protective features to reduce the system’s vulnerability to security threats during API calls.
  • Collection of input. The API developer is responsible for ensuring their constructed API successfully validates all input from users collected during calls.
  • Defense from attacks. Using prepared statements with bind variables is one of the most effective ways to shield an API from SQL injection. The language used to write the API frequently contains functionality that can assist in this security measure.
  • Cleaning of the user input. XSS can be feasibly dealt with by cleaning the user input from the API call. By cleaning the input, Hypertext Markup Language and JavaScript tags are erased, and potential XSS vulnerabilities are minimized.
  • Throttling. Throttling enables the management and limitation of a client’s access to data. It measures irregularities in a client’s use of the API and creates an extra layer of security between the client and sensitive information.
  • Rate-limiting. Rate-limiting can mitigate denial of service (DoS) attacks on APIs. It entails limiting the number of requests that a user can make to an API at a time to reduce the attack surface.
  • Log monitoring. API security also involves monitoring API logs for suspicious activity, including attempts at unauthorized access.

api security

Approaches to API Security

One approach would be to use Web Application Firewalls (WAFs), which are designed to sit between a web application and the Internet. They inspect the traffic directed toward the web app and use their knowledge of how the web app works and common web app vulnerabilities to identify attempted exploitation of vulnerabilities within the web apps.

The other approach to web app security is the use of runtime application self-protection (RASP). RASP is deployed alongside or as part of a particular application. Using instrumentation and introspection, it achieves visibility into the inputs, outputs, and execution state of the application. Based on this insight, RASP is able to detect and prevent attempted exploitation of the web app. One bonus of this approach is that RASP can detect even novel and zero-day exploits because it looks for anomalous behavior by the web app – which any exploit would cause – rather than the signs of a known exploit.

Web APIs can benefit from both. Deploying network-level defenses weeds out the low-hanging fruit, while a more localized solution can prevent exploitation by more sophisticated or novel threats.

Improve your API security today

As one of the leading providers of API management and integration solutions in the world, Software AG understands the importance of implementing a high-quality API security strategy.

Software AG’s webMethods provides an API security solution that can integrate with other API security products to align with your organization’s cybersecurity strategy. The holistic approach to API management provided by webMethods makes it the ideal API security solution—no matter what other products you might be using.


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