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Which Are the Best Practices For Securing APIs?

APIs play an essential role in the modern enterprise, and their value will continue to grow as new applications, and IoT devices are created. APIs make integrations and connecting ecosystems much easier for developers, which has added benefits for enterprises and their customers. But with a growing number of smaller application “pieces” trying to communicate with each other, APIs (your own and those from third parties) are becoming increasingly challenging to secure.

For that reason, organizations should, use a layered security approach that includes security controls such as authentication, authorization, encryption, denial-of-service protection, and ongoing monitoring. This layered approach combines several methods to protect your APIs. While each individual approach within this multi-layered approach covers a specific focus area, the unified effect increases the chances of stopping API breaches. But before presenting some API security best practices, let us introduce the main API security issues that can put your business assets at a risk. Negligence with API security can cause massive repercussions, especially if the application’s user base is too high.

Top security issues in APIs:

  • Broken Object Level Authorization

APIs tend to expose endpoints that handle object identifiers, creating a wide attack surface Level Access Control issue. Object level authorization checks should be considered in every function that accesses a data source using an input from the user.

  • Broken User Authentication

Attackers often compromise authentication tokens or implementation flaws to assume other user’s identities temporarily or permanently due to incorrect implementation of authentication mechanisms. Compromising a system’s ability to identify the client/user, compromises API security overall.

  • Excessive Data Exposure

Looking forward to generic implementations, developers tend to expose all object properties without considering their individual sensitivity, relying on clients to perform the data filtering before displaying it to the user.

  • Lack of Resources & Rate Limiting

In most cases, APIs do not impose any restrictions on the size or number of resources that can be requested by the client/user. This can impact the API server performance, leading to Denial of Service (DoS), and also leave the door open to authentication flaws such as brute force.

  • Insufficient Logging & Monitoring

Insufficient logging and monitoring, coupled with missing or ineffective integration with incident response, allows attackers to further attack systems, maintain persistence, pivot to more systems to tamper with, extract, or destroy data.

As said above, the most critical API risks are data overexposure, lack of resources, no security configuration, insecure user-level authorization, and broken objects. Clearly, it is essential to ensure the security of the API so that application user data remains safe and the application is secure and trustworthy.

Here are eight best practices to ensure APIs are shielded and do not lead to critical security exposures.

1. Identify vulnerabilities

The only way to effectively secure APIs is to know which parts of the API lifecycle are insecure. Of course, that’s easier said than done, especially as the organization’s use of APIs scales. It is important to consider the whole API lifecycle, since APIs need to be considered software artifacts on their own and, as such, must follow a complete lifecycle, including maintenance and retirement.

2. Use strong Authentication and Authorization

Many publicly available APIs have a major issue of zero or insignificant authentication and authorization. Many APIs are the entrance to the database of the organization, so it is essential to strictly control the authentication and authorization so that the database is not exposed. Poor or non-existent authentication and authorization are major issues with many publicly available APIs. For authentication, developers can use a powerful token-based tool known as OAuth. It is a framework that authorizes the information to be shared with a third party without disclosing the user credentials.

3. Identify vulnerabilities in the API

To make an API effective against security threats, it is essential to know which parts of the API cycle are insecure and vulnerable to security risks. It might be pretty challenging to comprehend this, as a software organization might use thousands of APIs at a time. The best way to identify a vulnerability is by rigorous testing. The vulnerabilities must be identified in the initial development phase so that rectifying them becomes comparatively easy and quick.

4. Don’t expose more data than necessary

Some APIs reveal far too much information, whether it’s the volume of extraneous data that’s returned through the API or information that reveals too much about the API endpoint. This typically occurs when an API leaves the task of filtering data to the user interface instead of the endpoint. Ensure that APIs only return as much information as is necessary to fulfill their function. In addition, enforce data access controls at the API level, monitor data, and obfuscate if the response contains confidential data.

5. Encrypt data

This cannot be stated more strongly or more often: All data, especially personally identifiable data, should be encrypted using a method such as Transport Layer Security (TLS). Developers should also require signatures to ensure that only authorized users are decrypting and modifying data.

6. Use an API gateway

API gateways act as the major point of enforcement for API traffic. A good gateway will allow organizations to authenticate traffic, as well as to control and analyze how APIs are used.

7. Adopt a zero-trust philosophy

In the perimeter security model, what’s “inside” is trusted and what’s “outside” is not trusted. The network is not that simple anymore, which is why a zero-trust model makes sense, especially with remote users. With a ZTM, the security focus shifts from location to specific users, assets, and resources.

8. Use Tokens

Access tokens allow an application to access your API. Once the authentication and authorization process is completed, an access token is provided. Tokens enable you to create trusted identities and assign tokens to those identities to control access to the API.

As mentioned before, APIs have become an integral element in creating modern applications, especially for smartphones and modern IoT devices. Since using an API means pulling the information from the outside source to your application, it poses a significant security risk. Too often, APIs are developed with the functionalities in mind, not the security, that’s why organizations must take API protection more seriously and dedicate effort to ensure end-to-end security.

Why APIs Are So Valuable in the Digital Transformation

Digital transformation is a great opportunity for the businesses to replace the old models with modernized ones, helping them conquer new global markets. Keeping efficiency, productivity and agility with the help of such digital strategies has become critical for all kinds of organizations. That’s a reason to say that an essential aspect of digital transformation is the use of Application Programming Interfaces (APIs). In this article, we’ll explain the core advantages of APIs which contribute for the better business processes and progress.

What is actually API?

As Gartner says – APIs are the basis of every digital strategy. An API defines in what way the software components interact with one another, what data format is used, allowable usage and other parameters. Two of the most common use cases are data and functionality sharing. For example, OAuth provides websites with a way to encourage users sign-up without making them go through a registration process.

According to Axway, APIs are a simple concept: they connect data to create new digital experiences. Basically, APIs allow you to integrate systems and devices – both internally and externally. This is a key element of any digital transformation. For example: you can reach customers based on their location, collect data to improve your services, and perform real-time updates. You can create new combinations of seemingly incompatible devices, such as water heaters, thermostats, and smart phones, and turn them into brand new products, services, and data sources. Those appliances by themselves do not communicate, and this this is where APIs act as the mechanism to facilitate data interactions.

The role of API in the Digital transformation:

APIs are critical to any digital transformation. They can change the entire process of creation new business models. By using APIs there is much more agile development process. Besides, there is more speed, more flexibility and more backend services. What’s important for a business is not simply having a good idea. What is critical, is how agilely the company can adapt that service to changing consumer preferences. A new service can change as it is being developed, and it can change even after it is in the market, thanks to APIs.

We like to talk about APIs in plural, because you can do great things when you integrate several. With connected APIs, you can automate processes, and reduce labour intensive which results in speed and convenience.

The great thing about APIs is that they can be published to a community of external developers. Public transportation companies, for example, can share their schedules with external parties (Google Maps, and many others) through an API, so that their own riders are ultimately better served. Technically, this information can be combined with other information that is accessible through APIs, about restaurants, weather, sport events, and museums to create entirely new value added services. Security is an important consideration, as not everybody and everything should be able to access all APIs. Thanks to solid Identity and Access policies, your enterprise internal systems and processes can be fully safe and secure.

When connected to devices, APIs can produce valuable data streams that you want to be stored, in a way that they are easily accessible and transportable. Storing your data in the cloud will relieve your staff from having to manage basic infrastructure.

The use of API also creates seamless user experience for your customers. It makes it possible for your services to be easily accessible on channels that your customers usually interact with, including Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, chatbots, virtual reality or anything with an interface. The API management solution makes your APIs highly visible and consumable and allows your customers to access your services anywhere and at any time.

The success of the digital transformation depends on continuous evolution. And the driving mechanism behind the continuous change is using a smart API strategy. Since software drives the progress of every business, APIs have become both engines of innovation and the source of competitive advantage, as well. They enable the business to offer new products, better customer experiences, and more efficient business processes.

If you are curious to get to know about a certain API use case, check out PATECCO previous article about FIM Query Service.

PATECCO Developed FIM Query Service Platform

PATECCO, which is specialized in Identity and Access Management consulting, developed a new platform – FIM Query Service, integrated with CA API Management tool. It provides the capabilities you need to bring systems together, to protect these integrated solutions, enhance customer experience, and unlock new business opportunities in the digital transformation.

FIM Query Service easily allows connectivity to a different source of information. That source could use the benefit of cache for recurring searches like Active Directory all information available to standard Xpath. Besides, the new tool provides a single entry point to the whole environment and this allows easy connectivity from third-party clients based on REST standard.

FIM Query Services Platform could be easily secured with third-party security gateways, resulting in better logging and improved GDPR compatibility.

In the integration processCA API Gateway toolacts as policy-driven identity and security enforcement points that can be implemented both in the enterprise and in the cloud to address a broad range of behind–the–firewall, SOA, B2B, API management and cloud security challenges.

The tool is designed to address multi-domain issues, especially the need to maintain trust when exchanging information with third parties. It also acts as Policy Enforcement Points (PEPs) located in the enterprise, allowing organizations to layer on key control and visibility capabilities for all third party interactions.

The integrated CA API Gateway provides OAUTH 2.0 to Windows Authentication for the production environment, so the services should be security compliant to the industry standards. In this way it ensures unparalleled flexibility in defining and enforcing identity-driven security policies, leveraging SSO session cookies, Kerberos tickets, SAML assertions and Public Key Infrastructure (PKI).

An advantage of the new platform is that it helps ensure enterprise application and infrastructure services are protected against malicious attacks or accidental damage due to poorly structured data. The tool provides not only protocol mediation and efficient data transformation, but also more traditional application-layer functionality such as caching and traffic throttling.

The other benefit of FIM Query Service is that it limits the number of no standard Clients to the database. This means that there is a lower number of locks for the tables resulting in better response time. The information, which is already searched, is available immediately from the cache.

The next advantage of FIM Query Service is that it phase out the lower level SQL language and replace it with standardizing REST based XPath. The verification and conversion between XPath and SQL are done by approved Microsoft Service and eliminates the need for knowing the internal database structure. This leads to future speedier updates.

PATECCO believes that APIs are the building blocks of digital transformation. Being successful today and asserting oneself on the market, requires the companies in every industry to make a fundamental change. This transformation process is not just about gradually introducing improvements, but also about developing core businesses to meet the needs of today’s connected world.