Developers and designers create applications that aim to provide the best possible functionality. These applications may also include internationalization (i18n), localization, and internationalization. Developers may choose not to include security measures or business logic in their applications because it's unnecessary for the platform. However, many security measures are left unchecked because the business requirements cannot justify them. Security professionals and developers must work together to build secure applications resistant to the most common attacks. Any API vulnerability, no matter how big or small can pose a massive security risk. A DDoS attack and the leaking of sensitive information are just a few of the disastrous results of a successful API attack. As API traffic continually increases, so does the need for securing APIs.
This post covers the eight API security best practices that your organization needs to implement to properly secure your APIs.
API Security Best Practices
Before implementing an API, the system's security must be built into the design and implementation. You should do this in a way that's consistent with best practices. Proper security measures can help prevent unauthorized access to an organization's data and services.
Below are the eight best practices when securing an API.
Prioritization of security
Strong authentication and authorization
Swagger & OpenAPI
Prioritization of Security
The first step when protecting your business from cyberattacks is prioritizing security over other aspects of development like time to market or expansion. Investing more time in identifying vulnerabilities before an attack protects you from a breach and reduces the operational cost of fixing it afterward.
Strong Authentication and Authorization
When developing an API, your application should use a mechanism to authenticate users and ensure they're authorized to access the requested data. One of the easiest ways to introduce robust authentication and authorization to your APIs is through an API management platform. Many different API management platforms exist, with each of them supporting different authentication and authorization mechanisms. API management can also offer other benefits beyond security as well. For instance, when a user tries to sign in to your application, they'll provide their username and password on the login page and click 'Login.' This will trigger an API call from your application server to the user information service, which can be stored in a database or somewhere else entirely to validate whether the username and password provided by the client are valid. The response from this API request should include an access token that the client should store for later use. There are many ways to store this token and ensure you allow the user to access the data, including storing it on their local machine for convenience or with a third-party service. Click here for more information about authorization.
Encryption helps protect your data from unauthorized access. The most common type of encryption is symmetric encryption, which uses a single key to encrypt and decrypt data. This type of encryption is relatively weak because it's easy for attackers to crack. The attacker can decrypt the encrypted data using a similar encryption key. Asymmetric encryption is a more potent type of encryption, which uses two keys: a public key that anyone can use and a private key that only the owner can use. This type of encryption is more secure since the private key is not easily accessible. This is the best practice when encrypting data in transit to prevent unauthorized access and ensure that sensitive information remains confidential.
Another essential security best practice is ensuring you encrypt all data accessed by your API before sending it to the server and storing it on your database. Properly configuring your service and performing proper error handling can also help with protecting data from unauthorized access.
Managing data from an API can be tricky if you're using APIs, depending on the user's method, such as when a customer wants to update their order through an API or a web browser. When the API communicates with a user, another layer of security should prevent an attacker from taking advantage of the API to impersonate a user and manipulate data. One way to do this is to introduce an API gateway between your client and your server as an additional layer of protection. This specific type of API acts as a proxy between the client and server, separating the API from other applications so you can change them without affecting other systems. Many of the security best practices discussed in this article can be directly implemented through an API gateway or API management platform.
By introducing rate limiting to your API endpoint, you control the number of requests allowed per second and IP address restrictions to ensure that the client devices connecting to your API are valid. Rate limiting is a best security practice that can prevent brute force attacks and DoS attacks.
This pattern will ensure that your APIs can adequately scale and handle large amounts of data while preventing unauthorized access and ensuring data remains confidential. It will also allow your APIs to support many users without overwhelming your servers.
To prevent unauthorized access and ensure you correctly handle errors, log all API requests so they cannot be altered or manipulated. The logs should provide secure storage for the data, preventing unauthorized access and protecting against the conversion of data into executable code that could be used for malicious purposes.
Security testing is software testing that, as the name implies, checks for potential vulnerabilities. The main goal of API security testing is to identify any flaws that hackers could exploit and cause harm to data and users. This can involve checking for malicious code, potential loopholes, and backdoors.
Below are the different security types.
SCA stands for static code analysis, which scans through the source code with pre-compiled versions of applications that are often not executable on the target machine.
SAST, or static application security testing, will examine source code or compiled code where you use IAST, or insecure application security testing, with dynamic analysis techniques such as fuzzing to find bugs or errors in web applications.
DAST refers to dynamic application security testing. It uses monitoring tools to generate a model of the tested application and then runs the application's logic against this compiled model to find security problems. You execute the code without a target system, however. Fuzzing may produce false positives, but you can use it as an initial first check.
SAST testing can be time-consuming, depending on the size and quality of the source code or compiled code base. Still, it can uncover vulnerabilities that other types of security testing cannot. SAST is typically based on vulnerability patterns and known attack vectors.
DAST, IAST, and SCA are a few examples of security testing. It's also necessary to test applications you might deploy into production sooner rather than later.
Swagger and OpenAPI
Two tools that can help improve the security of an API are OpenAPI and Swagger. These tools can create and manage specifications for an API. Having the proper documentation and security measures can help prevent unauthorized access to an organization's data and services.
One of the essential advantages of using OpenAPI and Swagger is that they ensure you properly document the API specifications. They can also help you improve communication between the security and development teams. They can additionally make it easier for organizations to identify and prevent security vulnerabilities in their APIs.
Security is one of the paramount aspects of any company or organization. Adopting these API security best practices in your development lifecycle is the best way to ensure your company remains secure. Implementing these practices can be one of the best ways to guard your organization against the vulnerabilities outlined in the OWASP API Security Top 10. However, you need tools in your arsenal to reinforce that. Tools like StackHawk can test your API for any vulnerabilities, and thanks to its triage mechanisms, you can automate your application's security.
Read on to see how StackHawk’s CSO, Scott Gerlach talks about “Shift Left” being more than just a buzzword here.
Check out why Omdia’s On the Radar report highlights StackHawk as an “interesting alternative to most other DAST tools” here.
Getting started with StackHawk? Check out Advice and Answers from the amazing StackHawk team here.