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Comprehensive Checklist for API Security

Comprehensive Checklist for API Security

Nowadays, many organizations go with developing decoupled applications which means having web application or business logic on one platform and presentation layer on another platform. This approach helps the development team to quickly revamp the website. Also, one backend can provide the data to multiple presentation layers e.g. website, Mobile App, Signages, etc.

This also generates a need to add a security layer, because the backend system is unknown to the end-user. To create or manage the contents and blocks, any backend system like CMS (Drupal, WordPress, etc.) or JAVA, .NET can be used. For the presentation layer, cutting-edge JS frameworks like Flutter, React, Angular, etc can be used.

This bridge between the Web Application layer & Presentation Layer is called the Application Programming Interface (APIs). APIs can be written to perform any CRUD operation and are easily accessible and/or reverse engineered. They play a central role in mobile apps and IoT. API development has increased astronomically in the past few years, fueled by digital transformation and the central role APIs play in both mobile apps and IoT. This growth is making API security a top concern. A typical API attack may include bypassing the client-side application in an attempt to disrupt the functioning of an application for other users or to breach private information.

What is API security?

API security is focused on securing the application layer and addressing what can happen if a malicious hacker were to interact with the API directly. It encompasses network security concepts such as rate limiting and throttling, as well as data security concepts like Access Control, Content Validation, and Monitoring and Analytics. An easy way to handle APIs is API Management Tools that are readily available in the market. These are nothing but platforms that help define and manage the usage of an API so that they can be utilized as and when required. These platforms keep APIs independent from the frontend as well as backend.

Some of the most common APIs are for Community, Blogging, Publishing, Advertising, or Aviation. For Community and Blogging APIs, all you need to do is to purchase a subscription to the management tool and that API will be available for use.

For example, Commission Detail API is available to both Advertisers and publishers to access real-time commission and item-detail data. Another example is the Aviation Edge Flight Tracker API that provides detailed data on live, airborne flights. The data is aggregated from our various data partners around the world and presented to our clients through Flight Radar API. Readymade REST API modules help Drupal to be known as CMF instead of only CMS.

How can a lack of API security be harmful -

  • External Database Access/Information sharing with the website visitors as its basic functions include connecting, fetching, and closing the access to the server as per the requirement.

  • Tasks that are helpful but not essential to the core of our business can be addressed by an API.

  • Protection from security-related vulnerabilities is an API-specific advantage.

  • The cross-platform applications are linked with each other using the API and automate their process communication to avoid manual interventions.

  • Extended ability to customize the user experience.

  • APIs allow the generated content to be shared and distributed more easily.

  • APIs allow content to be integrated from any site or application more easily.

  • Businesses use APIs to connect services and to transfer data. Broken, exposed, or hacked APIs are behind major data breaches. They expose sensitive medical, financial, and personal data for public consumption. That said, not all data is the same hence it should be protected in different ways. How we approach API security will depend on what kind of data is being transferred.

So to ensure secure use of APIs in a website, below basic security measures, should be taken.

Authentication security

  • Using an API key which is an Asymmetric key or Basic access authentication which is using Username and Password.

  • Max Retry and Jail Safety Mechanism, which means setting retries for authentication attempts and in case of failure, the user must be blocked for a certain amount of time.

Authorization security

  • Use tokens to store the user credentials in an encrypted format like OAuth and OpenID Connect. These are third-party tools that help manage multiple users and their credentials.

Encryption security

  • Use encryption for data during transmission and also when data is at rest. It can be one-way or two-way encryption. One-way encryption means only encryption but two-way means encryption as well as decryption.

Access security

  • Use HTTPS instead of HTTP.

  • Display as little information as possible in your API request answers, especially in error messages.

  • This may help in attacks like Spikes and Denial-of-Service (DoS). For such attacks, Throttles are used which indicate a temporary state and are used to control the data that users can access.

Input security

  • Use HTTP methods like GET, POST, PUT, and DELETE. Any operations that don’t match those methods should return 405 Method Not Allowed. This prevents users from accidentally (or intentionally) performing the wrong action by using the wrong method.

  • Validate the type of content being sent between the user and the server. If the content-type is not expected or supported, respond with 406 Not Acceptable.

  • Validate the user-submitted content for SQL injection, Remote Code Execution, and Cross-Site Scripting (XSS).

  • Remove unused dependencies, unnecessary features, components, files, and documentation.

  • Always check for trusted sources. Get the packages for your application with an authorized signature so that no malicious component is included in the package.

Data Processing security

  • Make sure that all endpoints with access to sensitive data require authentication.

  • Use universally unique identifiers (UUID) to identify resources.

  • Processing large amounts of data can prevent your API from responding promptly. Instead of forcing the client to wait, consider processing the data asynchronously.

  • Make sure your application is set to production mode before deployment. Running a debug API in production could result in performance issues, unintended operations such as test endpoints and backdoors, and expose data sensitive to your organization or development team.

Monitoring security

  • API Monitoring includes Auditing, Logging, and Version Control for all APIs and their components. This helps in the troubleshooting process when and if a problem occurs.

  • Make sure to use the experts for your applications. For any application, these experts are none other than Firewalls and Anti-virus software.

API Gateways

  • Use API Gateways to control API traffic, it's a reverse proxy to accept all API calls, aggregate the various services required to fulfill them, and return the appropriate result.

  • Set a Quota on the API calls count which means put limitations on the number of times an API is called.

  • The last step is a must. Keep the major resources like Operating Systems, the Internet Network being used, different Drivers, and API Components.
Although, web application security can not be foolproof and cannot be achieved 100%. Following the above-mentioned pointers can make sure that the security is achieved at a great level.

Why Clarion for API Testing

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