What is an API Security? (The Complete Guide for 2023)

by | Dec 8, 2022

What is API Security? (Best API Security practices in 2023)

The first quarter of 2022 saw a 286% increase in API exploitations, which continued to rise throughout the year. Gartner predicted API security exploitations to be one of the biggest threats 2022 would face and it has proved right. Distancing our technology from API is not a choice in a world where API is the foundational innovation that drives the development and survival of most applications and microservices. Therefore, we must enhance the application programming interface security since they are very vulnerable to attacks.  This blog comprehensively aims to elaborate on What is API security and its importance and lists down the top 10 best practices to answer the most relevant question in recent years, which is How to secure APIs.

What is an API Security?

API security is the application of best security practices in the API process and architecture to reduce threats of exposing sensitive data, application logic, or Personal Identification Information PII.

An effective Application programming interface security implementation will be capable of avoiding cyber-attacks. They ensure all requests to the APIs are from valid and trustworthy sources. Moreover, a secured API will be able to protect its responses from sensitive data theft, exploitations, and modifications.

How does API Security work?

API Security works by implementing various security measures to protect APIs from attacks. Some common security measures include authentication, authorization, encryption, and rate limiting.

Authentication: Authentication verifies that the users or applications accessing the API are legitimate and authorized. This is typically done through a token-based authentication process, where the user or application is issued a token that expires after a set period.

Authorization: Authorization controls what the user or application can access and ensures that they only have access to data or services that they are authorized to view or use.

Encryption: Encryption protects data in transit by encrypting the data sent between the client and the server so that it cannot be intercepted by malicious actors.

Rate Limiting: Rate limiting limits the number of API requests that can be made in a specific time interval to prevent abuse of the API.

Importance of API Security

API Security is important for several reasons:

  • Protects sensitive data: APIs often handle sensitive data, such as personal information and financial records. Proper API Security ensures that this information remains secure and protected.
  • Maintains business continuity: API Security ensures that applications and services continue to operate without interruption, which is important for maintaining business continuity.
  • Affects reputation and brand image: A security breach can damage an organization’s reputation and brand image, causing long-term harm to the business.

Types of API Security Risks and How to Mitigate Them?

API security risks threatens the functionality and integrity of sensitive data of API systems. Therefore to mitigate these risks, it is crucial to implement robust security measures that safeguard against potential threats. Here are some of the important API security risks that you need to watch out for :

Injection attacks 

Malicious code is inserted in API and is executed by the system. 

Input validation, sanitization, and the use of prepared statements can mitigate this.


Broken Authentication

Weakness in authentication or session management is exploited by the attacker to gain access to API.

However, strong authentication methods like multi-factor authentication and proper management of session tokens can mitigate this.


Misconfigured Security Settings

The threat arises when API is not configured with proper security settings.

Therefore, regular security assessments and proper configuration of all security settings can mitigate this.


Sensitive Data Leakage

This happens when sensitive information such as credentials and financial data s exposed by an API.

Good encryption, access control, and proper data handling can mitigate this.

DDoS Attacks

The attacker floods the API with a large number of requests, making the system overwhelmed and available for more requests.

Therefore, ensuring the use of DDoS protection services and implementing rate limiting can mitigate this.


Brocken Access Controls

Attack gets unauthorized access to resources or performs functions. 

Using access controls and applying the principle of least privilege can mitigate this.


Improper Error Handling

This happens when API does not properly handle errors which open gaps for vulnerabilities to occur and reveal sensitive data.

Proper error handling and logging can mitigate this.


Insecure Communication

This happens when API’s communication is not properly secure and gives an opportunity for eavesdropping and tampering.


Unvalidated Inputs

This API security threat occurs when the API does not properly validate input, which leaves it open to injection attacks and other types of exploitation.

Input validation and sanitization can mitigate this.


Lack of security testing

This occurs when API security testing is not done properly, which leaves it open to attacks.

Regular security testing, including penetration testing and vulnerability scanning, can mitigate this.

Also, Read more about  Top API Security Risks here

Top 5 Best Practices for securing your APIs

An API security breach is one of the main reasons for data breaches in recent years. What sort of API security you need to implement shall depend on the nature of communication transfer through the API. The core principle in how to secure an API is to empower API endpoints with threat prevention methods following tough authentication and authorization rules. There also needs an emphasis on the organization and system-wide application of the Zero Trust principle. And address all unusual behavior with skepticism and attention.

Many hackers nowadays find the best opportunities out of exploiting APIs. Therefore we must secure APIs by implementing API security best practices. Some of these are as follows 

1. Issue Tokens and Use OAuth Server to issue tokens

  • Use the OAuth server to issue tokens: It is best advised only to let centralized OAuth servers issue Tokens. OAuth server can efficiently analyze client information, verify the credentials used for signing and perform other complicated operations that validate the legitimacy of the clients or data entering the API endpoints.

  • Use Tokens to confirm identities: Establish a token so that you can confirm identities and authorize access to data and resources only to those strictly identified through tokens.

  • Only Use JSON Web Tokens (JWTs) internally: Using JSON Web Tokens (JWTs) internally as refresh and access tokens is a good practice for making informed business decisions. But if data is exposed outside an organization’s infrastructure do not use JWTs as it is easily decoded.

  • Do not relax in providing easy access or refresh tokens to enter the API:: Do not configure your API in such a way that it provides easy access or refreshes tokens. Issuing tokens needs to be strictly verified and should not leave opportunities for exploitation.


2. Use Advanced Encryptions 

Using security technologies like Transport Layer Security TLS can encrypt data in transit. This can ensure that sensitive data would have additional safety boundaries from third-party malicious penetration.

All communications and data transfer needs to be cipher texted for both one-way and mutual encryption. Also, enable 2-factor authentication and apply encryption to more systems like API keys. This can merit an extra level of security. 


3. Continuously Monitor the security of your API

Do not ever take application programming interface security for granted. Having no records of a security breach for your APIs does not mean security is robust in your API system. Therefore, monitor and validate everything your API accepts and rejects any data that is too big or unusual in its behavior.

Moreover, employ highly skilled API security professionals to continuously audit and review APIs that process large quantities of data and complicated authentication processes.

Also, implement threat modeling and other security methods throughout the life of an API as it interfaces with different applications and systems. Looking out for sniffer vulnerabilities and tracking data thefts all along is always important and should be a continuous and never-ending audit.

Also, read What is Threat Modeling and How does it help 


4. Facilitate API Gateways

A good API Gateway can restrict unwanted traffic and exploitative entry into the API and its resources. Therefore it’s good for API security to have an API gateway. This allows only verified traffic to get through the API.


5. Implement a Trust No one policy

Implement a trust no-one policy in the API configurations that ensure that the API does not go easy on the entry of any incoming traffic. Also,  using HTTP for all incoming traffic can go in hand with implementing a no-trust policy. Verifying incoming JWT transformed from an opaque token is also important. To summarise, Do not trust incoming data or communication through the API blindly.


Importance of API Security

Not keeping the APIs secure can expose them to DoS attacks, and sensitive data breaches. Besides, attackers can inject malicious codes and make APIs perform in ways we do not intend in the first place. Here are more reasons why API security is important.

The opportunity for Threats from Multiple Endpoints

Unlike traditional networks, APIs have to deal with multiple ports or endpoints that adhere to different protocols. Also, the existence of gaps for vulnerabilities in the API architecture increases the need and importance of API security.

Risk evolving from frequent API changes

There is always a need for APIs to evolve with the constantly changing DevOps environment. When the scope and architecture of API change, so do the opportunities for malicious intrusions. Therefore it is important that the security of APIs is constantly measured and ensured while APIs go through each of their changes.

Not every access to an API comes from a web browser

Since most users do not always use browsers, it is hard to detect malicious entries and avoid threats through web security tools and browser verification methods. This demands innovative methods and practices to be followed in API security to remove vulnerabilities and threats.


Application Programming Interfaces are open to attacks in many ways and the opportunity for vulnerabilities is immense in the API architecture. This makes ensuring the security of APIs very important. There are many practices that if followed can guarantee the security of APIs as discussed above. Therefore, if you are on your way to expanding the scope and scale of your API integration you need to understand the solid resources, skills, and practices that can ensure the safety of your APIs from external threats and exploitations



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