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What You Need to know about API security

API Security

When people talk about complex, interconnected ecosystems, they’re really talking about how applications share data and communicate with each other. Like the air-lock on a spaceship lets people pass between physical environments, Application Programming Interfaces (APIs) enable data to pass between digital environments. However, since APIs act as access points between applications, they create potential security risks.


By understanding API security, you can implement protections that mitigate data breach risks.


What is API security?

API security is the set of controls and processes that protect organization-owned and external APIs that an organization uses to ensure sensitive data travels safely between applications. Since APIs are the point of communication between different pieces of software, threat actors seek to exploit vulnerabilities so that they can steal the data.


An API gateway sits between the client and the services, creating a centralized location for implementing security policies that enforce basic controls like:


What are API vulnerabilities?

API vulnerabilities are the security weaknesses that malicious actors can exploit during an attack to gain unauthorized access to data, manipulate it, or disrupt how a system functions. Some API vulnerabilities include:


Attackers exploit these vulnerabilities as part of:


Why is API security important?

As more companies rely on web-based applications to achieve business objectives, API security becomes more important. Sensitive data transfers via API create risks when threat actors can gain unauthorized access to the data. Since APIs act as the digital entrance to an application, mitigating risks arising from API vulnerabilities and misconfigurations is critical to:


What is the difference between API security and application security?

While API security focuses on the interface between applications, application security considers the layers and components within the application.


API security handles data transmission between systems, enforcing access controls and authentication mechanisms.


Application security aims to protect the data within the application and its infrastructure by addressing vulnerabilities and risks, like:


Attack vector

API security takes a technology-centric approach by securing the communication point between software systems. To protect the resources and data exchanged between applications, it ensures that only authorized and authenticated systems can access and interact with the API.


Application security takes a user-centric approach, focusing on end-users who interact directly with the technology by:



The difference in scope and attack vector lead to a different set of tools for each initiative.


The tools that enable API security include:


The tools that enable application security include:


9 API security best practices


While API security is challenging, you can take some steps to secure your APIs and application ecosystem.


1.   Identify and inventory APIs

As with other digital assets, you need to know the APIs that connect to your systems. When identifying and inventorying APIs, you should collect API:


2.   Engage in a risk assessment

To proactively secure your APIs, you need to understand your risk profile. As part of this process, you should consider:


3.   Validate data

Data validation is critical to mitigating injection attack risks. You should verify that the data users input is the expected:

Additionally, you should ensure that any data users submit satisfies the API’s requirements or conditions.


4.   Implement Strong Authentication and Authorization


Authentication and authorization for APIs is different from your user IAM processes. Since APIs include digital and human access, validation and authentication becomes more challenging. Client-side applications typically include a token in the API call that validates the client. Some standards that enable you to authenticate API traffic and define access control include:


5.   Encrypt data-in-transit


When securing API communication channels, data encryption prevents attackers from reading or using any data. To protect data-in-transit as it moves between applications, you should use Transport Layer Security (TLS) or Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) protocols.


6.   Limit access appropriately

To prevent unauthorized access or misuse of API endpoints, you should implement the principle of least privilege granting only the access people need to carry out their job functions. Some best practices for APIs include:


7.   Implement quotas and throttling


Throttling and quotas help prevent malicious actors from abusing APIs or gaining unauthorized access.  With throttling, you regulate the incoming request flow to mitigate risks arising from excessive usage. By setting a maximum request rate, you prevent high incoming traffic volumes from overwhelming APIs. These activities protect against brute force and DoS attacks.


By implementing quotas, you manage resources and prevent abuse by limiting:


With quotas, you gain visibility into how users and applications interact with resources. Once you set baselines, you can identify anomalous use that may indicate an attack.


8.   Secure API keys

The keys authenticate and authorize access to APIs, so protecting them is critical. Some ways to secure your APIs keys include:


9.   Continuously monitor API activity


With API logging and monitoring, you gain visibility into the behavior and usage. After identifying baseline norms, you can monitor API traffic and behaviors to detect anomalies and suspicious activities indicating potential security issues.


Some best practices for API logging and monitoring include:


Graylog Security: Centralized API logging and monitoring


Built on the Graylog platform, Graylog Security provides the functionality of a security incident and event management (SIEM) without the complexity and cost. With our Security Analytics, Incident Investigation, and Anomaly Detection capabilities, you can implement the API monitoring that protects your organization’s complex application environment. With our out-of-the-box cybersecurity focused content, you can get the actionable API insights you need faster while reducing your alert fatigue with our high-fidelity alerts.


To see how Graylog Security can help you uplevel your security, contact us today.

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