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What is API Security?

by Iwan Price-Evans on Security • June 8, 2022

API security is a subset of cybersecurity that refers to the security, vulnerability, access control, rate limits, and protection of an application programming interface (API).

What is an API?

An application programming interface (API) is a set of functions that allow software programs to communicate with each other. APIs are used in many different types of applications, including mobile apps, web services, and desktop software.

Learn more about APIs.

Why should I care about API security?

APIs are used by developers to build applications that interact with other systems. If these APIs aren’t secure, hackers can use them to gain unauthorized access to data or even take over the system. This means that any company using APIs needs to make sure that those APIs are protected against malicious attacks.

APIs are conduits to an enterprise's most valuable digital assets. With the increasing volume of APIs on the web, it's no surprise that in 2022 APIs have been projected to overtake Web Applications as the #1 attack vector (source: apisecurity.io). It is more critical than ever to have comprehensive protection for your APIs.

What does it mean when someone says they have “secure APIs?”

A secure API is one that has been designed so that only authorized users can access its functionality and only within prescribed limits. It also ensures that no unauthorized users can access the API without being detected.

What are some common API vulnerabilities?

The most critical API security risks surround the access controls to expose valuable data. APIs, by their nature, expose valuable data including sensitive information such as Personally Identifiable Information (PII). 

Application Logic could also be exposed unintentionally and create vulnerability vectors into your organization. Unauthorized or excessive access can result in data disclosure to unauthorized parties and access to malicious actors' data exploitation, data manipulation, or complete account takeover.

The OWASP API Security Project ranks the top 10 API security vulnerabilities. These include:

  • Broken Object Level Authorization
  • Broken User Authentication
  • Excessive Data Exposure
  • Lack of Resources & Rate Limiting

How can I secure an API?

An API gateway is essential to overcoming the API challenges of security and access, reliability and performance, and visibility and governance. The purpose of an API gateway is to provide a consumer-facing facade for hiding the many backend applications in your internal network.

An API gateway receives an API request and returns an answer, acting as a middle-man or "middleware" between an API consumer and one or many API services. API gateways handle common tasks across a system of API services, such as user authentication, rate limiting, real-time metrics, and more.

Without an API gateway, you would need to construct complicated routing rules and write custom code to handle all the various ways consumers and third-party systems might access your API. An API gateway makes accessing your APIs simple while also ensuring that they are secure, dependable, and consistent for all the ways consumed. 

An API Gateway will provide API security in the following ways:

  • Defend against Common and Specific API vulnerabilities. API Protection typically comes in the form of Web Application and API Protection (WAAP) Firewall, highly specialized tooling specifically designed to protect web applications and APIs.
  • Prevent unauthorized access while allowing only authorized users to gain access to the information they require, with metered and fair-use usage enforcement if necessary.
  • Facilitate secure internal communication between microservices in service mesh architectures.

Does Snapt provide an API Gateway?

Yes. Snapt Nova provides API gateway, load balancing, and web app & API security on-demand from a centralized controller. Snapt Nova protects against the OWASP Top 10 API vulnerabilities and provides API access control, rate limiting, Quality of Service, and more.