The Key to Overhauling Your API Security Protocols in 2023

4 min read Michael Carroll on Oct 3, 2023

According to a Gartner report, application programming interfaces (APIs) will become the leading attack vector in 2023. As companies continue to move more of their operations to the cloud and more information transfers into APIs, there will be a big surge in API-based attacks. 

In fact, the State of API Security Report Q3 2022 shows a 117% rise in malicious API traffic in the past 12 months. The study further reveals that 94% of businesses running production APIs have faced security problems. However, most businesses are not prepared to tackle these challenges, with over 82% believing the tools they have in place can't effectively prevent API attacks.

Today, app developers must deal with a litany of security issues that can emerge throughout the development lifecycle, especially when using third-party APIs. These include cyberattacks and unreliable third-party security protocols integrated into their feature sets. One of the biggest concerns for app developers is finding ways to secure typically insecure software architectures. What best practices should they implement to ensure safe usage of APIs? 

Let’s delve into the biggest security challenges facing APIs and propose a framework of solutions for combating these vulnerabilities.

Emerging API security challenges

About 55% of worldwide businesses use third-party APIs to improve their revenue. Although using third-party APIs offers several advantages, it can also pose a myriad of security challenges for app developers. These include:

1. Shadow APIs

A big threat challenging API security is shadow APIs, which are unmanaged and untracked third-party APIs most app developers use. In fact, some developers may not even know such APIs exist. According to Cequence Security, about 31% of malicious transactions from January 2022 to June 2022 targeted shadow APIs. This translates into roughly 5 billion of 16.7 billion transactions.

2. Data breaches and malware

Around 51% of companies have experienced a data breach caused by malicious third-party APIs. As third-party APIs can access sensitive data, they increase security risks such as data breaches. Malicious APIs can be infected by malware, corrupting an entire project and causing other far-reaching complications. 

Ideally, APIs are designed to streamline cloud computing processes. However, when left unsecured, they can open lines of communication that allow hackers to exploit sensitive information.

How to tackle these challenges

Here are a few best practices to help app developers ensure API security in 2023:

1. Use APIs that adhere to standards

Using third-party APIs allows developers to benefit from a ready-made solution without having to develop their own software for the same purposes. However, it's important to work with only those API providers that adhere to specific predefined API standards, such as the OpenAPI Specification (OAS) standard. 

Complying with such an international standard ensures that the API is safe to use for app development.

2. Test the API

Before integrating any third-party APIs into your application, carry out beta testing to determine how an API will perform in comparison to others. Based on the outcome, classify APIs according to their impact level, i.e., the level of access and control an API needs in order to perform. The more access to your organizational assets an API requires, the more level of impact or threat it poses.

3. Adopt strict authentication methods

The next best practice is to adopt strict API authentication methods, as verifying users’ identities is vital to avoiding API misuse. For better API security, you should verify user authenticity before granting them access to the stored data. Likewise, you should only allow authenticated users to view or edit API resources. 

For better access control, consider keeping APIs behind a firewall, API gateway, or web application firewall. Only allow access through a secure protocol, like Hypertext Transfer Protocol Secure (HTTPS). This will help provide baseline protection, such as scanning for injection-based attacks and signature-based threats.

4. Perform an API audit

Often, APIs have access to sensitive data, which makes them vulnerable to third-party risks, such as different kinds of injection, server-side request forgery, unsafe deserialization, and libraries with known vulnerabilities. Therefore, developers should evaluate the use of current APIs and the type of data they have access to. Protecting sensitive information and avoiding data breaches from third-party intrusion should be of highest priority when using APIs.

A thorough API audit will help developers identify all systems and information affected if an API is compromised. Using the insights, create a treatment plan and the controls necessary to lower any risks to an acceptable level. Also, record all review dates and repeat audits whenever new risks appear or the API is modified. 

5. Focus on cross-functional collaboration

App developers should work more closely with chief information security officers (CISOs) and chief product officers (CPOs), as these professionals are often more familiar with the most recent cybersecurity threats. They can help developers address those threats in their solutions. 

For instance, together, they can devise and adopt an approach that accounts for vulnerabilities between cloud-native and legacy application environments. Pairing developers with CISOs and CPOs results in efficiency gains, lower risks, and cultural benefits.

6. Maintain an API registry

When using third-party APIs, make sure that you record all APIs in a registry to define characteristics like their names, access, usage, payloads, live date, and owner. The registry should also have links to the document or manual that includes all technical API requirements, such as functions, classes, arguments, return types, and integration processes. 

Maintaining an API registry will help you prevent shadow APIs that you may have forgotten or failed to document. It will also help you fulfill compliance and audit requirements and support forensic analysis if a security incident occurs.

Partner with a Security-Conscious Solution

If you are building an app or software that requires third-party APIs, it's best to work with a solution that understands the importance of maintaining strict security standards when building apps. 

PubNub is a real-time communication platform optimized for maximum performance. It empowers developers to develop, deliver, and manage real-time interactivity for mobile applications, web applications, and IoT devices. 

Whether your clients need an in-game or in-app chat, multi-user collaboration, live audience engagement, or any other kind of real-time functionality, you can bring it to life in minutes with our suite of purpose-built real-time APIs, solution kits, software development kits (SDKs), and integrations.

Sign up for a free trial or contact our sales team to discuss your project.