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API Management Security: 6 Must Haves

Originally published by New Context.

“If you build it, he will come” is a notable line from the film Field of Dreams, starring Kevin Costner and James Earl Jones. “He” in this case is “Shoeless” Joe Jackson, who played for the Chicago White Sox in the early 1900s. As a result of the World Series scandal in 1919, during which Joe’s team was accused of throwing games, he was banned from the major leagues. It’s a film that offers memorable lessons, such as following your dreams even when you are the only one who believes in them, but also that even when you build something good, there may be unexpected pitfalls.

Attracting users to your products and services is the primary goal of most digital transformations. However, it is likely that you will also attract unauthorized users and attacks on your systems and resources unless you prioritize data security compliance during and after migration to the cloud. With the explosion of API utilization, targeting this data transport channel has become a prime activity of unscrupulous actors in cyberspace. Therefore, it is imperative that you adopt a security-focused approach to API management.

Creating an effective API management security solution requires essential attributes, which we discuss in this article after first explaining the challenge of simultaneously providing and blocking access to users.

Controlling User Access to APIs

Over the last few years, several major corporations have experienced major breaches of their applications. These include McDonald’s, T-Mobile, Facebook, and Instagram. They were all avoidable and they should serve as a reminder that in order to utilize and take advantage of the many opportunities to improve the UX for customers, enterprises today must employ API management best practices to guard against threats. This means acquiring and utilizing cybersecurity intelligence. Achieving this feat can be quite complicated, as it involves two opposing functionalities: accessibility and inaccessibility.

User API Accessibility and Inaccessibility

API accessibility is the allowing of users to interact with or extract information or data from an API. APIs are classified according to who has access:

  • Public: Open APIs are made available to the general public (usually free, but may require a usage subscription), which promotes the creation of add-ons by third party developers to increase API usage and functionality.
  • Private: Only available to company developers.
     
  • Partner: Typically, only available to registered users to enable dedicated interactions.

As APIs expose system resources to users, access has to be restricted. The degree to which an API is inaccessible and for whom access is denied is based on its classification. Access may be necessary to some objects, but not all. An effective way to manage this type of varying access is by using an access protocol standard such as OAuth. OAuth enables federated application access without the need for a password that may be used to compromise additional data and information.

One of the most common threats to user accessibility are “denial of service” or DoS attacks. The purpose of these attacks is not to access sensitive information, but rather to disrupt or halt the ability of authenticated users from using your services by overwhelming your system or crashing it, respectively. The impact of these events can be significant in terms of workflow interruption, revenue impacts, and user dissatisfaction. To prevent these events and others, it is imperative that you make security a primary focus of your API architecture and management.

Essentials for Your API Management Security Solution

APIs are the gateways for optimization of the UX; however, there are bad actors that seek to utilize private and partner APIs to access Personally Identifiable Information (PII) of your customers and/or privileged organizational data. To help guard against these events, your API management must possess the following essential attributes:

  1. Security vulnerability intelligence
     
  2. Capable of detecting and mitigating threats quickly
     
  3. Ability to authenticate and authorize users
     
  4. Ability to access user data while maintaining privacy
     
  5. Produce accurate and detailed analytics
     
  6. Incorporate DevSecOps patterns

In most cases, the best way for you to check off the list of API management security must-haves listed above is to partner with a digital transformation consulting expert that not only understands the cyberthreats that your enterprise faces, but has experience in employing the best DevSecOps techniques and tools to mitigate them.