API Authentication Know-How: The What, Why, and How of Protecting Your API

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  Aug 23, 2023

API authentication: the what, why and how of protecting your api

  • In July 2022, Twitter, a famous social media platform reported a major API breach that exposed the data of 5.4 million users. - VentureBeat
  • In December 2021, FlexBooker, a digital schedule platform reported a DDoS attack that caused widespread network outages and allowed the attackers to steal data of 3.7 million users. - ZD Net

Looking at these numbers of API attacks, developers should start securing their APIs immediately, if they have not. With a massive increase in API usage, the need to protect APIs from malicious activities is bound to increase. Among various ways of securing APIs, authentication is considered a crucial one.

In this write-up, we will cover what we mean by API authentication, the benefits of API authentication, and various API authentication methods that will help in API security.

What is API Authentication?

The primary role of APIs is to help applications and servers communicate and share data. API authentication helps verify the identity of the system, application, or user that is trying to access the API. So, whenever a client application tries to call an API, the authentication process ensures that the user is actually who they claim to be.

Now the question arises, why do you need an API security solution in the first place?

Benefits of API Authentication

The basic goal of API authentication is to safeguard a web application from attackers who are on the lookout for even the slightest vulnerability.

Data Security: The primary feature of API authentication is that it only allows verified users to access the data. This way, sensitive data is protected from unauthorized users or applications.

By controlling access, verifying identities, and protecting credentials, API authentication prevents unauthorized access to sensitive data. This way the integrity and confidentiality of data are protected.

Data Privacy: Using API authentication, one can enforce access control. This will allow only specific users to access specific data by protecting sensitive data during transmission.

Data privacy is enhanced by controlling access, enabling user consent, and enabling user consent. This ensures that critical information of the user is protected from attackers.

Compliance and Regulatory Requirements: Organizations need to comply with various regulatory standards which are related to data privacy, access control, and security. Using API auth, organizations can meet these compliances and protect sensitive data.

For instance, as per General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), an EU data protection law, organizations need consent for data processing activities. Using API authentication, users can give consent to their data usage which complied with these regulations.

Improved User Experience: As API authentication adds a layer of security, users rest assured that their information is handled safely. Organizations can also tailor the content and services based on the profile and historical data of the user, providing them with a personalized experience.

Moreover, API authentication supports single sign-on (SSO) which allows only verified users to access multiple services with a single set of credentials. This can allow them to navigate between different applications without having to sign in multiple times.

Apart from the aforementioned, there are various other benefits of API authentication. But to summarize it in a statement, we can say that if one wants to safeguard their web applications from any kind of online fraud, protecting the API gateway is a must.

But how to secure an API? To get an answer to this question, we need to understand the different API authentication methods.

API Authentication Methods

XecureAPI offers various features/methods to protect your API from any kind of attack. Depending on the requirements and application, one can choose the suitable methods.

Basic Authentication:

Protecting API with Basic Authentication

Basic API authentication, also known as Basic Auth is one of the simplest methods of verifying API requests. In this authentication method, a combination of username and password is sent in the HTTP headers of the request which are encoded in Base64 format.

It is crucial to note that it is a basic method of authentication and is more suitable in scenarios that do not require strong security. To protect your APIs from attackers, it's always advised to add multiple authentication features.

API Key Authentication Method

Protecting APIs with API Key Authentication

API key authentication is a token-based authentication method that requires the user/client to provide a unique key in their request. Every client is assigned a unique API key which is included in the request header. The server then uses these keys to authenticate the user and provide necessary API resources.

However, it is important to note that while managing a large number of clients, managing API keys can be challenging. Also, there is a chance of the key getting exposed to a bad user. It is always safer to implement this method with a combination of other methods for securing your API.

OAuth 2.0

OAuth 2.0 API Authentication Method

Open Authentication (OAuth) is used to authenticate third-party applications to access resources on behalf of a user. This API authentication method also uses tokens for verification. Along with tokens, it also includes various flows to provide access to APIs without sharing the actual credentials.

With OAuth 2.0, one can manage API authentication securely and flexibly, especially when third-party applications need controlled access to user resources. However, best practices and guidelines must be followed thoroughly during their implementation to secure your API completely.

JSON Web Tokens

JWT API Authentication Method

JSON Web Tokens (JWT) is one of the popular API authentication methods that are often used with OAuth 2.0 flows. In this method, information is transmitted between two servers using JavaScript Object Notation (JSON) Object. As the name suggests, this is also a token-based authentication method.

Similar to OAuth, it is important to follow the best practices for JWT implementation including proper token validation, secure secret key storage, and other guideline, to protect API and user data.

LDAP Authentication

LDAP Authentication to Protect Your API

Users, computers, and various items within a network may all be managed centrally with Active Directory (AD), which is both a database and a collection of services. Through Active Directory, diverse users can connect with the network resources that are necessary for completing their tasks. The method used to confirm the identity of people requesting access to such resources or services within a network or system is called LDAP authentication. In this API authentication process, users enter their login credentials, which are then cross-referenced with the information kept in the Active Directory. If the user's login credentials match those in Active Directory, they are authorized access otherwise it is denied. This protocol is frequently used to manage users, groups, and devices hierarchically.

Its imperative to note that if the LDAP server becomes unavailable, the authentication process of all the dependent servers can be impacted which could further result in disruption of service. Also, the configuration and integration of LDAP authentication on existing systems are slightly more complicated than the other API authentication methods.

There are various other types of API authentication methods provided by XecureAPI that can be used to secure your API. As mentioned earlier, one should select the authentication method as per the application and security requirements. Our experts suggest that the more features you add to your API, the more secure it is.

To get detailed insights about our API Security Features, feel free to contact our experts.