What is an API?

What is an API? – For the general users of the internet and computer interface, it is normally understood that the screens, keyboards, monitors, etc. are the only computer interfaces in front of them. These are the visible computer interfaces with which we interact with the machine and the internet. There is another type of interface that we come across every day, but is hidden from our view. These interfaces enable software components to interact with each other. For a long time, this process was not standardized and developers of the operating system Unix made protocols for interprocess communication (IPC).

By the early 2000s, the need for a standard, open software-to-software interface was felt by the technology industry. This led to the development of the application programming interface, commonly known as API. API’s could provide a standardized interface through which software could communicate amongst themselves by sharing data and managing shared memory. APIs made software services available to workloads and applications. They facilitate bidirectional communication between two processes. An API includes all information needed to carry out a task and, unlike a web form, an API does not need multiple user transactions to successfully complete a process.

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Cyber security and API

API security encapsulates integrity protection of the APIs you use or own. API’s are used by microservices and containers to communicate among themselves. With the development of API’s, we find ways to connect everyday things to smart devices, like a refrigerator with an android smartphone. As integration of computers increases, interconnectivity becomes more important, and so do APIs and their security. With the rise of the Internet of Things (IoT) applications, API security has become a growing concern.

Web scraping and APIs

Other than communicating within the software, an API is also used for providing access to the data of an application, web page, or operating system. Similarly, web scraping refers to the process of ‘scraping’ data from a webpage or multiple web pages.

Web scraping is used to extract data from a  given web page, whereas an API provides the data directly. This poses a problem where the developer has not provided the API with the data. Sometimes APIs can be given at a charge, and that fee might not be affordable. In these scenarios, web scraping is necessary to obtain the data you need.Web scraping with software written in Python is one of the more common methods used to extract data from web pages.

Security threats with API

Some common threats associated with APIs are:

    1. Man in the Middle (MITM): An MITM attract refers to an attacker secretly intercepting communication between two APIs to obtain sensitive information. MITM attacks can grant access to personal financial and credential details to the attacker.
    2. API injections: API injection refers to the insertion of malicious code into vulnerable software. Malicious commands can also be inserted into an API message, like a SQL command. All web APIs that require parsers and processors are susceptible to API injections.
    3. Distributed denial of service (DDOS): DDoS attacks lead to the crashing of a website by flooding the bandwidth or resource of the attacked system. A DDoS attack topples the functioning of the memory and bandwidth by injecting a huge number of concurrent connections and sending/requesting huge amounts of data with every transaction. The machine resource will eventually crash under such pressure.
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SOAP and REST API

SOAP and REST are the two most common approaches to implement APIs.

SOAP (Simple Object Access Protocol) is based on XML and used for communicating among computers. SOAP uses a built-in WS security standard that utilizes XML Encryption, XML Signature, and SAML tokens for messaging security considerations.

REST (Representational State Transfer) makes use of HTTP to get data and perform operations on remote computers. SSL authentication and HTTPS are used in REST for securing communication. It is easier to track and maintain all of these security protocols if you deploy to a centralized cloud deployment platform suited to creating and hosting APIs.

How to improve cyber security

A hacked API can cause a serious data breach. Owing to their vulnerability, it is important to take additional steps to ensure security.

    1. Using tokens: Assigning tokens to trusted identities and controlling access to data can protect your machine from malicious attacks.
    2. Authentication verifies the identity of the end-user. Authentication is implemented using the TLS protocol in REST APIs. OAuth 2 and OpenID are even more secure than the TLS protocol.
    3. Using an API gateway can secure your APIs. These gateways check the API traffic. A good gateway allows you to authenticate traffic. You can also control and analyze how your APIs are used.
    4. Using sniffers to detect vulnerabilities is a safe practice to secure your APIs. In addition, be updated about your API components and major leaks and threats.
    5. Authorizing what data a user can access from the API prevents malicious users from accessing data that is beyond their role. This keeps them away from being able to access admin functionality.
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Conclusion

This article covered everything you need to know about API’s and cybersecurity. API security protects the integrity of APIs and is something that should be a concern for organizations and individuals with the evolution and constant development of IoT.

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