API Security Best Practices

Pierluigi Paganini June 14, 2022

Organizations face the constant need to protect these APIs from attacks so they can protect organizational data.

Organizations are rapidly opening their ecosystem through Application Programming Interfaces (API) by ensuring seamless access to data and interaction with external software components and services. APIs are the gateway to providing the high security of data in an organization. An API’s ability to allow communication between different applications makes life easy, particularly the ability to automate tasks. However, organizations face the constant need to protect these APIs from attacks so they can protect organizational data.

With the increase in the use of APIs, the number of API attacks in the past 12 months rose by 681%. The API ecosystem has become a lucrative target of attack for bad actors; therefore, a purpose-built technology and security strategy should be implemented to successfully anticipate and prevent these attacks.

To properly create a security strategy in securing APIs, one must understand common attacks on APIs. Here’s a list of top 10 most common API attacks as determined by the Open Web Application Security Project (OWASP):

  • Broken Access control
  • Cryptographic failures
  • Injection
  • Insecure design
  • Security misconfiguration
  • Vulnerable and outdated components
  • Identification and authentication failures
  • Software and data integrity failures
  • Security logging and monitoring failures
  • Server-side request forgery.

Understanding these attacks in detail is valuable in developing and implementing tools and processes to ensure the security of your organization’s and clients’ data.

Best Practices To Help Improve And Secure Your Organizational APIs

APIs are challenging to protect, and traditional security solutions are not sufficient to handle the technicalities of the API ecosystem. Therefore, implementing the following best practices will help improve your security posture and protect your APIs and organization.

Prioritize Security

API security should not be an afterthought. Prioritizing security from the inception and development of an API to its integration and deployment is key to ensuring API security. Outline security requirements when building and integrating APIs by following a purpose-built API security tool to enhance API security.

Promote Secure API Design and Development

Insecure design is one of the attack vectors highlighted by OWASP. A secure coding and configuration practice for developing APIs should be created. This can be done by following the OWASP Application Security Verification Standard.

Document Your Organization’s APIs

Before you can secure your APIs, you need to first be aware of all the APIs running in your organization. The best approach is an API security tool that provides continuous scanning for API traffic, creating a dynamic inventory.  Such tools can help with API documentation, which in turn benefits design reviews, security testing, and protection.

Implement Strong Authentication and Authorization Solutions

Identification and authentication failures, a typical API attack as stated by OWASP, result from poor or non-existent authentication and authorization.. APIs can provide gateways into an organization’s database; therefore, a strict access control implementing strong authentication and authorization should be implemented. Solid authentication solutions like OAuth and OpenID Connect should be integrated when feasible.

Implement Least Privilege Principle

In information security, users, programs, processes, devices, and systems should have access only to the minimum information they require. Minimum access should be granted to complete necessary tasks. This principle is also applicable to APIs. Grant developers and security teams relevant access and revoke such access when tasks are completed.

Implement API Security Testing

Perform API testing, to look for vulnerabilities in APIs, before releasing them into production. Such testing can help identify API vulnerabilities before they can be exploited.

Deploy Runtime Protection

Dynamic runtime protection helps protect against attacks that target business logic gaps and therefore cannot be found in pre-production API security testing. Since no developers ever write perfect code, you’ll need API runtime protection to ensure bad actors cannot successfully manipulate your APIs.

Implement Network Controls Like Encryption

Encrypting data sent by the API is essential to API security. Traffic should be encrypted using Transport Layer Security (TLS). APIs exchange sensitive data between applications; therefore, API payloads should be encrypted.

Validate Input

Data input from an API through an endpoint should be checked and validated before it is accepted by the server. JSON or XML Schema validations should be used to confirm parameters to prevent SQL injections or XML bombs.


APIs have become an essential part of building modern applications; a hacked API can lead to a data breach resulting in security incidents. Since APIs are commonly used to access sensitive software functions and data, APIs are slowly becoming primary attack targets. An organization’s ultimate goal should be to establish and implement strong API security policies and proactively manage them.


About the Author: Mosopefoluwa is a certified Cybersecurity Analyst and Technical writer. She has experience working as a Security Operations Center (SOC) Analyst with a history of creating relevant cybersecurity content for organizations and spreading security awareness, she is also a regular writer at Bora. She volunteers as an Opportunities and Resources Writer with a Nigerian based NGO where she curated weekly opportunities for women.  Her other interests are law, volunteering and women’s rights. In her free time, she enjoys spending time at the beach, watching movies or burying herself in a book.  Connect with her on LinkedIn and Instagram 

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Pierluigi Paganini

(SecurityAffairs – hacking, API Security)

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