Overlooked API Security Best Practices

It’s no secret: API security threats are on the rise. Cybersecurity incidents are the go-to attack for opportunistic criminals in a digitized world. As our reliance on APIs grows, so does the threat of exploitation for data theft and manipulation. A predicted 50% of data theft will result from insecure APIs.

The vulnerability of APIs is crucial, but it’s not an insurmountable risk. Organizations can mitigate risk and keep their data and end users safe with the right attention and security strategy. You can stay ahead of threats by applying a few often-overlooked API security best practices.

Authorization and Authentication

A tried-and-true attack dates back long before APIs came into the picture. Impersonating a user and gaining control through their account is a favorite among cyber criminals. Therefore, it’s crucial to have a strong authorization and authentication approach.

Ensure your API security strategy includes:

  • API Keys – API keys are the basic security level for user authentication and should never be overlooked. API keys will first authenticate the user and then verify and authorize access when applicable.
  • OAuth Tokens - Taking things one step further, OAuth doesn’t transmit password data but relies on unique authorization tokens to prove identity. OAuth provides secure delegated access without the exchange of personal or login details.
  • JSON Tokens - Also known as JWT, JSON web tokens are based on an open standard and contain a set of claims, depending on their use. When a JWT is transmitted, the receiver will verify the identity and validity of the token and sign it with public or private keys.

Having a strong practice for authentication and authorization of users is the first line of defense to protecting your APIs.


APIs serve as messengers, transmitting valuable data (often silently) between applications. Without proper protection, bad actors can view or analyze this data while in transit through man-in-the-middle attacks.

Recommending HTTPS may seem painfully obvious, but many organizations still have overlooked this important step. For end users, browsers such as Chrome aim to steer them back to safety when attempting to enter an insecure website. Businesses owe it to their customers, partners, end users, and themselves to implement HTTPS on their web servers to provide secure connections and TLS encryption.

Perfect forward secrecy (PFS) helps you level up your encryption by automatically changing encryption and decryption keys. PFS is nearly impervious to brute force attacks, ensuring your data is safe during transmission and decryption without impacting speed.

Rate Limiting

A common exploit of APIs is to disrupt or disable services by flooding the system with requests. Rate limiting is an easy and effective approach to mitigating spam behavior by limiting the number of calls a user can make within a fixed amount of time. This simple solution prevents denial of service (DDoS) attacks.

Load Balancing

Load balancing distributes traffic across multiple local web servers to address similar server risks. DDoS attacks may attempt to flood web servers to take a website or application offline. 

Coupled with a CDN, load balancing is an effective means of maintaining uptime. The CDN is managed by your load balancer and sits in front of your server cluster. The load balancer ensures that traffic is distributed. Should a server go down, it re-routes the data to an available server while the CDN denies further requests.

Testing and Monitoring

For ongoing security, ensure testing and monitoring are part of your strategy. Testing will help identify and mitigate risks, and APIs are famously simple to test as they lack the complexity of large software systems with robust features. Key testing aspects are:

  • Unit testing for individual functions.
  • Functional testing on endpoints, performance, and authorization
  • Load testing for the traffic your API can drive
  • Pen testing will identify any environmental risks or vulnerabilities that should be addressed

Of course, the most commonly missed aspect of API security is foregoing monitoring. API monitoring tools will ensure that APIs are functioning as designed and identify any oddities or outliers that may signal a risk of a breach. Ping your APIs regularly to check their status, and use server logging features to apply a logging tool for API activity.

The Importance of API Security

API security cannot be overlooked as a necessary component of our digital lifestyle. Unfortunately, concerns about API security often create bottlenecks within organizations or even prevent progress:

More than half of respondents have delayed rolling out a new application due to API security concerns.” according to a recent report. Thankfully, with the right strategy, APIs will no longer serve as doorways for attackers to reach valuable data. 

About Author:

Stefanie Shank. Having spent her career in various capacities and industries under the “high tech” umbrella, Stefanie is passionate about the trends, challenges, solutions, and stories of existing and emerging technologies. A storyteller at heart, she considers herself one of the lucky ones: someone who gets to make a living doing what she loves. Stefanie is a regular writer at Bora.

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