An API (Application Programming Interface) is an interface that allows you to build on the data and functionalities of another application while providing tools, routines and protocols for developers building software applications and also enabling the user to extract and share data in an accessible manner. While the API provides you with an interface where you can enhance the functionalities of another application, it is the web service which is a network-based resource that actually fulfils the task. Hence an API can either be online or offline. However, the APIs that use web services as a resource to fulfil a specific task, are termed as Web service APIs.
A web service is a software system which has been designed to support interoperable machine-to-machine interaction over a network. It provides an interface described in machine-processable format such as WSDL (Web Services Description Language) so that other systems interact with the web service in a manner prescribed by its description using SOAP messages typically conveyed using HTTP with an XML serialization in conjunction with other web related standards. Simplifying, we can say that the Web APIs send data back and forth using HTTP requests which are often returned with textual data in form of JSON or XML response. Since web services APIs expose the application’s data and functionalities over the internet, it is essential to review their security.
SOAP (Simple Object Access Protocol) and REST (Representational State Transfer) are two popular approaches for implementing APIs.
SOAP has built-in WS-Security standard which uses XML Encryption, XML Signature and SAML tokens to deal with transactional messaging security considerations. SOAP also supports OASIS and W3C recommendations. It’s built-in standards and envelope-style of payload transport requires more overhead compared to other API implementations, such as REST. However, organizations requiring more comprehensive security and compliance may benefit from using SOAP.
REST uses HTTP to obtain data and performs operations on remote computer systems. It supports SSL authentication and HTTPS to achieve secure communication. REST uses JSON standard for consuming payloads thus simplifying data transfer over browsers. REST is stateless where each HTTP request contains all necessary information, meaning that neither the client nor the server are required to retain any data to satisfy the request. Unlike SOAP, which requires parsing and routing for each request to function on a local web service, REST leverages standard HTTP requests and does not require the repackaging of data.
APIs often self-document information regarding their implementation and internal structure, which is widely used as intelligence for cyber-attacks. Additionally, vulnerabilities such as weak authentication, lack of encryption, flaws in the business logic and insecure endpoints make APIs vulnerable to the attacks mentioned below.
App security isn’t a feature or a benefit – it is a bare necessity. One breach could cost your company not just millions of dollars but a lifetime of trust. That is why security should be a priority from the moment you start writing the first line of code.
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