Choosing the Ideal API with Security in Mind

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  • Q3 2020
  • Choosing the Ideal API with Security in Mind

Application programming interfaces, or APIs for short, provide very secure and standardized ways for applications to work together and deliver greater information and functionality for end users.

But with so many different APIs available, choosing the right one can be a challenge of epic proportions.

Do you know where to begin?

The Importance of Security

The API marketplace continues to grow by the day. But not all APIs are created equal. For any specific challenge, task, or solution, you’ll find an array of competing APIs. And while they may appear similar on the surface, they almost certainly feature significant differences “under the hood.”

And out of all the different elements to consider, security is arguably the most important of all. A weak API can provide a massive point of entry for hackers into your business.

Because of the way in which businesses use APIs to connect different services and transfer data between multiple points, a broken or exposed API can lead to a serious data breach. Different API technology uses different API security methodologies.

The two most common are: ¯ REST API Security. This security format uses HTTP and supports Transport Layer Security (TLS) encryption. TLS helps to maintain a private internet connection and continually verifies that all data sent between two systems is encrypted and unmodified. ¯ SOAP API Security. With a SOAP API, there are built-in protocols known as Web Services Security (WS Security).

Under these protocols, there’s a defined set of rules that are guided by principles of confidentiality and authentication.

They use a combination of XML signatures, XML encryption and SAML tokens to authenticate and authorize users. As you evaluate different APIs for your next project, take security into account.

This is by far the most important element to consider. Everything else stems from a strong and comprehensive security foundation.

In addition to API security, you’ll also want to consider the following six factors:

1. Documentation

One of the first steps is to check the documentation of all APIs that you’re considering. The documentation should be clear, transparent and easy to understand. If the language is too technical or complex, this could mean any number of things – none of which are positive. For example, it may indicate that the API developers don’t fully understand it themselves. Or it could mean they’re hiding something (like a lack of functionality) by using what they deem to be impressive language. Clear documentation should tell you precisely how to implement the API right away. Clarity bodes well for successful integration when the time comes.

2. Data Formats

After analyzing the documentation, take some time to consider the data formats. While XML has traditionally been the dominant format, other options like JavaScript-based JSON are becoming extremely popular. It’s also important to consider the source of the data (particularly with APIs that deliver real-time information). Take a stock API as an example. Inaccuracies in the data can lead to thousands of dollars in lost earnings for the users of an investment website or application. A failure on your part to vet the source of data could come back to bite you.

3. Totality of Features

You’ll discover that there’s no such thing as a perfect API. However, you should do your best to find APIs that offer as many of the features you need to be successful. (This requires you to know what you’re looking for, so that you can make a qualified selection.)

4. Interface

From a very practical perspective, consider the API interface. You can learn more about this in the documentation. Study the method and parameter names to get an idea of naming conventions and other related elements. You’ll find that many modern APIs try to get cute and require custom headers and HTTP verbs. This might be fine with you, but it’s something to consider. (Again, the more you know ahead of time, the more informed your decision will be.)

5. Limits and Interaction

API providers set limits to avoid abuses by customers. However, these limits can potentially be flexible depending on the type of customer. Consider the rules regarding limits and interaction so that you understand how they may impact your functionality and scalability moving forward.

6. Community and Support

Even the best API integration will prove troublesome at times. It’s never going to be rainbows and butterflies 100 percent of the time.

The question is, when issues arise, is there a community and/or support team ready to help you overcome your unique challenges? Whether it’s timeouts, broken requests, or issues with API limits, support forums, chat features, and smooth customer service will prove extremely helpful. Choosing the Right API It’s important to recognize that there might not be a “right” answer, in terms of which API is ideal for your next project.

There could be multiple options. The goal is to filter out the ones that aren’t a good fit so that you can narrow your search to the ones that are practical selections. From there, you can compare and contrast – making sure to compare apples to apples – and move forward with the one that you believe best aligns with and supports your project.

Even if you’ve done a thorough job of researching and vetting APIs, it’s always necessary to conduct API testing to ensure compatibility, eliminate errors and promote optimum functionality. You’re almost certain to encounter issues. The critical step is how you handle these issues so that you can keep the project moving forward.

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