How to Prevent API Breaches: A Guide to Robust API Security

How to Prevent API Breaches: A Guide to Robust API Security

APIs provide great opportunities for businesses to interconnect systems and share data. However, they also introduce significant security risks if not properly protected. APIs have become the backbone of digital business, with over 90% of companies relying on them for their applications according to Red Hat. However, while APIs drive innovation, they also expand the attack surface. Recent data from Salt Security shows that APIs were implicated in over 80% of application security incidents in 2022.
To safeguard your APIs and prevent unauthorized access, compromise of data, or service disruptions, it is essential to implement a robust API security strategy. This guide outlines key best practices and technologies to harden your APIs against attacks:

Prevent API Breaches

Implement Strong API Authentication

According to Gartner, nearly 70% of unauthorized data breaches are traced back to flawed authentication practices. Enforcing strict API authentication is therefore crucial. Proper authentication ensures only authorized users and applications can access your APIs. Some recommended mechanisms:

  • OAuth 2.0 – Allow secure delegation of access without exposing user credentials. Registration of client apps, access tokens, and authorization flows enable granular API access control.
  • API Keys – Unique identifiers issued to each user or app provide basic API access management. API keys should be revoked if compromised.
  • JWT Tokens – JSON Web Tokens encoded with claims can authenticate users and share information in a tamper-proof manner.

Weak authentication makes APIs an easy target. Aim for standards-based authentication to lock down access.


Enforce Granular Authorization

Granular authorization prevents abuse of permissions. Studies by Imperva show that over 20% of internally developed APIs contain flaws enabling elevation of privileges. Authorization determines the resources and actions each user can access. Define and enforce granular permissions using:

  • Role-based access control (RBAC) – Assign roles with predefined permissions to users. Restrict actions based on roles.
  • Attribute-based access control (ABAC) – Define fine-grained access policies using attributes like user ID, location, device type. Helpful for dynamic environments.

Granular authorization minimizes exposure and reduces the API attack surface.


Implement Rate Limiting

Per Akamai, DDoS attacks increased by 167% in 2020, with APIs being the most targeted applications. Effective rate limiting is key to deter such attacks. Rate limiting sets thresholds on the number of API requests permitted over a period:

  • Apply limits based on IP, user, device ID, or other attributes
  • Prevent excessive requests by enforcing throttling beyond thresholds
  • Helps prevent abuse and denial-of-service attacks.


Encrypt Sensitive API Data

  • Apply HTTPS/SSL to encrypt data in transit during API communication. Prevent man-in-the-middle attacks.
  • Encrypt data at rest via mechanisms like disk and database encryption. Protect stored data.


Perform Regular API Security Testing

IBM estimates the average cost of a data breach to be $4.24 million. Regular API testing can help avert such incidents. Veracode’s research shows over 90% of applications contain some form of security vulnerability.


Continuously test APIs to detect vulnerabilities:

  • Static application security testing (SAST) – Scan code for vulnerabilities at the development stage
  • DAST (dynamic analysis) – Test APIs in production via fuzzing and penetration testing
  • Interactive analysis (IAST) – Get real-time insight into code execution paths and data flows

Fix any issues prior to deployment. Schedule recurring tests to stay on top of vulnerabilities.


Validate All API Inputs

  • Reject incorrectly formatted, malicious, or excessive payloads
  • Sanitize all input data to prevent injection attacks
  • Adhere to secure coding best practices


Handle Errors Securely

  • No sensitive information in error messages
  • Log detailed errors server-side for diagnostics
  • Graceful error handling reduces disruption

Proper error handling prevents information leakage.


Implement Robust Logging and Monitoring

  • Audit trails with API request and response logs
  • Monitor for suspicious traffic patterns or anomalies
  • Real-time alerting of potential attacks

Logs and monitoring data provide visibility into API activities.


Practice Security-Aware Development

  • Developer training on secure coding practices
  • Peer code reviews to identify vulnerabilities early
  • Reference architectures and secure-by-default frameworks



APIs introduce innovative capabilities but also substantial risk. Prioritizing API security is crucial. By leveraging standards-based authentication, granular authorization, encryption, rate limiting, continuous testing, and robust logging, you can secure your APIs from compromise. Adopt these best practices to reduce API vulnerabilities and gain assurance against attacks.