The importance of API security in the age of digital transformation

The Kenyan tech scene is experiencing an exponential boom.  

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Digital transformation has become a key driver for companies in the financial services sector to create and capture value. At the heart of this transformation is the increased adoption of APIs [application programming interfaces].

APIs are software intermediaries that allow two different applications to communicate with each other. Every time you use a rideshare app like Uber, send a mobile payment or check your bank balance from your phone, you’re using an API.

However, as the usage of APIs increases, so does the risk of cyberattacks. Hackers are targeting APIs due to their valuable data and functionality, lack of proper security measures, integration complexity, third-party risks, and skills gap. APIs often provide access to sensitive data and critical business functionalities. They can expose customer information, financial data, and even allow the execution of actions with significant consequences.

Hackers may exploit these vulnerabilities to gain unauthorised access to sensitive data and critical business functionalities. Notable cases of API compromise typically involve the compromise of APIs that handle transaction requests from one institution to another. Using a technique known as Man-in-the-Middle (MITM) Attack, an attacker intercepts communication between the client and the API server. If the data that is being transmitted between the client and the API server is not properly encrypted, it can be intercepted and exposed. An attacker can therefore view, modify, or redirect transaction data, compromising the integrity and confidentiality of the transactions.

As data exfiltration via APIs becomes more appealing to cybercriminals, there is clearly a need for increased cooperation between cybersecurity teams tasked with defending those APIs and software developers handling the APIs. Companies should implement various strategies to ensure the security, reliability, and successful integration of the APIs into their systems.

One of the most important strategies is strong authentication and authorisation. To control access to an API, robust authentication mechanisms such as API keys, OAuth, or token-based authentication should be implemented to ensure that only authorised users and applications can access the APIs. Additionally, fine-grained authorisation controls should be enforced to limit access to specific resources and actions based on user roles and permissions.

Another important strategy is secure API design. Companies should design and implement secure API and coding standards for both the organization and third parties.

Comprehensive logging and monitoring should also be implemented to identify and respond to security incidents promptly. Key metrics such as request/response times, error rates, and traffic patterns should be monitored. Additionally, API activity should be logged to facilitate forensic analysis and investigation in case of incidents.

Security testing is also crucial. Organizations should conduct regular security assessments and penetration testing of APIs to identify potential vulnerabilities. weaknesses should be addressed promptly, and regular security assessments should be carried out. Incident response teams should develop a plan to handle potential API security incidents.

Procedures for detecting, containing, and responding to security breaches should be. Disaster recovery mechanisms should also be implemented to ensure business continuity in case of API outages or disruptions.

By implementing these strategies, companies can ensure the secure and successful integration of, mitigate potential risks, and provide a reliable and valuable experience for users and developers leveraging their APIs.

The writers are cybersecurity experts with PwC East Africa.

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