APIs – What are they and what is their importance?
With the increase in the number of devices and applications connected through digital transformation and the Internet of Things (IoT), the concern to build secure networks also grows to ensure the protection of data (in times of even more rigid data protection legislation). In order to keep communication and integration between different solutions, a series of routines and standards have been created to use the functionalities from the different software, which are also called Application Programming Interfaces, or APIs. Thus, we have written a series of articles to explain the definition and importance of APIs, their benefits
and business risks, and associated security concepts.
Businesses typically need quick responses in the context of increasingly dynamic digital markets, where new competitors are able to change an entire industry with a new application. To remain competitive, it is important to support increasingly agile development and the implementation of innovative services. And in times of the Covid-19 pandemic, the trend is for this speed to increase even more, requiring increasingly quicker responses from organizations. And with the migration of systems to Cloud-based models, the development through this model increases its speed, which is based on the connection of the microservices application architecture through APIs.
When did the APIs appear?
The history of APIs goes back to the early 2000s, when Salesforce has introduced its APIs at the IDG Demo conference. At the time, Salesforce was web-based and used XML APIs in its Salesforce.com domain. In the same year, eBay launched its APIs with its Developer Program, which was initially launched only for a group of partners and developers. Thereafter, other manufacturers have been introducing their APIs with the respective use cases. Amazon, Flickr, Facebook, and Twitter are some of the giants that have developed APIs for integration.
How to use the APIs?
As the use of APIs has become widespread, a protocol specification was developed to help standardize the exchange of information: Simple Object Access Protocol, or SOAP. APIs developed in SOAP use XML in their message format and receive requests via HTTP or SMTP. The use of the SOAP protocol makes it easier to execute applications in different environments or written in different languages for sharing information.
Another specification used to exchange data in APIs is the so-called Representational State Transfer (REST). APIs adhering to the REST architecture restrictions are also called RESTful APIs. The main difference between REST and SOAP is that, while the first is an API-architecture style, the second is considered a protocol.
More recently, the OpenAPI specification has emerged as a common standard for defining REST APIs. OpenAPI establishes an agnostic form of language so that developers can understand them with minimal effort.
Another standard that has been gaining ground is GraphQL, a query language and server-side runtime that emerges as an alternative to REST. One of the benefits of this standard is that it allows developers to create requests capable of obtaining data from multiple data sources with just one API call.
What are the advantages of APIs?
One of the main benefits of using APIs is that they allow a product or service to communicate with others without having to know its implementation. With this, one can simplify the development of applications, reducing the time and resources spent. Thus, when developing new products and services – or managing existing ones -, the use of APIs provides flexibility, simplifies development, management, and use, in addition to providing opportunities for
APIs are also a way of connecting the infrastructure through the development of Cloud-native applications, but they also allow data sharing with customers and other external users. Public APIs represent a unique business value because they simplify and expand the way an organization connects with partners, as well as monetize data processed by the developer. An example of this is the use of the Google Maps APIs.
In short, the use of APIs allows the use of the resources from an application for other products and services, while ensuring security and control. However, the security of the APIs is based on their management, which includes the use of an API gateway. In order to be able to connect to the APIs and create applications that consume the data or functionalities offered by them, one needs to implement a connection platform for applications, including legacy and IoT systems.
What are the risks of using APIs?
Even though, with the increased use of APIs, there is also a great potential for more security holes. The risk is great in most organizations because the development team pays more attention to items such as functionality and agility rather than to the security aspect, which is also called security-by-design. Therefore, developers need to understand the associated risks to keep customers’, suppliers’, partners’, and employees’ data secure, as well as create guides to ensure that developing their APIs does not create security problems.
The use of APIs has been gaining ground, which allows organizations to build increasingly dynamic applications. However, when taking advantage of these capabilities, the Development team needs to be aware of potential security holes, as well as how to eliminate them and, thus, ensure the trust of customers, partners, and suppliers, be in accordance with the current legislation and policies for data protection data, in addition to protecting business continuity.
In our next article on this subject, we will cover best practices for improving the security of applications that use APIs, preventing exploitation of vulnerabilities in APIs for malicious actions, such as improper data extraction.