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Secure API Management For IoT: Basics And Fundamentals

by Mic Johnson

Many technological innovations have propelled the digital revolution. But none of these has arguably had a more significant impact than the Internet of Things (IoT).

The application programming interface (API) is a key component of the IoT. It plays a significant role in ensuring that the latter works as intended. As the world becomes more dependent on IoT, it will also become more reliant on APIs.

The article below will explain the role of API in IoT and the importance of secure API management.

The Link Between API And The IoT?

An API refers to the protocols, tools, and resources that control web and mobile applications. It establishes the rules of communication every component must follow during information exchanges. APIs are the connectors between the ‘things’ on the IoT.

APIs make it possible for applications to communicate with one another over the internet. They provide the infrastructure for devices to function online. The API architecture works with the client (the application that sends a request) and server (the application that sends a response) framework.

However, APIs must be secure to prevent data leaks. Since APIs facilitate data exchanges within the IoT, they are the attack vector most hackers use. The risk of API cyberattacks is considerable because most of them are publicly accessible. However, developing secure APIs helps to reduce the attack surface hackers could exploit.

What Are The Types Of APIs in IoT?

APIs can be classified based on their architecture. Here are the main types:

  • REST (Representational State Transfer) APIs

Due to the user interface’s simplicity, REST APIs have gained a lot of popularity. They’re also flexible. A server’s data can be accessed by clients using the functions defined by the REST API.

HTTP is the principal communication protocol for REST API clients and servers. TLS encryption is supported, ensuring safe interactions between two systems.

Servers that use Message Queuing Telemetry Transport (MQTT) protocols have APIs that make it easier to link the graphical management interface and MQTT broker.

MQTT API automates MQTT broker management. It enables the management center to send commands to the MQTT broker, including creating, listing, and deleting clients.

  • SOAP (Simple Object Access Protocol) APIs

Extensible Markup Language (XML) is the only message format used by SOAP APIs. They employ internal protocols referred to as web services security. The protocols lay out the rules for enhanced privacy and authentication. They may be less flexible than the others, but they’re renowned for being secure. Thus, they’re suitable for businesses that handle sensitive data.

  • WebSocket APIs – WebSocket API uses connections to enable smooth data transfer between two applications. A port and socket structure, which permits bidirectional communication, is the foundation of WebSocket protocols. This implies that data are sent and received through a single port or socket, ensuring a constant or seamless connection. WebSocket APIs are, therefore, perfect for applications that require continuous data delivery.

APIs can also be classified according to their scope of use. The four main types are private, public, partner, and composite APIs.

  • Private – They’re specific to the business and are used to connect systems and data within it.
  • Public – They’re openly accessible to the public. So, by definition, anyone (even hackers) can access them.
  • Partner – These APIs are made accessible only to authorized developers to foster business partnerships.
  • Composite – Combines two or more APIs to address complex requirements.

There are several variations of APIs, but REST and SOAP API architectures are the most common. Each has its pros and cons, but neither is immune to failing. Thus, you must implement security measures regardless of the type of API you employ.

Why Is API Security Important?

IoT devices, which require internet connectivity, face a greater risk of cyberattacks, and insufficient API security controls can heighten these threats. Hence, ensuring API security is a must for businesses and organizations that utilize such devices.

APIs are used by businesses to transfer data, allowing the latter to connect to various online services. Most data leaks or breaches occur due to API being compromised because of flaws in its design or structure. It could result in sensitive personal, financial, or company data breaking. That’s why it’s important to have a solid API security strategy in place.

Common Threats Against APIs

Here are some of the threats that plague APIs:

  • Injection – In this attack, a hacker inserts harmful code into a program or application. If an injection attack succeeds, the hacker will access your data. SQL injection attacks are the most dangerous kind because they give a hacker control of an entire SQL database. Using input validation is one of the best ways to stop injection attacks.
  • Man In The Middle (MitM) – This is a hacker-initiated attack where data or traffic is intercepted in transit. It can occur between the API and the endpoint or between the client and API. Encrypting traffic while in transit is the strongest defense against MitM attacks.
  • Credential Stuffing – This is an attack that’s lodged using stolen credentials on API endpoints. Implementing rate limits may help counter such attacks.
  • Distributed Denial of Service (DDOS) – This is one of the most common attacks hackers use. It renders systems, networks, or websites inaccessible to users by overloading them with excessive traffic. DDOS attacks frequently target API endpoints. To counter these threats, consider using rate limits.

Knowing these risks will help you develop strategies to fortify your business or organizational systems and processes.

 Tips For Ensuring API Management

API management strategies should emphasize security and access controls. Here are some best practices that you should consider:

  • Invest In Strong Authentication Solutions – Public APIs have a lot of issues with poor authorization. Keep in mind that APIs are the key to accessing organizational databases. As a result, they need to be secured using authentication and authorization tools like OAuth 2.0. This is the preferred option for REST API authentication.
  • Use Principle of Least Privilege (PoLP) – This security principle is predicated on the notion that only certain subjects (processes, systems, devices, users, or programs) should be granted restricted access to information, resources, or applications to carry out specific tasks or functions—nothing more. This principle can and ought to be applied to APIs as well.
  • Conduct Vulnerability Tests Regularly – Updating your systems, servers, networks, and API components may help improve security. They frequently include security patches meant to fend off pertinent threats. However, updates may not be sufficient because they don’t always address all vulnerabilities. So, you must understand how these elements work together to spot any vulnerabilities that hackers can exploit to access your APIs. Your development team may track data leaks and potential susceptibilities using packet analyzers.
  • Implement Rate Limits – This technique restricts network traffic. You can stop some forms of bot activity if you restrict how often a client may submit a request before future requests are denied. You may, for instance, set a cap of 500 attempts per account to log in. Further attempts will be denied. Developers can build restrictions into a mobile application during development.
  • Use Input Validation – Your system or application should never be able to send input to an endpoint without first validating it. Only inputs that meet particular criteria should eventually reach the endpoints. An incorrect input won’t pass validation. If you mistakenly omit a character when entering a password during development, input validation will notify you of your error and ask you to try again.
  • Encrypt Data – If your business APIs regularly exchange or transmit sensitive data (like social security details, credit card details, or health particulars), encrypting your traffic with TLS would be wise.
  • Use A Web Application Firewall (WAF) – WAF establishes or assigns a set of parameters to HTTP/S exchanges between applications. It can be used to secure your APIs as it adds an extra layer of defense against DDoS attacks. It also utilizes SSL (secure sockets layer) and TLS encryptions to help prevent injection and MITM attacks.
  • Use API Quotas – These function similarly to rate limits. Some organizations use quotas and rate limits simultaneously. API quotas usually specify how many requests an application can make over longer time frames, like a month. They’re widely utilized for business purposes. Organizations or enterprises may offer several plans with various quotas. The user won’t be allowed to carry out specific tasks when a quota is reached. They can resume using the application after the quota timer resets.
  • Use An API Gateway – Gateways help streamline API management. They can manage various API system operations, like rate limiting and user authentication. Because of this, the majority of firms use them when implementing their API security strategy into action. You may track and control API access with the features and tools provided by an API gateway.
  • Call Cybersecurity Experts – If your company doesn’t have cybersecurity specialists, outsource them. Since they understand the intricacies of API security, experts are the best people to consult. They’ll assist you in securing your web, application, or program APIs.

This list of API security best practices isn’t conclusive. There are additional ways you can ensure API management, but the above tips are worth closely considering. Furthermore, development teams should realize that API security shouldn’t be an afterthought. It should be baked into the applications and programs during the design stage.


Businesses must prioritize API management because it significantly impacts the customer experience. However, because APIs are all about the exchange and transportation of data, security is also a crucial factor to consider.

These days, businesses rely heavily on the IoT. APIs play a crucial role in the IoT. So, ensuring API security will let you be at ease when exchanging information both internally and externally.

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