The Cybersecurity Risks of APIs (& How to Stay Secure)

July 14, 2022

What do Ford, Peloton, and Instagram have in common?

They were all victims of API-related security attacks that exposed sensitive data to cybercriminals.

Unfortunately, these companies aren’t alone—and such attacks continue to rise. In the past year, 95% of organizations experienced anand 34% admitted that their current API strategy didn’t involve security.

Read on to understand why these breaches happen, and how to strengthen API security.

The Rise of APIs (and their Security Risks)

An Application Programming Interface (API) allows applications to communicate, so one app can leverage the functionality of another app. 

APIs are the building blocks of today’s online experiences, and consumers unknowingly leverage the power of APIs in everyday online actions like browsing for flights, checking the weather, and shopping via PayPal. 

For businesses, APIs allow faster innovation, improved customer experiences, and flexible functionality—all at a lower cost. Yet since APIs enable sensitive data sharing between applications, they also serve as a door directly into the product, exposing potential security issues. Important information can be silently intercepted, altered, or stolen as it passes between applications. 

Even worse, many API-related data breaches are the result of attackers using the API exactly as intended, exploiting security flaws not exposed through the application itself. In these cases, there simply aren’t enough security measures in place to prevent such attacks. 

APIs are an increasingly frequent target for hackers due to the treasure trove of valuable data hidden inside—and the ease with which they can be broken into. Fortunately, dedicating more energy and attention to securing your APIs can keep your and your customer’s data safe.

API Authentication vs. Authorization

Authentication and authorization are two key components of a secure API environment. However, many API data breaches are caused by a misunderstanding of these areas (and their importance).


Authentication is a means of verifying that a user is who they claim to be. Passwords, Face IDs, and security codes are all methods of authentication. 

A secure API will always authenticate at least one factor before allowing a user to proceed. Yet multi-factor authentication (MFA) is even safer, because it requires additional verification. 

MFA can use any combination of verification elements, including a passcode sent to your phone or email, answers to personal security questions, software tokens, and more. MFA makes it harder for a cybercriminal to steal the identity of a user who is authorized, thereby giving them access to all of that user’s data. 

Moreover, APIs that have gaps in their authentication processes can open up room for impersonation attacks, where an attacker sends a malicious request to the server with the intention of impersonating a valid user to obtain sensitive information, plant false data, or steal personal details for other purposes.


Authorization is what gives a user access to an app or its functions. For example, you could authorize a person to download a file from a server. 

Authorization should always come after authentication. 

Why? Because you want to make sure you can trust who a person really is before you allow them to access any important information.

Authorization can be complex, because different people in an organization require different permission levels, and development teams need to enable these nuances securely.

Both authorization and authentication are essential for securing all APIs, yet a Gartner report states that less than 50% of enterprise APIs will be managed by 2025. Unmanaged APIs lack consistent authentication and authorization processes, leaving their information at risk.

Your Partner in Development and Cybersecurity

As APIs become both more common and more complex, enterprises have a responsibility to keep them secure. If you need help with authentication, authorization, or other aspects of API safety as part of a secure app ecosystem, our experts can help. Contact us today.