API Security - REST, SOAP, and GraphQL


API security (Application Programming Interface) is crucial for any business wishing to target customers through their app-based products and services as it deals with important business and customer data that cannot be compromised. A simple error in logging and session management could provide the hacker an opportunity to enter and deepen their hold. 

Before dealing with the entire procedure of API security, the firm needs to acquire a proper amount of knowledge to finalize the cybersecurity strategy and point out its weak points.  Basically, API security is the process of protecting APIs from attacks, as a hacked API can lead to a data breach.

The difference between REST API and SOAP API Security

The SOAP, or the Simple Object Access Protocol, is a well-structured message protocol that comes with many low-level protocols as well. In comparison, the REST API, which stands for Representational State Transfer, is more simple and uses the HTTP/S transfer protocol with the data transfer being done in the JSON format.

The only similarity both these protocols share is that they both support HTTP requests, responses, and the Secure Sockets Layer (SSL). 

Under SOAP API security, there are extensions within the protocol for dealing with security issues and support Web Services (WS) specifications which provide security extensions like WS-Security. These kinds of security extensions ensure enterprise-level security for all web services with features such as WS-ReliableMessaging that extends in-built support for error handling.

The SOAP API also builds on the recommendations of W3C and OASIS which also includes SAML tokens and XML encryption and signatures. 

REST API security doesn’t have any in-built security provisions and is dependent on the API design. Security aspects must be built in for transmission of data, deployment, and client interaction services. They also don’t have error-handling services and are required to resend the data when each error occurs.

Usually, developers resort to placing the REST API behind API gateways and providing this connectivity option to the clients, thus acting as a proxy connecting to the REST API. The API gateway can then be designed to meet web security testing specifications as required. 

Therefore, SOAP APIs are functionally more secure than REST APIs by design, but the latter can be made more secure with certain architectural choices and the mode of implementation. 

An Introduction to GraphQL Security

GraphQL is a form of query language used to describe the clients’ requests for information through APIs. Developers use this syntax for specific data requests through single or multiple sources. The main characteristic of GraphQL is that it takes the client’s request through a particular data structure and the server makes sure to return the output with the same structure.

However, the server must be ready to deal with the most complex queries, including the detection of malicious queries from unauthorized entities. If there isn’t sufficient effort taken to handle both large and possibly abusive queries, the client may end up taking the server down. 

Below are a few measures you can make sure of to negate the GraphQL security risks:

  • Place limitations using the maximum query depth for the GraphQL server to conduct a proper analysis of the query document’s abstract syntax tree (AST) to fit the requirements.
  • Initiate timeouts for protection against larger queries - this will ensure that the server doesn’t have access to the queries and simply works on the time allowed for each query.
  • Set a query complexity threshold to deal with the schema fields that may involve complex computations. 
  • Throttling is an option for those clients with many medium-sized queries since the GraphQL server may not be able to handle it. Instead, define the time required to complete each type of query and use this as your throttling parameter. 

What are the different methods of API Security testing?

For manual testing of API security vulnerabilities, there are a few tests that can be conducted for simulating certain situations to understand the incident response. 

  • Parameter Tampering:  Parameters sent through API requests can be easily tampered with, either to change the amount being charged, the number of goods, or the amount of sensitive customer information being revealed. This kind of testing is usually done using hidden form fields and you can test for the presence of these with a browser element inspector. 
  • Command Injection: For understanding the possibility of command injection attacks, testers usually inject operating system commands through the API inputs according to the relevant operating system running on the API server. If the API content is displayed using an URL, then simply add the operating command to the end of it to check for execution possibilities. 
  • API Input Fuzzing: Fuzzing tactics involve sending random data to the API for detecting and exploiting functional or security problems. Testers will look out for errors in the output received from the API or signs of crashing if it hasn’t been processed completely. 

These are only some of the tests that can be conducted to gain an overall picture of API security. A detailed and periodic checking is the solution for remaining on top of possible cybersecurity attacks. 

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