Given that, they can be used by malicious actors to jeopardize the client data you are trusted to secure. API keys have become a serious security vulnerability in a world where tech stacks are shifting towards SaaS products and utilizing a more modular design.
In order to protect user and company data, it is crucial to have a mechanism to keep those API keys secure. While there are numerous ways to accomplish this, we’ll focus on a few typical concerns when it comes to safeguarding your API credentials and possible solutions.
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What are API keys?
An API key is a special combination of letters and numbers that identifies the client performing the API call. The key is used to verify the client’s identity and grant access to particular resources. The key is transmitted with the request when a customer calls an API.
The server then compares the key to a list of authorized keys and, in the event of a match, permits the request to move on. The request is turned down if no match is discovered.
There are several circumstances in which disclosing your API key to other persons or companies may be acceptable. For instance, if you are collaborating with a partner on a project, you might need to grant them access to your APIs in order for them to contribute to it.
In a different case, you might have to send your API keys to a third-party service provider so they can access your data.
The API services to which access is allowed are specified by authorization, on the other hand. An API key can be connected to other security elements to increase overall protection, and its use is comparable to that of an account’s username and password.
Every time a call is made to an API endpoint that requires user authentication or authorization, or both, the appropriate key is used. Each API key is usually created for an entity in particular by the API owner.
How can API keys be shared safely?
Sharing these keys was frequently somewhat challenging when using the conventional techniques of storing API keys and secrets in a .env file. Finding out who has the current file usually began with inquiring around the team.
This led to people repeatedly emailing the keys, sharing files, or even direct messaging the contents of the file via Slack or another messaging service. It should not be a surprise that this is not the most secure, even though it could appear rather benign at first.
Only share your API keys in circumstances when it is necessary and you have confidence in the person or company who will be receiving them.
Always create a fresh key for each client when granting access to make it simple to terminate their access in the event that it is no longer needed. To use API keys securely in a mobile setting, however, there are additional security precautions you can use.
How Can API keys be Securely Stored?
Obtaining API keys typically involves copying and pasting them as simple strings into plain text files. Teams typically use two main strategies to handle this:
- In a.env file, save them.
- You shouldn’t add them to a code repository.
This ensures that the secrets are typically secured (at least in part) and kept inside a local area. There are often two weaknesses with this strategy, though:
- Your information and technology are now exposed and/or in danger in the event that someone mistakenly deletes or discloses the file to the incorrect person.
- Since the keys can be read in plain text, there is also an additional security hole that allows anyone to view and/or change the keys, no matter whether they were entitled to access or not.
Wouldn’t it be amazing if we had more choice over how they were saved, as opposed to just putting them in a plain text file?
When to employ API keys?
API keys are unique identifiers that provide access to a group of functionalities or data in a program for developers. For instance, in order to access a database user interface or API server, a developer may require a special API key.
Another option is for an iOS or Android user to want to download a mobile app that uses Google Cloud for its data. The owner of the web application often assigns keys, and such keys are always revocable.
API keys can be used in a variety of ways, however the following are the most typical ones:
- Ensure that only authorized users have access to your data by requiring an API key to limit anonymous traffic.
- Use API keys to help limit the amount of traffic your application can handle by using rate limiting. Attackers who try to overwhelm your system with API calls hastily can be stopped. Rate-limiting queries that contain an API key is how this is accomplished.
- Authentication: API keys can occasionally be used to perform authentication. For instance, you might demand that each user supply their API key in order to access the data if you have a private API that needs user authentication. In order to strengthen security for organizations through authentication.
- Data analysis: By monitoring API keys, you can learn more about how users are interacting with your service. You may check out which people send the most queries or which API keys are linked to popular programs, for instance.
Various API key types
The two most common kinds of API keys are:
- Public API keys are often created by the app’s owner and made accessible to users or developers. They enable access to open data or application functionality for developers.
- Server-to-server connections include the use of private API keys. They are frequently used to authenticate requests or access information that is not accessible to the public. Private Keys ought to be kept private and not disclosed to anyone.
Benefits of using an API key while developing mobile apps
API keys offer various advantages to creators of mobile applications:
- To begin with, they aid in making sure that only authorized customers can use your APIs. This makes your data more secure from unauthorized access.
- The use of your APIs by various clients is tracked and kept under observation with their assistance, second. When resolving and debugging problems, this information can be helpful.
- Finally, employing API keys can help you monitor and regulate client-by-client access to your APIs.
Managing who is allowed access to an API is a crucial component of developing mobile applications. In default settings, access to an API can only be controlled by the project owner. The API access may occasionally need to be granted or revoked, though.
For instance, you could need to temporarily grant a developer access to the API in order to troubleshoot a technical problem.
Or you might need to remove access to the API if a developer departs the organization. It’s crucial to have a procedure in place for restricting API access in any scenario. Access should be given and taken away as necessary during this process.
These actions can assist in ensuring that only authorized developers have access to your API.
How Secure Are API Keys?
A user is ultimately responsible for an API key. The same caution must be taken while handling API keys as you would with passwords. Sharing an API key is akin to sharing a password, and as such, it is not recommended because doing so could put the user’s account at risk.
Due to their ability to carry out significant operations on systems, like conducting financial transactions or obtaining personal information, API keys are frequently the target of cyberattacks.
There have even been instances where crawlers have successfully attacked online code databases in an effort to grab API keys.
The implications of API key theft may be severe and result in considerable monetary loss. Additionally, since some API keys are perpetual, once they are stolen, attackers can utilize them without restriction until the keys themselves are terminated.
The method we discussed in this article is only one of many that you can use to safeguard your API keys using environment variables.
And even if you can’t apply this same strategy to your team and tech stack. The key thing to remember is that there are options available, and you should pick the one which functions most effectively for you and your team.