A Complete Guide on Securing Third-Party APIs in Mobile Apps
Published at March 07, 2023

In modern times, mobile and web development teams, as well as enterprises, are increasingly relying on various outsourced resources like open source code, outsourced development for their projects, etc. Third-party APIs, extensions, and applications are also becoming popular among them.

Experts suggest that more than half of the global companies, around 55%, are using third-party APIs to enhance their organisational revenue. Although these APIs offer various advantages and features, they can also bring several security challenges for mobile development teams and organisations. To learn more about this topic, read on as we explore it in detail.

What are third-party APIs?

Third-party APIs, extensions, and applications are types of software provided by a company that can help you do things you might not be able to do yourself. They give you specific features or services that you need according to Deepak Gupta.

You can add these third-party APIs and extensions to your company's website or software. For example, you can add Google's Map API to your mobile app to show maps. This can save you time and money because you don't have to build it from scratch. Developers can also use these pre-built APIs to speed up their work.

What is API security?

API security means protecting APIs from any harm, whether they belong to you or someone else. This includes controlling access to APIs, keeping them private, and detecting any problems that could happen if someone tries to steal them. The main goal is to stop bad people from being able to do anything harmful with the API.

API security is not only the responsibility of the cloud service providers. If you're making a mobile app, you need to use the best tools to test your app's security. You can also hire experts to look deeply into your app and find any problems that might be there. This will help make sure your whole mobile app is safe and secure.

What is third-party API integration?

According to Skeps, API integrations happen when two mobile apps or web apps connect their APIs to share information with each other. This helps businesses work together to provide more convenient services to their customers. For example, an online store mobile app might use a shipping API integration to let customers see how much it will cost to ship their purchase and how long it will take to arrive.

Thanks to API integrations, modern apps can provide lots of useful information to customers. They can show the cost of an item, the shipping options available, and even offer different payment methods. By connecting with other businesses, online stores can give customers a better experience by letting them know everything they need to know about their purchase, all in one place.

Why is mobile app security API important?

Businesses use APIs to connect their services and transfer data efficiently. However, if the APIs are not secure, they can attract bad people who want to steal data. This is especially true if the API connects to other apps since all the data goes through the internet.

According to Appknox, mobile app API security involves making sure the network is secure, limiting the amount of data that can be transferred, and monitoring everything closely to detect any suspicious activity. If hackers are able to access an API, they could steal sensitive information like financial or medical data, which could be very expensive and damage the business's reputation.

API Security Testing is the process of checking if an API is secure by scanning it for vulnerabilities that could be used by hackers to steal data. Since apps often use multiple APIs, any vulnerability could be a serious problem. If one API is unsecured, all the apps that use it could be at risk of being hacked.

Mobile API Security Best Practices

To keep APIs secure, organisations need to follow some security best practices, such as:

1. Prioritise security

Ensuring the safety of the company's data is important, and everyone who works for the organisation must take it seriously. Third-party APIs and applications can be risky, so it's crucial to have a culture of security surrounding them.

Everyone, from the top executives to the lowest-level employees, should be aware of the potential security risks of APIs and work together to prevent them. This means training employees on security measures, conducting regular security audits, and constantly updating security protocols.

Failure to prioritise security can lead to significant financial losses, damage to the company's reputation, and even legal consequences.

2. Strict Authentication

This step is crucial to ensure that only authorised users have access to an organisation's databases through APIs. Public APIs that lack authentication mechanisms or use weak authentication factors are often targeted by attackers.

Broken authentication occurs when an attacker can bypass or easily break the authentication mechanism to gain access to sensitive data. Since APIs serve as a gateway to an organisation's databases, it is critical in maintaining strict control over access to prevent unauthorised access and protect sensitive information.

It is important for organisations to ensure that their authentication mechanisms are robust and effective in preventing unauthorized access to their APIs.

3. Traffic Encryption

This practice is necessary for organisations that frequently transfer confidential information such as login details, credit card numbers, social security numbers, banking details, and health data through mobile APIs.

TLS encryption is highly recommended as it ensures that the data transmitted between the two applications is secure and protected against interception or tampering. It's crucial to safeguard such sensitive data from unauthorised access, especially during transfer, to prevent it from being stolen or misused by attackers.

4. Data Sharing Limitation

To prevent accidental exposure of highly sensitive information, organisations should use advanced scanning tools in their existing DevSecOps processes. It is important that they limit the sharing of data to only what is necessary. In other words, companies should not expose more data than is required.

By using scanning tools, companies can detect any potential security issues. They can also take corrective measures before any damage is done. This helps to ensure that sensitive information is kept secure and confidential.

5. Use Firewalls Protection

Firewalls can help protect web applications by preventing unauthorised access to computer systems and networks. They act as a barrier between the internet and the network, analysing all incoming and outgoing traffic and blocking anything that appears suspicious or malicious.

With APIs, firewalls can help manage the increasing amount of data that is being transferred and ensure that only authorised traffic is allowed through. This is important in preventing attacks and data breaches.

Wrapping Up

In conclusion, ensuring the security of third-party APIs and integrations in mobile apps is critical for both mobile app developers and users. Mobile apps rely heavily on APIs for accessing third-party services and data. If not secured properly, these APIs can lead to serious data breaches and financial losses. To ensure the security of third-party APIs, developers may follow the five best practices written above.

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