The best tools for mobile API security

By Jonathan Crowl

Application program interfaces (APIs) have become the standard solution for connecting software applications, and that’s made them a likely target of security breaches. Hackers know that cracking the code to APIs opens up sensitive data from all corners of the Internet, including the personal identifying information of consumers and their transactions.

The prominence of APIs has made API security a top focus for any company that needs to assure customers their data will be protected. Enterprises can’t rely on a single security solution as a one-stop fix to these cyberthreats, so a suite of security measures is needed. The best tools will depend on the type of mobile framework you’ve constructed, as well as what types of security breaches you have to guard against.

For most companies, though, the following forms of API security are almost essential.

Token Authentication

This tool secures APIs by dispensing tokens to mobile devices. These tokens function as keys that pass certain user verification steps and access the API. The main benefit of tokens is that they protect API keys and keep them out of potentially exposed environments, according to Stormpath. The tokens help mitigate the potential fallout from a security breach, which is highly likely for many companies — no matter how strong a mobile security defense you’ve created.

Tokens also expire over time, so even when a hacker does manage to gain token access to an API, that access will only last a certain length of time. An expired token will be rendered useless, and hackers will find themselves back at square one.

A number of token authentication tools are on the market, and they’re a baseline of defense that every enterprise should consider.

Secure Authentication Data Exchange

Many enterprises don’t rely on token authentication alone. Another common layer of protection are security products built on top of token authentication that secure the exchange of authentication data and further prevent breaches involving tokens and other sensitive information.

Standardized security features can improve code-writing and integration, and they typically use an ID token to facilitate this second layer of security. The API security tool is popular among developers because it’s easy to work with and minimizes the risk of code-related hiccups.

Universal Two-Factor Authentication

Two-factor authentication has become a fairly standard security feature online, and it actually shares some of the security measures used in near-field communication and smart card technology. The two-step process is fairly straightforward: It uses two methods of identity verification to provide API access to a user. This asymmetrical approach provides a highly reliable degree of certainty that users gaining clearance are the identity they claim.

Two-factor authentication is used for everything from email accounts to banking profiles, and it has proven very effective across a number of industries.

System for Cross-Domain Identity Management

This system uses an open standard to securely and automatically exchange information between different domains and IT systems. For enterprises collaborating with numerous partners, this type of setup is essential. It can be used to manage user records and share user information with other parties without compromising that data as it transfers between domains and systems. User information and access can be controlled by managing permissions, and as those permissions change, user accounts in external systems can be automatically added or deleted.

This setup can save enormous amounts of time writing custom software connectors. For large enterprises managing hundreds or thousands of employees, this secure automation is a highly valued tool.

This shouldn’t be used as the exclusive list of API security tools, but it’s a good starting point for any enterprise looking to shore up its framework and address any points of weakness in its mobile infrastructure.