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What Is API Authentication and How Does It Work?

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Your data is important; to you, to online services, and yes, to cybercriminals. You need to keep it as secure as possible and limit yourself to only using services which similarly value your privacy and security.

Web application security measures such as API authentication are vital. But what is API authentication? How does it keep you safe? And what examples of API authentication might you already be using?

What Is API Authentication?

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API Authentication is all about proving or verifying the identity of the people accessing your system. It’s the process of using a software protocol to ensure that clients on a network are who they claim to be before granting them access.

The goal of API authentication is to prevent attacks from cybercriminals who snoop around websites looking for the slightest vulnerability to take advantage of. It works as a gatekeeper that grants access to only authentic users.

Related: What Does API Stand For? Examples of How to Use APIs

When an API software detects a piece of incorrect information about the user or a mismatch in the client’s identity, it instantly blocks or denies them access to the servers. This prompt defensive action makes API authentication one of the most effective data security solutions out there.

It’s essentially an online ID verification.

Granting access to an authentic user in a network through API authentication also requires authorization. Authentication and authentication may be similar but they perform distinct roles. In this case, authentication precedes authorization.

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What Is the Importance of API Authentication?

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We can’t overestimate the importance of API Authentication as it serves as the first defense between the users of a network and cyberattackers.

API authentication secures your network in various capacities and makes you enjoy the following benefits.

Enhanced Security

A study conducted by Microsoft indicates that API authentication is a simple yet effective action you can take to prevent many breaches on your account.

User authentication always makes password or account cracking harder for cybercriminals since they have several additional security measures to pass through before gaining access.

Increased User Trust

A website with API authentication creates a sense of security in users and wins their trust. Users like to know that their personal information is protected even if they have to go through extra verification steps. Similarly, a website with GDPR compliance seems more secure than ones that don’t have privacy protection measures in place.

Reduced Operating Cost

As a website owner, using API Authentication prevents you from incurring additional costs accrued when your customers’ data is at risk. Some users won’t hesitate to file for a legal suit when they notice a data exposure or breach. Someone has to be held accountable for their losses.

How Does API Authentication Work?

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The dynamics of API authentication differ according to the method you are using. The most common one is to send or receive an API key which is often a long series of letters or numbers. This code calls programs from a different application; the key recognizes the code, its developer, the end-user, and the application where the API call is made from.

When the client authenticates the API key, the server imprints their identity and lets them access data.

As a network owner, you don’t necessarily have to explain the internal details of how your website authentication works to users. You only need to educate them about their API keys. Information on authentication requests, error messages, invalid authentication, and the duration of the token or code should be made available to users.

Encourage users to cultivate healthy cybersecurity culture. They shouldn’t share their private keys, codes, or tokens with anyone.

The Common Methods of API Authentication

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There are three major API authentication methods. Each is designed for specific systems and performs unique functions. A mismatch between the method and the network makes it less effective.


What Is HTTP Basic Authentication?

The HTTP basic authentication is the simplest of all API authentication methods. It uses a locally acquired username and password and relies on Base64 encoding.

Relying on usernames and passwords, it doesn’t require session IDs, login pages, and cookies. It uses the HTTP header itself, so there is no need for a difficult response system.

Users can easily use login data and authentication through a copy-cat HTTP header. Enforcing strict processes to prevent such intrusions is best.

It’s important to always alternate passwords when using this method of API authentication because it uses shared credentials. Another setback is the possibility of suffering a man-in-the-middle attack, which can occur if its lines are exposed in transmission.

What Is OAuth With OpenID?

This method of API authentication isn’t solely for authentication in its default state. It’s a combination of both authorization and authentication.

OAuth with OpenID provides authorization services to decide which users have entrance to various corporate resources. When used solely for authentication, it’s called pseudo-authentication because it’s not designed for that purpose.

Combining OAuth and OpenID offers stronger authentication and authorization. Implementing both commands confirms users and devices using a third-party authentication process. This combination is one of the most reliable authentication/authorization options available on the market today.

What Are API Keys?

API keys were made as a fair fix for early issues of HTTP basic authentication and other comparable systems. It has unique identifiers for users each time they try to authenticate. It’s very suitable for applications that have several users seeking access.

A uniquely generated code or token is allocated to each first-time user to signify that the user is known. When they want to log in again, they use that code for verification.

Adopting the Best API Authentication Option

Which API authentication method do you think is the best option? It depends on your situation or your surrounding network. Each is effective when assigned to a suitable role. Nonetheless, the OAuth method proves to be the most effective on a level playing field.

Implementing cybersecurity is necessary especially if you want everyone on your network to feel safe. Having users verify their authenticity is a little effort to make to prevent their data from indiscriminate exposure.


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