An API (application programming interface) enables web apps and programs to communicate and interact with one another.
They help apps and programs share data and work in tandem with each other making processes run smoothly and seamlessly. This helps businesses enrich their customer experience and in turn, increase their value.
It’s clear that APIs have played a pivotal role in transforming digital strategies and have become an essential component in programming web-based interactions.
As APIs have grown in popularity and usage, there is a concern of security while using APIs and the measures being taken to safeguard organizations that utilize APIs. Today, we address this issue of API security and the role it plays in DevOps.
The importance of APIs for security purposes
All enterprises use a variety of web applications and programs to run their operations. It’s critical that these apps and programs interact with each other to optimize business operations.
Currently, organizations spend more than $590 billion a year in merging disparate systems. APIs serve as a solution to leverage existing technologies and allow the functionality of one app or program to be used by another.
This enables companies to expand their operations faster and at the same time lower their costs. Like the cloud, which has opened up the internet's potential, APIs are driving another rush of advancement focused on sharing administrations.
Applications are often taken apart for modifications and updates. Usually, multiple apps use the same file systems, connectors, databases, and tests. Built-in automated tools enable developers to reassemble multiple apps quickly while making changes and updates.
Automated security testing
Many times, testing is saved for the end after the code is complete and the app is ready. But this isn’t the most efficient route. Developers should author tests as they go along continuous testing makes deployment faster and smoother.
With every version release, developers need to test in order to enable smoother integration with other teams. Effective version control enables other teams to have instant visibility as to whether the app is compatible with their own.
It’s important to record how applications are created and deployed. This helps determine which environments and configurations work best, and which deployments fail critical tests. Creating this sort of formula will make future deployments faster and better.
With an approach of API-integrated DevOps, teams are placed in a better position to be aware of how a software moves through the pipeline. Instead of disparity, teams will have more secure access to the software and will also know how to use it efficiently and effectively. API-led connectivity has proven to help companies progress and expand with ease while reducing their costs. Let’s take a look at real-life examples.
Real-life examples of successful API-integrated DevOps models
One of the most successful stories of using reusable APIs belongs to DevOps pioneer Spotify. Leveraging this technology, the company was able to rapidly grow by deploying their app across 60 countries. As it occurs in many enterprises, Spotify also witnessed duplicates of applications being created by different departments – each team and its applications existing in a silo of their own.
The company used its API-DevOps model to build an application network to improve data sharing across the board. Instead of recreating each app from scratch, this opened up the business to create and deploy apps faster, expand their reach by entering more markets, and acquire customers rapidly.
Netflix is another great example where API-led DevOps played a critical role in its success. When the company first evolved from shipping DVDs to online streaming, it ventured into uncharted territory. But its commitment to automation and its DevOps approach has made it a leader in the market setting new standards for others.
Other companies that have transitioned to the API-DevOps model include Amazon, Adobe, Sony Pictures, Etsy, Nordstrom, Facebook, Walmart, and Target. These enterprises have tried and tested DevOps and have proof of success. They make millions of rollouts a year using DevOps – Amazon has explicitly been told to make 136,000 tech rollouts a day.
But embracing this technology isn’t just for giant companies and popular brands. Companies large and small, new and old, can take advantage of APIs and DevOps to build their business models. If you have doubts about whether this model is suitable for your business, we address similar concerns next.
Practical considerations for implementing API-DevOps model
As mentioned earlier, DevOps seems like something that’s designed for giant corporations. But the truth is DevOps can be adopted by companies of any scale and in any sector. This includes banks, insurtech startups, and retailers.
Now, we know companies make millions of rollouts in a single day but you have to keep in mind that this will also require continuous deployments. This entails a process of expanding the automation so that, once a release candidate has been created, it will be automatically be deployed in production. This works for several businesses and projects, but not all of them.
With the speed and volume of development today, you have to also consider quality, security, and future application. Transitioning to new architectures like DevOps takes time and is not always smooth. It’s a challenge for all teams involved to uproot traditional methods and move to new practices.
The transition can cause bottlenecks in the development process and could initially impact the potential time-to-market. To avoid these situations, you need solutions that are designed to integrate DevOps easily and seamlessly. To do this, you need to ensure the different roles and their relationships with each other are tightened up so that every player can function smoothly as things change around them.
Roles in an organization delivering APIs
Roles differ between organizations; however, there are a few major roles that can be used as examples to depict an ideal DevOps environment. Here are four of the most pivotal roles in delivering API DevOps:
Scrum Lead: Leads the scrum team and plans and manages to block conditions for other members of the team. They take care of any backlogs and coordinate with the customer in organizing input/user stories for iterations.
Developer: Transforms and develops the input/user stories into technical capabilities while considering API logic.
Architect: Provides guidance and support to the technical staff. Works on best practices and how to build technical strategies from business requirements.
DevOps: Integrates software solutions to build, package, deploy, and test applications and infrastructure. They enhance and transition features through different environments smoothly with proper monitoring and maintenance. These roles can greatly help make continuous integration, delivery, and deployment possible.
How to deploy your application security using APIs
A major challenge for companies using DevOps is establishing proper security practices that don’t impact time-to-market and don’t hold up production. Many developers are quite comfortable with the level of API security their organization has implemented. But it takes one bad code iteration for just one of the clients to become vulnerable.
An study by Imperva revealed that an enterprise manages an average of 363 APIs. It also showed that more than two-thirds of them expose its applications’ APIs to the public to allow partners and developers to leverage their software platforms and web apps. While this has its benefits, it also carries security risks.
API gateways and tools can be properly configured to bring about the adequacy of security measures being put in place to ensure security for businesses using APIs. While deploying security tactics, you need to bear this in mind.
Here are a few security strategies you can use:
Maintain continuous automated security
When you hear of DevOps, sooner or later, you’ll hear of continuous implementation-continuous deployment (CI/CD). The process helps better integrate development and launch processes so that launching new features and applications becomes quicker without compromising on quality.
Usually security comes in at the end to test apps after they are developed. But with the dawn CI/CD, the need for continuous security also grew strong. Automating security solutions and tests to be applied at every stage of development helps detect flaws and loopholes immediately. This cuts the time exhausted on security at the end trying to figure out what went wrong at which stage of development.
Plus, automated security solutions enable scaling and support rapid deployments as your business grows.
Deploy a web application firewall (WAF) to environments using APIs
In order to ensure API security, a WAF (web application firewall) solution is required to inspect the outgoing and incoming HTTPS/HTTP as with any other web application. The firewall provides functions such as blocking attacks, profiling, bot, and DDoS protection, avoiding takeovers, and the like. A WAF provides specialized security capabilities that complement API gateways making it critical for modern application environments.
Embrace evolving security solutions
Application environments and the tools available are advancing at a rapid pace. If security solutions are built to be rigid, it will be difficult to break from previous strategies and keep up with new developments.
Security solutions need to evolve to suit the need of the present day. For example, security in current application approaches (DevOps, APIs, CI/CD, cloud, and containers) requires:
Solutions to be easily integrated into automated development chains and used in tandem with other tools.
High availability of security tools and measures to ensure stable continuity in development. It should also protect sensitive data and applications without causing excessive IT overhead or blocking legitimate web traffic.
Unbiased application regardless of whether it is deployed on public or private clouds, containers, or if it is for on-premises only. This enables a smoother transition from traditional approaches to agile DevOps without any security lags.
Centralized consoles to manage cloud and on-premise gateways. This helps consolidate and simplify security in all deployments.
Secure all data
When companies shift their focus on DevOps, APIs, and CI/CD, sometimes there tends to be a shift away from securing data. As applications and infrastructures become more integrated and distributed under DevOps, it’s even more important to maintain the security of data. Over time, complex interdependencies surface and can potentially span clouds, containers, APIs, and services.
A good way to deal with this complicated ecosystem is to implement a DCAP (data-centric audit and protection) solution. It will help protect data stored in files, databases, and repositories. Plus, you get access to auditing, security and rights, and real-time monitoring.
Don’t throw out old practices
As technology advances, it’s not wise to forget past vulnerabilities and security threats. Many threats are decades old but are still lurking around and threaten DevOps environments. While implementing new strategies, ensure the old ones are incorporated or deployed alongside.
Keep in mind that with DevOps, your attack base may become bigger if your APIs are exposed, if you're deploying code more frequently, and if you have third-party software and services in your stack. Your company should consider the following:
Enforce granular access control
Audit app access and events regularly
Encrypt data at rest and data in communication
Monitor behavior and activity to prevent attacks
Block malicious traffic and filter malware
Harden services and infrastructure to reduce the attack surface
By integrating security measures early in the development process, you can improve the quality of production code, and develop a sort of prescribed formula for future application.
The future of APIs
Organizations are shifting rapidly to APIs as they bridge the gap between independent apps and programs, and instead, facilitate proper and consistent communication between them. APIs have become a critical part of every application and it’s easy to understand why many companies are developing their apps using API and DevOps.
By using management tools, APIs can become more secure and reliable. Organizations must run routine API audits to improve their development. This will greatly help in preventing hack attacks and malicious bots from successfully breaking in.
APIs have the ability to make development faster, reduce time-to-market without compromising quality, and increasing customer reach and business value. It’s safe to save the API-led approach will grow exponentially as more organizations embrace it.
These days, organizations are giving primary attention to DevOps while planning their IT strategies. And with a smart implementation of APIs, the effectiveness of DevOps driven businesses increases even further. However, as we mentioned, a single API vulnerability can expose an entire DevOps environment and disrupt the entire chain of events.
Following a security-first approach with APIs, on the other hand, might negate such concerns. Conducting frequent API scans and looking out for vulnerabilities will not only help your organization in maintaining the functionality and reliability of APIs but also ensure the safety and security of your entire DevOps pipeline.
Subho Halder is the CISO and Co-Founder of Appknox. He started his career as a bug bounty hobbyist and is currently helping businesses to detect and fix security vulnerabilities. Subho is known as a master hacker and has detected critical loopholes in companies like Google, Facebook, and Microsoft.