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API Key Management

What Is API Key Management?

API key management refers to all the policies and practices an organization uses in order to monitor and maintain its set of API keys. Consequently, the term also refers to tracking how APIs are being used throughout the business. There are many factors and actions that API key management encompasses:

  • Cataloging API keys
  • Creating new keys
  • Giving credentials and restrictions to certain keys
  • Adding key authentication to existing APIs
  • Updating applications to support new keys for a particular API
  • Maintaining general API security

You must consider developing an API key management strategy to minimize cybersecurity risk and have insight into how your APIs are being used both inside and outside of the company. If done right, such a strategy ensures that only authorized users and applications can connect to your apps and services through an API.

Why Does It Matter?

Businesses today use a significant number of APIs and access points daily, which creates the need for a scalable and comprehensive API management system.

To prevent risk without compromising on productivity, a business must provide its employees and partners with API key authorization and management tools. This way, unauthorized access does not occur, and permitted users and applications can get their jobs done without any issue.

What Is API Security?

API keys are quite similar to passwords in a way. Protecting them is all about choosing a strong code that’s unguessable by a human or a machine. A compromised key, much like a stolen password, means unauthorized access is possible. Some best practices for API security include:

  • Storage: API keys should not be stored as plain text but rather stored as a hashed value in the database to prevent copying. Even if an attacker successfully targets the key management database, the keys are unusable.
  • Role-based access control: API keys should only be allowed to perform the specific actions they’re meant to fulfill, thereby minimizing the attack surface should a key be compromised.
  • Rate limiting: Clients should only be allowed to make a reasonable number of requests at a time. Too many requests may disrupt server performance; this is known as a Denial-of-Service (DoS) attack.

Finally, it’s worth talking about the distinction between API key authentication and authorization. Authentication is proving that an identity is who it says it is. Once this step is complete, then authorization steps in and checks whether the entity has the rights to access the data or resources.

API Keys in the Context of Secrets Management

In the grand scheme of general corporate cybersecurity, API keys are just an element of an overall secrets management strategy. In addition to APIs, secrets can include:

When an IT department works with secrets management, it enforces policies and practices to protect secrets at rest and in transit to protect keys at every stage of their life cycle. Keys are created initially then enter regular use. During use, they must be rotated, or changed, regularly. At the end of its lifecycle, a secret is retired or revoked so that it cannot be leveraged in an attack.

APIs enable modules of code to interact with one another. These interactions can occur either within the business or with third-party services and applications. It’s natural then that a proper secrets management system implies strong API key security.