Backend APIs Just Make Sense
A summary of the advantages of building secure backend APIs by using structured data.
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It’s no secret that IT administrators are often seen as an obstacle rather than a resource inside many organizations. IT administrators are often the ones that have to say “no” to most requests due to the potential security risks to the network. And while there are many people who often can’t sympathize with the plight of the IT administrator, there are definitely some individuals who share their security concerns.
One such person is the API developer. With APIs exploding in popularity, each and every organization is working to understand how they can best integrate APIs into their software architecture. Whether an organization is building an API for internal usage or they’re incorporating the usage of SaaS services that provide RESTful API access to their data, APIs should be considered a huge boon to IT administrators. Specifically, APIs utilized in the backend of an organization’s applications cannot only increase security (making the IT administrator happy), but they can also increase efficiency (making the API developer happy).
There are many reasons why IT administrators should work with API developers to build secure APIs into an organization's backend architecture. One of them is structured data. Whether you’re using JSON or XML as your data format, the data sent and received by an API is structured. Structure leads to predictability; after all, if you know exactly what to expect in an API’s response, it will be easier to detect when something goes wrong. Predictability is an IT administrator’s best friend from a security perspective. Working together, an API developer and an IT administrator can develop a security policy for the backend API that is specific to the needs of the architecture and satisfactory for both parties. All of that is centered around the proper usage of structured data.
Structured data isn’t the only advantage to using APIs in the backend. Another is the well-used concept of minimal points of entry. Any good IT administrator actively tries to minimize the number of applications that have access to different servers behind the firewall. Building an API in the backend will allow any application that needs access to your databases, your CRM platforms, your marketing automation software or any other system to access said system through one point of entry: your backend API. Moreover, you can apply specific (and granular) access control policies to each consumer of the API. Rather than punching a hole through your firewall for each and every back-office service that needs to be exposed to the Internet, why not tie them all together with a backend API and only expose that to the applications that need the information?
Finally, while there are many other advantages to using APIs in the backend, there’s at least one more that needs acknowledgement: packet monitoring and rate limiting. While that may seem like two, they actually go hand in hand. API requests are often rate-limited for security reasons. An API developer working together with an IT administrator can build a process to monitor the packets coming in through the API requests. The minute any one of them appears malicious, shutting off access for that specific API consumer is trivial. Imagine having to monitor packets coming in through all the different systems that this same API is allowing controlled access to. Again, the structure of the data here comes in extremely handy when it comes to monitoring the packet stream.
The fundamental advantage to using APIs in the backend lies in the predictability of an API’s requests. Being able to manage the flow of data and monitor for expected outcomes makes the job of an IT administrator significantly easier. IT administrators have to look out for the security of the enterprise network. Application and API developers are often on the other side; they care about innovation. While there will always be tension between the two, there is one space the two groups should be able to agree on: usage of APIs in the backend can increase efficiency and security throughout the enterprise. It’s time we build on that common ground and make our infrastructure more secure in the process.
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