What Are API Keys And How to Use Them

API keys

Today organizations increasingly rely on APIs as a business-enabling technology that allows them to create powerful enterprise and consumer applications, get the access to real-time data and information, and interconnect various layers of IT infrastructure. As APIs are quickly becoming one of the essential keys to digital transformation, it’s getting more important to be knowledgeable about different aspects of API utilization and management. Today we are going to talk about one component of successful API management,:which is API keys. 

What are API keys? 

API key is a code used by the API to identify and authenticate the calling application or user. API keys are typically applied to control and track how the API is being used. They can also serve as a unique identifier and to provide a secret token for authentication purposes. 

It is possible to assign API keys with different access rights depending on what kind of project or user is trying to access it. API keys look like long strings of randomly generated characters. This code is passed between an API and its caller, allowing the system behind the API to identify the application making the call, the provider of the code, and the end-user. 

How are API keys being used? 

API keys are commonly used to provide authorization and authentication for projects and users. 

  1. API keys for user identification. 

API keys allow websites and applications to identify the user requesting for access to an API. User’s authorization token is checked to confirm the permission to make the call and authorize the request. 

When it comes to user identification, API keys are mainly used for two purposes: 

  • User authentication.

Checking the user’s identity to verify that it is genuine. 

  • User authorization. 

Checking if the user has permission to make such a call to the API. 

  1. API keys for project identification. 

API keys are also widely used as a way to identify and authorize software projects that are making calls to APIs. 

  • Project authentication. 

Identifying a specific project that makes the call. 

  • Project authorization. 

Confirming that the project making the call has the right to access the API and all the necessary permissions for requested features or data. 

How secure are API keys? 

As APIs are widely used across various IT systems and software layers transmitting personal data of users, it is important to address the API security with all seriousness. Vulnerabilities in APIs can be exploited by hackers for stealing sensitive information and getting access to networks and IT systems. With growing popularity of APIs, the frequency of such cyberattacks is also on the rise. 

API keys are considered as not a very secure solution as this method has a number of weaknesses if you look at it from the security perspective. Since API keys are typically provided to multiple users and projects, it is relatively easy for cybercriminals to steal an API key, which usually has no expiration date, allowing hackers to use it as long as they want unless the rightful owner generates a new key. So when it comes to security, API keys should be complemented by other ways of security protection, such as using REST APIs. 

Apilayer, an unparalleled suite of productivity-boosting web APIs and cloud-based microservice applications for developers and companies of any size, offers a handful of powerful REST APIs that can empower your websites and applications. For example, Ipstack is a scalable IP address geolocation and reverse IP lookup REST API. It allows users to utilize IP intelligence data to take control of their online audience, enhance user experience and prevent fraud efficiently.

What are the best applications for API keys? 

So, as we learnt, API keys cannot be relied upon to establish a completely secure authorization process. 

Here are some of the most appropriate applications for API keys: 

  • Control over calls made to your API. 

One of the most common ways API providers use API keys is controlling the usage of their APIs, to make sure only legitimate users can access it. 

  • Blocking unauthorized traffic. 

APIs keys can be utilized to detect and block unauthorized and/or anonymous traffic, which may be an indicator of a hacker attack or other kind of malicious activity. 

  • Analysing API traffic. 

Another useful application for API keys is the analysis of API traffic to identify specific usage patterns. This information can then be used for a number of purposes, such as detecting issues with API and malicious activity. 

  • Logs filtering. 

Additionally, developers can use API keys as a way to filter what kinds of activities on the API server are logged. 

What are the business benefits of using API keys? 

API keys can provide business benefits in a number of ways. First of all, they serve as a key instrument to make sure that all the connections to APIs utilized in your IT systems and services are made by authorized users. Secondly, they can help you to gather valuable data to make sure all the components of your system are functioning in the intended way and both customers and internal users can access features and information they need. Finally, API keys is a tool to control the usage of your systems and services by making sure specific users have the authorized level of access, meaning that they can only do and see what they are allowed to. 

Utilizing only high-quality professional APIs is the best way to gain maximum benefit from this technology. Apilayer is a set of APIs that allow organizations to easily automate multiple processes, such as online audience and user journey control, data conversion, user info verification, and real-time third-party data access.