API compliance might feel like a headache in waiting, but it’s simply a matter of understanding what compliance means and which API compliance standards you need to adhere to. We’ll walk you through all you need to know below.
What is API compliance?
API compliance is ensuring your API conforms to specific regulations and legal standards. These differ from country to country and industry to industry but broadly centre around keeping data safe and secure.
Common examples of legislation that APIs must comply with include the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) in Europe and the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) in the United States.
Note that API compliance refers to meeting these standards. It is not the same as a compliance API, which is an API that provides compliance-related functionality to support businesses to meet the regulations.
Why is API compliance important?
API compliance is important because it helps keep data safe from loss, leakage or theft. That data might include personally identifiable information (PII), healthcare data, credit card details, other financial data or anything else held in a system that an API touches.
From a business perspective, API compliance is also important as it helps an organisation maintain its reputation and avoid regulatory fines (and even criminal prosecution) related to non-compliance.
What are the common data compliance standards?
An API compliant with the latest standards will have various security features and processes.
While focusing on API compliance in this article, remember that the rest of your architecture must conform to whichever standards cover your industry and region. Consider this when mapping your tech stack, access patterns, security procedures, etc.
Let’s look at some of the most common data compliance standards your business may have to conform to.
GDPR came into force on 25 May 2018, replacing the previous data protection directive from 1995. It covers all 27 European Union (EU) member countries, while the UK has retained the legislation in its domestic law, calling it the UK GDPR.
The GDPR states that any entity which collects or processes personal data belonging to residents of the EU must comply with its regulations. As such, it can apply to businesses across the globe, not just those based in the EU.
HIPAA legislation in the US requires many organisations to conform to its compliance care API obligations. These federal regulatory standards relate to the disclosure and use of protected health information. They apply to any organisation that transmits health information, including through APIs.
The Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI DSS) protects cardholder data (credit card numbers, security codes, expiration dates). It applies to any entity that stores, processes and/or transmits that data – including by API. It is a global standard, meaning that any such entity must comply, irrespective of geographical location.
The Revised Payment Services Directive (PSD2) applies across the EU and the European Economic Area. It relates to payment service providers, who must comply with its requirements, including in relation to the use of APIs.
Published by the International Organization for Standardization and the International Electrotechnical Commission, ISO/IEC 27001 is designed to manage information security. It has been in place since 2005, with updates in 2013 and 2022. Organisations must operate a watertight and well-evidenced information security management system to achieve and maintain ISO/IEC 27001 certification.
SOC 2 (the SOC part stands for System and Organisation Controls) relates to managing customer data. It is a US auditing procedure that covers five trust principles relating to data: security, availability, processing integrity, confidentiality and privacy. The audit results are unique to each organisation, with certification relating to compliance with the trust principles.
Are APIs vulnerable?
APIs connect systems, communicating and transmitting data between them. As such, they are vulnerable to data loss, leakage and theft if not configured, secured and maintained correctly.
Man-in-the-middle attacks, SQL injections, cross site scripting (XSS) attacks, cross site request forgery attacks, credential stuffing and distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks are all threats to API security.
API risks and how to reduce them
According to OWASP, the top ten API security risks in 2023 relate to:
- Broken object level authorisation
- Broken authentication
- Broken object property level authorisation
- Unrestricted resource consumption
- Broken function level authorisation
- Unrestricted access to sensitive business flows
- Server-side request forgery
- Security misconfiguration
- Improper inventory management
- Unsafe consumption of APIs
Security flaws in these areas combine to present some specific API compliance risks.
API risk #1: regulatory compliance violations
Failure to comply with regulatory requirements can result in businesses incurring significant financial and reputational damage and regulatory penalties.
API risk #2: data breach
Data breaches harm businesses and their customers. A slapdash attitude to API compliance makes a data breach more likely, highlighting the importance of implementing API security that supports compliance obligations.
API risk #3: SLA penalties
Service level agreements are used to define uptime and performance standards. Not complying with these commitments can see an API provider incur SLA-related penalties and a dramatic decline in customer goodwill.
Best practices for ensuring API compliance
Ensuring API compliance can be achieved through a proactive approach to managing API security, no matter which piece(s) of legislation you must conform to. This means following well-established best practices when developing and deploying your APIs.
- Implement robust authentication and authorisation using OAuth 2.0, OpenID Connect and JSON web tokens (JWTs) and fine-grained access control.
- Apply security policies at the gateway level so that no APIs slip through the net regarding adhering to your required standards.
- Encrypt all network traffic.
- Cleanse and validate inputs.
- Implement error wrapping.
- Only return as much data as is necessary.
Remember that you are not alone in trying to meet API compliance standards. Speak to others in your vertical and to your API management solution provider for tips on achieving compliance painlessly.
Tools for ensuring API compliance
An API gateway for microservices and other business systems can help you meet compliance obligations. You can ensure your APIs and data respect national and international privacy and security standards while governing everything centrally and with full visibility.
Of course, when your business operates across international borders, compliance becomes more complex. However, the right API management tools can give you the ability to deal with this with ease. With Tyk Cloud, for example, you can share your data to ensure local compliance while still being able to control and deploy centrally.
Hopefully, you’re feeling less in the dark about API compliance after reading the above. The Tyk team is always on hand for advice if you have specific queries and concerns, so do reach out if that’s the case.