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How to Secure Your Okta API


Daniel Naftchi

Co-founder & CTO

How to Secure Your Okta API

Okta is by far one of the most widely-used application programming interfaces for cloud identity and access management.

But many users mistakenly assume that it either doesn’t need to be secured or don’t even consider that securing Okta data and access could be a possibility. 

Failing to secure your Okta API is a huge – not to mention potentially financially disastrous – mistake, because per the Shared Security Responsibility Model, while Okta is responsible for the security of the cloud, you are responsible for security in the cloud – in other words, all your data and your access to it, including your infrastructure and user devices.

Why is Securing Your Okta API Important?

According to the 2018 Okta API Access Management whitepaper, if a company fails to properly secure its APIs, “their systems will be frustrating, unreliable, catastrophically insecure, or all three.”

Furthermore, as OWASP’s Top 10 Web Application Security Risks show, API security risks are not just external, they’re just as if not more often internal. Or, as Keith Casey puts it in his 2020 blog “API Security Threats in the Real World”, “According to the Open Web Application Security Project (OWASP) API Security Top 10 list, the vast majority of API breaches come down to simple mistakes from the people designing, building, and deploying our APIs.”

With that in mind, here’s how to help keep your Okta API secure.


Authentication, Authorization, and Least Privilege

Referring back to the API Access Management whitepaper referenced earlier,  any company’s main goals regarding Okta API management should be to ensure that the right people and systems have access to the right things to accomplish the given task for the shortest amount of time necessary to complete the task.

Let’s break that down into its subcomponents: 

  1. The right people and systems having access to (authentication)
  2. The right things to accomplish their task for (authorization)
  3. The shortest time necessary (least privilege)

4 Ways to Secure Your Okta API

Per the API Access Management whitepaper we’ve been referencing, there are several approaches companies like yours can take to secure your Okta API. Here are 4 of the most common.

1. API Keys

API keys are codes used to authenticate an application or user. Because they’re created by the developer, they inherit the developer’s permissions.

This doesn’t mean that they’re not good security controls – they are. But many end users don’t require all developer permissions, so that leaves room for over-permissioning and thus, creates potential security risks.

Furthermore, while API keys do address authentication, they neither address authorization nor do they address least privilege.

2. OAuth 2.0

OAuth 2.0 is more advanced than API keys, though it operates much like them, with these key distinctions:

  • API keys do not allow for scoping to allow fine-grained access/permissions — but OAuth 2.0 does
  • OAuth tokens have an expiration built-in, meaning they also cover least privilege by reducing the amount of time an attacker can act

OAuth 2.0 is generally regarded as superior to API keys, but it’s still not a comprehensive API security cure-all as it does not protect the API itself.

3. API Gateways

API Gateways are helpful to developers, architects, and end users.

At their core, they act like a firewall, protecting APIs from malicious data, incorrect requests, and denial of service attacks. They can and should be used alongside other security measures, such as OAuth 2.0. They, therefore, are especially useful for enforcing authorization and protecting the API itself in a way that protocols like OAuth 2.0 can’t.

4. API Gateway & Access Management

Utilizing access management (such as O.Auth 2.0 or API Keys) in addition to an API gateway is the most effective way to protect and secure your API from various risks and attacks. It is therefore the recommended approach – and the one that hits all three parts of an effective API/Okta security approach – that is, authentication, authorization, and least privilege.

Use Acsense to Protect Your Okta Tenant & Maintain Access Continuity

No matter the measures you take to protect Okta API users, there will inevitably be times when you cannot safeguard against all risks, whether they stem from internal user error or external cyberattacks.

Acsense can help by backing up your Okta tenant preventatively and providing one-click recovery in the event that an attack or interruption of service occurs for any reason.




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