10 Best API Key Practices- A Complete Information 2023

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By Susith Nonis

Nowadays, everyone is connected online under different social accounts. If users are not unable to manage their social accounts correctly, they put themselves in a vulnerable position which could potentially result in a major data loss. They will not only lose their valuable information but also compromise their entire system settings.

The same holds true for different authorization and authentication applications in the API (Application Programming Interface) space.

What are API Keys?

When developers create an application, they use a code known as the API key to track and monitor the user activities on the programming interface.

This often helps developers to add an extra layer of security to a particular program or application. In a few unique cases, developers use API keys to create secret authentication tokens and unique identifiers.

In implementing the API keys, most people think that they also cover the security of the system. Still, in fact, API keys are only meant for project identification and limiting API usage.

The safety protocols are entirely dependent on the developer’s skill set to safeguard their API keys and maintain a high-level security framework. Many developers integrate cloud-based development tools, so the chances of public exposure increase and malicious attacks can become a real concern.

Why Use API Keys?

When developers create projects and want to gain access to them, they need to provide the correct credentials. In this process, authentication tokens are used to identify whether the user is real or fake.

After generating the key or token, it is allowed to travel through a connection to reach the user. Still, they don’t have any security options to increase encryption levels, which creates a sense of false security.

Without proper protection of API keys, the applications or programs associated can be subjected to decompilation to extract the required keys. Some files may even get stolen if the password managers fail to uphold their side of the security bargain.

This applies to almost any application on the web, so it is paramount for users to maintain certain security standards to protect their API keys.

Advantages of Using API Keys

Advantages of Using API Keys

  • API keys are so simple in practice. They are adaptable to different use cases, and they allow users to make any required modifications. API keys give complete control and visibility to the user to automatically reduce the risk of unwanted files entering the source control system.
  • When it comes to entropy-related issues, API keys come up with the best solutions. They provide optimum authentication services to solve problems with naming. If entropy allows only a limited number of unique pairs with a certain style, you can use API keys with a high number of acceptable variables.
  • API keys are self-governing and independent to a high degree so that they can be deployed autonomously. Even though it creates a sense of false security, it is the best solution for programmed systems to harness it.

API keys provide flexible use cases in real life and all the benefits outlined above are real, but that doesn’t mean they are the complete solution. They may have the most potential to support read-only purposes and applications.

Still, when it comes to heavy-usage API systems, they don’t have proper security features to overcome the complexity. To maintain the proper storage and security functions of the API, we have to follow certain practices and set high standards for safety.

10 Best API Key Practices

API keys do not have a one-size-fits-all approach to reduce risks and increase safety levels. We need to follow multiple practices and consider different perspectives while deploying new encryption and safety protocols.

Here is our pick of the 10 best API key practices to avoid headaches of an exposed API key:

1. Provide Scope to Your API Key

Many developers often make this mistake where they give the API keys to access to everything. For example, if a user wants to send a message, they should be restricted to only that action and not be given access to other parts of the application/program.

By restricting the API key access, you are setting a limit or scope for those keys, where each of them represents one unique permission. If you want to send an email, your scope should be “email.send” and nothing else. In the case of multiple servers, users are required to generate another API key with a separate scope.

2. Delete Unwanted API Keys

By performing a deletion operation on an API key, you are permanently letting go of that key’s purpose, and it cannot be brought back. To delete unneeded API keys, you simply need to visit the admin panel and select the API keys you want to delete. When the delete popup appears, click on the agree button to complete the operation.

Note: It is suggested to delete API keys with the least privileges so that they don’t affect other parts of the program.

3. OAuth & OpenID Connect

APIs are implemented to fulfill authorization and authentication tasks, but it is difficult for a manager to create a robust mechanism to safeguard thousands of usernames and passwords.

Instead, she needs to delegate those responsibilities to a third-party server, which can handle all data securely. With OAuth and OpenID, API providers need not follow any data protection regulations because they only receive tokens.

4. Never Share Secrets on a Messaging Platform

One of the most essential practices to safeguard your API keys is to avoid sharing and storing sensitive information or secrets. When users use an application, like a messaging platform to send secrets, they become a soft target for many attackers.

All it takes is one email or message with plain text to compromise the system’s entire internal framework. Secondly, stop storing secrets on messaging platforms; instead, you can use separate secret management software to determine project size, scope, and many other scale factors.

5. Try Remote Access

In every use case, we hide the key inside the code, but the best way to implement this would be by requesting an API access token. The API keys are no longer present in the calling channel, and they are assigned with a short-lived Web token.

With this type of remote service, anyone can successfully verify the level of authority that the agent requesting access has over an application or program. This also determines the authenticity of an application.

Suppose the challenge-response protocol deployed by the API key service is satisfied. In that case, the token is added to the API call, and at the back-end service, the app’s identifier is evaluated.

6. Proxy Server for Mobile Applications

Proxy Server for Mobile ApplicationsMobile applications usually run on static web APIs, so it is crucial to use proxy servers to safeguard your API keys or signing secrets.

Service proxies support API keys in rejecting calls that have no proper authentication and access to the app. They also provide a robust platform for interacting with the Google Maps API.

7. CA Pinning or Certificate Pinning

The CA pinning is a must-follow practice to check whether a trustworthy authority issued the server’s certificate. This can help in avoiding middleman attacks on your API key. If we need to extend our search related to the server, we need to use certificate (CA) pinning, as it extracts the public key present and checks with existing ones.

This practice is user-friendly for mobile clients because they can directly communicate with Google Servers and the developer’s proxy server.

8. Appropriate Restrictions for an API Key

To reduce the usage of API keys, we need to set certain restrictions for both website and mobile applications. In general, there are 4 main types of restriction:

  1. HTTP referrers,
  2. IP addresses,
  3. Android apps, and
  4. iOS apps.

To limit the usage of websites, you need to supply a list of referrer websites that would allow your access requests. For IP addresses, you need to provide proper entries using CIDR notations.

For applications on Android, you would need to add the package name plus a signing certificate. Finally, iOS apps can be restricted by providing bundle identifiers.

9. Use Short-lived Access Tokens

By using short-lived access tokens, you can revoke and redistribute all APIs within an organization. This increases visibility for each key and reduces security risks. This is a very good practice to avoid long-term threats from different cyber attackers. The only issue is that short-lived tokens require an active secret management service.

10. Firewalling

Most of the problems concerning APIs can be avoided with the help of a firewall. To build a firewall, you need to create 2 organized layers, namely DMZ and LAN.

The first layer takes care of basic security functions, like authenticating messages and blocking intruders. And with the second layer, you can handle complex API infrastructure or networks by using advanced safety mechanisms.


API key management mainly deals with all the security concerns and, thus, all you need to do to secure and control your data is to implement as many API solutions as possible.

There is no single-solution API key practice to adopt, so try each one of the 10 best API key practices mentioned above and see what works out the best for you.

We hope that we provided enough information in this article to help you protect your API keys. It is all in the execution, so make sure you follow them all!

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1. How can users identify a generated API Key later?

Ans. To identify a generated API key easily in the database, add a prefix to the API key. Now store this prefix in the database and display it in the console for the ease of users to identify it.

2. How do I manage API keys?

Ans. To manage API keys, go to Analytics, then Configuration, and then API Keys. Here you can view existing API keys and access actions to manage them.

3. How do I securely use API keys?

Ans. To use your API keys securely, restrict your API keys to be used only by the IP addresses, referrer URLs, and mobile applications that need them. This will minimize the impact of a compromised API key.

4. Where API keys should be stored?

Ans. API keys should be stored in the database as a hashed value instead of plain text or encrypted text. This will ensure the safety of API keys even if the database is compromised.

5. Is the API key public or private?

Ans. API keys can be either public or private. The public key is usually included in the request. On the other hand, the private key is like a password and is used only in communication between servers.

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