Secure Your Data: How to Prevent DDoS Attacks on APIs

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Posted on June 20, 2024

Application Programming Interfaces, or simply APIs, are essential in linking different software systems and facilitating seamless communication. However, this dependency on APIs also makes them vulnerable to DDoS attacks on APIs, which are basically targets for attackers.

These types of attacks can interrupt services, causing a long period of downtime, which can lead to loss of revenue and customer trust. Consequently, it is crucial to know how to prevent API attacks to maintain the security and integrity of your systems. 

In this article, we will look at various strategies, security tools and security teams, and best practices for protecting your applications from these disruptive threats and malicious actors.

What is an API DDoS Attack?

First, let’s find out what is an API attack. API DDoS (Distributed Denial of Service) attacks disrupt web API’s availability by overwhelming it with a deluge of malicious requests. In the case of an API attack, particular functions, and endpoints are chosen by attackers because they tend to be most susceptible.

Therefore, rendering a system inaccessible for legitimate users by virtually crippling it. It seeks to exhaust the API’s resources, such as memory bandwidth processing power, which leads to denial-of-service conditions. Understanding what an API attack entails plays a key role when implementing defenses.

Consider a situation where there is a sudden spike in the number of surfing social media platforms via Application Programming Interface than usual for one day only. Such a surge might be aimed at overloading the API, thereby blocking legitimate traffic and users from accessing their data and leaving them frustrated, thus resulting in a significant timespan without any operationality.

Complexity levels may vary in API security attacks. However, all too often their impacts are consistent: real users cannot access the service, leading to annoyance while posing business loss opportunities. 

How DDoS Attacks Work

Effective protection against API DDoS attacks depends on a good understanding of their mechanisms. DDoS is a type of attack that floods the targeted web API with enormous amounts of traffic until its resources are depleted and it becomes unresponsive.

The high number of requests usually comes from botnets, which are networks of compromised computers or devices. These botnets can drive traffic to specific endpoints in an API, making it hard for servers to tell between genuine and malevolent demands. Thus overload occurs at the API stage, leading to service outages.

Secure Your Data: How to Prevent DDoS Attacks on APIs 2

Types of DDoS Attacks

DDoS attacks have different types, focusing on diverse layers in the network stack and employing various techniques to overload and disturb services. 

Below are some common API attack types that you should be aware of:

  • Volume-Based Attacks

    Volumetric attacks are the most popular kinds of DDoS attacks whose purpose is to consume a target’s bandwidth. By flooding the target with huge volumes of traffic, available bandwidth is exhausted by the attacker, hence leading to network congestion and unavailability of service. Examples include UDP floods, ICMP floods, and spoofed-packet floods among others.

  • Protocol Attacks

    These types of attacks exploit weaknesses in network protocols such as firewalls, load balancers, and servers. Protocol attacks can overwhelm and disrupt the functioning of these network components by sending malformed or malicious packets. Common examples include SYN floods, fragmented packet attacks, and Ping of Death.

  • Application Layer Attacks

    These types of attacks target the application layer where web applications and APIs are found. Server resource exhaustion occurs when there are high-volume requests mimicking genuine users behavior from attackers at the application level, causing disruption. Some examples include HTTP floods, Slowloris attacks, and web API DDoS attacks targeted towards specific endpoints.

    Each type of attack typically requires a different kind of mitigation strategy. For instance, volume-based attacks might be counteracted using traffic scrubbing services and CDNs while protocol-based ones may need more sophisticated networking-level defenses like deep packet inspection. Application-layer attacks usually need solid application-level protections like Web Application Firewalls (WAFs) or API gateways.

How to Identify an API Attack

Early detection will help detect potential impacts to mitigate its impacts before they damage your services. 

Here are some signals as well as tools that can assist you in identifying possible API-based DDoS scenarios:

  • Suspicious patterns in the network traffic: A sudden surge in API requests or abnormal traffic patterns or excessive traffic, mostly bot-generated traffic, may indicate a possible DDoS attack. These irregularities can be detected by observing tools.
  • Increasing latency: By becoming slower than usual, it may be a signal that your API is under attack. High latency usually indicates that DDoS is probably underway through resource exhaustion with a huge flood of traffic.
  • Frequent timeouts and errors: A higher than normal level of timeout errors or server errors (e.g., 500 Internal Server Error) suggests that there is an increase in load on the API.
  • High CPU and memory usage: Keeping track of the server’s resource utilization can give you early warning signs. An immediate and sustained spike in CPU or memory utilization might mean an ongoing attack.
  • Geographical traffic anomalies: If there seems to be a sudden burst of traffic from areas that don’t typically access your API, it may be part of an organized assault using compromised machines from those regions.

How to Prevent DDoS Attack Rest API

To keep your APIs safe from DDoS attacks, you need a strategic multiple-layer method. 

Here are some of the core security measures:

DDoS prevention methods

Network-Level Defenses

  • Content Delivery Network (CDN) helps in distributing and absorbing traffic, which results in reducing overload on the servers.
  • Use services like AWS Shield, Cloudflare, or Akamai to find and block malicious traffic.
  • Prevent abuse by limiting the number of requests made by an individual IP address over a certain timeframe.
  • Have Web Application Firewalls (WAFs) that would help filter away malicious traffic.
  • Some useful approaches would involve allowing access from only trusted IP addresses while blocking all known malicious ones.

Application-Level Defenses

  • Traffic management, security enforcement, and monitoring can be done through the use of an API gateway with features such as throttling and IP banning.
  • To avoid abuse, set quotas to limit the rate at which users can make requests.
  • OAuth, API keys, JWT, and others are examples of strong authentication methods used to make sure only true users will have access to your API’s sources.
  • The validation prevents injection attacks or data corruption by checking every input entry before it is accepted.
  • Adapting bucket tokens or leaky bucket algorithms is advisable as this would allow for a dynamic request limits control policy.

Infrastructure and Design Considerations

  • In order to handle spikes in traffic, implement auto-scaling so that infrastructure changes itself according to increased loads if required.
  • Use microservices architecture, so that you can easily isolate services and minimize the impact of attacks.
  • Employ caching techniques to serve repeating queries from a cache resulting in a reduction in the API’s load.
  • To ensure single points of failure are avoided, redundancy must be part of your infrastructure design.

Monitoring and Response

  • Set up real-time monitoring for unusual patterns or spikes in requests.
  • Keep detailed logs of all API requests and responses for analyzing traffic patterns and detecting potential attacks.
  • Formulate an incident response plan for DDoS attacks with clear actionable steps.

Regular Testing and Updates

  • Conduct regular penetration testing to identify and fix vulnerabilities in your system.
  • Regularly update software applications and infrastructure with the latest security patches.

Behavioral Analysis

  • Apply machine learning techniques to analyze traffic patterns and detect anomalies indicative of an attack occurring.
  • Detecting the deviations within normal usage is possible through behavioral analytics that would signal an attack taking place.

Community and Threat Intelligence

  • Subscribe to feeds that provide current information on threats as well as methods used to attack systems.
  • Engage with security communities and forums where DDoS prevention measures are shared out.

DDoS prevention tools

To ensure an organization is adequately protected from DDoS attacks on APIs, the right tool selection is vital. 

Here are some of the most effective DDoS prevention tools that exist today:

  • AWS Shield: Amazon provides managed protection against DDoS at standard and advanced levels. AWS Shield has features to automatically detect and mitigate DDoS attacks and common cybersecurity threats hence guaranteeing the availability of applications hosted on AWS.
  • Cloudflare: Cloudflare’s global network offers robust DDoS protection. Furthermore, it has automatic mitigation for DDoS attacks, Web Application Firewall (WAF) as well as rate-limiting mechanisms to help in safeguarding web APIs from fake traffic or bot traffic.
  • Akamai Kona Site Defender: Akamai’s solution includes a comprehensive WAF and other features for mitigating distributed denial of service (DDoS) threats by using its global content delivery network.
  • Microsoft Azure DDoS Protection: Azure DDoS Protection integrated security solutions for your applications running on Microsoft Azure. Adaptive tuning, attack analytics, and rapid response are among its features that help in mitigating DDOS risks.

Prevent API Attacks with Devcom

Devcom prioritizes the safety of your APIs and protects against DDoS attacks on APIs. Our method combines advanced DDoS mitigation services like Cloudflare or AWS Shield, which blocks malicious traffic before it reaches your system. 

We create robust API gateways that offer traffic management features such as rate limiting and IP blocking. OAuth, API keys, and JWT are some examples of robust authentication methods used to make sure only authorized consumers can use your APIs. 

Additionally, our infrastructure resilience involves auto-scaling, caching, and redundancy for handling spikes in traffic and eliminating single points of failure.

Final words

Securing APIs against DDoS attacks on APIs is essential. You can achieve this by understanding how they work and implementing multiple layers of protection so as not just to ensure their availability but also to safeguard their confidentiality and integrity while in transit or at rest. It is necessary, therefore, to employ advanced tools, enforce strong authentication measures, and regularly monitor and test infrastructures, among others.

Also, engaging professionals like those from Devcom will go a long way towards improving your overall defense posture against these threats since our holistic approach is designed around keeping pace with the dynamic nature of modern-day web vulnerabilities – always adapting new techniques alongside old ones when required thus making it harder for attackers to succeed. For more information on how Devcom can help protect your APIs, visit Devcom API Development Services.


1. How do I protect my API?

Securing an API may involve several steps, such as setting up an API gateway, putting rate limiters in place, enforcing strong authentication mechanisms, including authorization tokens where necessary, and deploying Web Application Firewalls (WAFs) to filter bad request patterns originating from external hosts. It also includes logging everything that happens within system processes, then analyzing logs continuously and looking out for any suspicious activity.

2. Why is DDoS so hard to prevent?

DDoS attacks overwhelm the target’s resources by sending huge volumes of traffic generated from numerous compromised devices, making it difficult to mitigate them effectively. The distributed nature of these attacks makes it difficult to distinguish between legitimate and malicious traffic, thus requiring sophisticated detection and mitigation strategies.

3. Does API Gateway provide security?

API Gateway is a security tool that safeguards API traffic by acting as an all-in-one gate. The services it provides include rate limits, authorization, authentication, management of traffic flow, and blocking of IP addresses. It enables you to impose policies on safety measures, restrict access to your products as well as monitor the flow of data between applications. It aids in averting potential risks, curbing misuse, and bolstering API infrastructure’s overall protection levels.

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