Are DDoS attacks a novel threat to API servers? Nope.

Mark O’Neill, CTO at Vordel, published a post on programmableweb regarding DDoS attacks and the implications for APIs.

For those who learned programming before Friends became a hot TV show, the term of art “application programming interface” referred to the function names and signatures that you’d link your program to. These days, the term API refers most often to a Web API, in other words network interface, often a REST-based network interface. One program sends another program an HTTP request, and gets a reply of a given form in response.

I think O’Neill made things sound waaaay more dramatic than they actually are. The term that he used – “Soft underbelly” – was intended to imply that APIs represent a special vulnerability on the Web. That’s simply not accurate. API interfaces are just a “regular underbelly”, to coin a phrase; json access is just like html access. DDoS is a risk and it can affect json servers and html servers alike. O’Neill doesn’t provide any specific advice on why API servers are different, or what special steps need to be taken to protect API resources.

He does make some reasonable points : (a) that API access was given short shrift in the original reports; (b) that APIs are likely to rise in importance as the usage of mobile apps grows; and (c) and that hosting APIs separately from www traffic (on vs might/could have mitigated problems.

But API management platforms such as the one sold by O’Neill’s company, are not likely to be effective against any non-naive DDoS. In fact the existing DDoS mitigation techniques, using network devices, are all we need to protect APIs. “Nothing to see here, move along.”

I understand that hype will attract attention to the post and to O’Neill’s company. On balance though, I think he’s doing more of a disservice to APIs by exaggerating or even mischaracterizing the risks.

Reference: Intro to Distributed Denial of Service attacks

Disclaimer: I work for Apigee, which is a purveyor of API Management solutions. These opinions re my own.

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