Defence in Depth as Code: Secure APIs by design

19 September 2023

In the article Secure APIs, we presented a six-step model for building a secure API. This article will show how to implement this model using ASP.NET Core 7 and highlight key aspects for creating APIs that are secure by design.

All code that we will show here is available at our Github repository, and we encourage you to take a closer look and try it out at

Martin Altenstedt, Omegapoint

There are many ways to implement these principles. The code here is just one way to do it, not a template that will fit everyone. Hopefully, it will help explain the details and challenges we developers face and inspire you to consider these six steps when building APIs.

Erica Edholm, Omegapoint

Please note that even if we use ASP.NET Core 7, the model and concepts are general and valid for any framework when implementing APIs.

There is also a repo using Java 17 with Spring Security available at

Our thinking and reasoning result from years of developing .NET applications and performing penetration tests and security code reviews. We base the model on principles of Zero Trust, Least Privilege, and design ideas from the book Secure by Design by Dan Bergh Johnsson, Daniel Deogun and Daniel Sawano.

Based on experience, we believe that you need to address all of the following six steps to get a robust solution, regardless of framework and implementation details. We implement strong and fine-grained access control in six steps:

  1. Validate that the request is correct
  2. Validate that the access token is correct
  3. Transform the access token into a permissions model
  4. Validate that the data in the request is correct
  5. Validate the permission to execute the operation
  6. Validate the permission to query or change data

Note that you still need infrastructure protection in front of your API. A firewall or API gateway can perform access control based on IP or trusted device identification, and initial input validation.

We use Zero Trust and Least Privilege architecture principles to guide our design. For our API, this means that we:

We address authentication and access control for every request in our six-step model. We limit permissions for all parties by scopes and audience design in combination with domain logic in steps 5 and 6 above.

We consider all networks insecure and we should always use strong TLS to communicate to and from our API (part of step 1).

However, a common practice is to terminate TLS in a reverse proxy or Kubernetes cluster ingress, before our API host. This might not significantly weaken the Zero Trust principle if we terminate TLS close to the API, but you need to consider a few things:

Be very careful where you terminate TLS. Transport layer security is vital for API security, end-to-end TLS is a strong defence layer, if we remove this it is important to understand the risk we introduce.

Martin Altenstedt, Omegapoint

Besides TLS off-loading, API gateway products often also provide so-called Token-offloading. There is nothing wrong with validating the token in an API gateway before our API, and we might even do some basic authorization based on scopes and audience. But we should not rely on this in our API.

In our experience, C# and API Gateways development differ in fundamental ways from a security perspective. Typically, automated unit tests, structured code, and ownership are superior in C#. Token validation and access control are best implemented in our API.

Tobias Ahnoff, Omegapoint

The same reasoning applies to input validation. We can do basic validation in a API gateway (with a WAF-module), but the API should never assume that this has been done.

Note that the order of steps 4 and 5 can vary depending on the framework etc. For example, it is common to perform basic input validation early in the application layer (the controller) and complete deeper validation later in your domain logic (the service layer).

Thus, basic parts of the validation like the max length of a string parameter might be done at least twice. What’s important is that you do it and cancel incorrect requests early without wasting unnecessary system resources.

These six steps are crucial for strong and fine-grained access control. They should be implemented as a mandatory pattern to never expose your core domain logic without access control and validation of all parts of the request, all input data to the domain logic.

Step 1 - Validate the request

The first step in the model is to validate that the incoming request is valid HTTP, with the correct format and a reasonable size. Otherwise, it should be rejected as early as possible before reaching our application code.

These essential parts of step 1 are not API implementation. We get this vital part by configuring a good reverse proxy and web server hosting the API. We will come back to this later in this article. The rest of the steps need to manifest themselves in our C# code to make the API secure by design.

To get a clean start, we create an empty API project using the “web” template:

$ dotnet new web

Instead of using minimal APIs, we organize our endpoints in controllers:

var builder = WebApplication.CreateBuilder(args); 

var app = builder.Build(); app.MapControllers(); 


We can then add a controller that returns a product by its id:

public class ProductsController : ControllerBase { 
    public IActionResult GetById([FromRoute] string id) {
        var product = new { Id = id, Name = "My Product", Market = "se" }; 
        return Ok(product);

We want clear rules for dealing with a request since attackers often use unexpected behavior in our code. We get this by using e g explicit routing. The same reasoning is also valid for the template we used to create the project. It is important to understand how the API is built and be careful with templates that include things you don’t need.

A request to the API will look like this:

GET https://localhost:5000/api/products/1 HTTP/1.1

HTTP/1.1 200 OK 
Connection: close 
Content-Type: application/json; charset=utf-8 
Date: Mon, 25 Dec 2021 06:00:00 GMT
Server: Kestrel
Transfer-Encoding: chunked

{ "id": "1", "name": "My Product", "market": "se" }

Note that we get the correct content type to help the client correctly output encode the returned data. Treating data as code is the root cause of injection vulnerabilities like XSS. Secure defaults from the web server are a critical security aspect.

For the scope of this article, step 1 is now complete. We assume we have strong TLS, secure hosting, and infrastructure defenses like a firewall, API Gateway and WAF in front of us, which provides basic rate-limiting etc. We also have a secure runtime and use secure, hardened frameworks and components, using up-to-date versions of ASP.NET Core.

Step 2 – Validate the token

For the second step we need a secure JWT middleware. This is not something you should implement on your own, it should only be configuration. In ASP.NET Core we use:

$ dotnet add package Microsoft.AspNetCore.Authentication.JwtBearer

If we assume that a token service (IdP) is running locally at port 4000, we can modify our program to validate tokens by specifying authority (issuer) and audience using simple configuration:

var builder = WebApplication.CreateBuilder(args); 

  .AddJwtBearer(options => { 
        options.Authority = "https://localhost:4000"; 
        options.Audience = "products.api"; 

builder.Services.AddAuthorization(options => { 
    var policy = new AuthorizationPolicyBuilder() 

    options.DefaultPolicy = policy;
    options.FallbackPolicy = policy; 

var app = builder.Build();


An essential part of step 2 is that we make authorization mandatory. The policy lines in the code above ensure that the default behavior requires an authenticated request. Security should never be opt-in. Instead, you opt out when needed.

Adding RequireAuthenticatedUser to the routing above is redundant since we set both the default and fallback policies, but it now takes two mistakes to open up public endpoints.

Tobias Ahnoff, Omegapoint

When we review code, correctly implemented token validation is one of the first things we investigate. If no kind of mandatory pattern is present, we are likely to find endpoints that are missing authorization and are public by mistake for a larger API.

We wish the ASP.NET team would rename the current template to “public-web” and add this code to the base web template. The current template promotes a weaker opt-in security pattern using only Authorize attributes in each controller when instead you should be forced to opt-out using the AllowAnonymous attribute.

So, steps 1 and 2 are complete. We now know that all requests are valid HTTP with a valid token when they reach our controller.

There are more things to say about token validation, but we will not go into more details here. See more on

Note that we have added code for validating reference-tokens (introspection) and the token type in the repo. How token type is validated might depend on the token service (IdP). We use Duende Identity Server in this sample because it is easy to work with. But there are, of course, many products you can use as a token service issuing the JWT.

For more advanced scenarios, where we need to validate certificate bound tokens in ASP.NET Core, we recommend to follow the guidelines

Step 3 – Transform the access token to permissions

In ASP.NET, we often implement step 3 using a claims transformation class:

public class ClaimsTransformation : IClaimsTransformation
    public async Task<ClaimsPrincipal> TransformAsync(ClaimsPrincipal principal)
        await Task.CompletedTask;
        if (principal.Identity?.IsAuthenticated == true)
            var identity = new ClaimsIdentity(principal.Identity); 
                new Claim("urn:permissions:products:read", "true")
            identity.AddClaim(new Claim("urn:permissions:market", "se")); 

            return new ClaimsPrincipal(identity); 

        return principal; 

internal static class ClaimsIdentityExtensions
    public static void AddIfScope(this ClaimsIdentity identity, 
                                  string scope, Claim claim)
        if (identity.Claims.Any(c => c.Type == "scope" && c.Value == scope))

IsAuthenticated will be true above since the JWT middleware in the ASP.NET Core request pipeline has validated the token and initiated the ClaimsPrincipal for the current request scope. We typically do not do anything with the incoming ClaimsPrincipal if not authenticated.

If authenticated, we need to address two things. The first is a transformation of claim types. We typically keep claims from the OIDC and JWT standards as-is, but we might want some custom claims from the token service (IdP) transformed to names that fit our local access model. In our example we don´t change any of the incoming claims.

The second part is that we need to look up and set local permissions. We often do this given the identity of the request combined with the provided scopes, but we can of course use other information from the authentication event which is part of the incoming principal (or has been added in the first part of the transformation.) For example, we might require that the user use MFA for some permissions.

In the code above, the scope will give permission to read products. The code also adds a permission to a specific market. Typically, we base the market value on the user’s identity (the sub claim) and query a database or service, but we hard-code it here for brevity.

We highly recommend prefixing the local permissions so that you can easily separate them from the standard OIDC and JWT standards claims. We choose the urn:permissions prefix for permissions. Note that representing permissions as .NET Claims may not be optimal, but it is commonly used. We will address this in the section “Secure by design”.

Before moving to step 4, we want to emphasize the importance of striking the right balance between what the token contains and the permissions we need for access control.

How we model identity and scopes are essential for how fine-grained our access control can be and how we can adapt as the system grows, see more on this in our article on Identity Modelling.

Step 4 – validate data in the request

All parts of the request are untrusted and need to be validated. Step 1 validated all aspects of the standard HTTP format using ASP.NET Core defaults, and step 2 validated the JWT in the Authorization header. In step 4, we need to validate all the data in the request.

For the endpoint in our controller, we have one parameter: the product identifier. In our case, the identifier is not an arbitrary string of any size! It can contain only letters and digits and be ten characters or less. If the input string does not follow those rules, we can immediately return a 400 Bad Request. This input validation will make injection attacks a lot harder.

if (string.IsNullOrEmpty(id) || id.Length > 10 || !id.All(char.IsLetterOrDigit))
    return BadRequest("Parameter id is not well formed."); 

In our example, the parameter is of type string because it can contain digits and letters, according to our business rules. But for other parameters like dates, numbers of items, etc., we should utilize the fact that the C# is a strongly typed language and use the corresponding types like DateTime and int. Using string should be the last type chosen for input parameters.

Selecting types like DateTime and int will reduce attack vectors significantly compared to a string, but we should still verify that the values meet our requirements. For example, it might not make sense to accept dates 100 years into the future, negative count values, etc. The book Secure by Design, chapters 4 and 5, will provide more details.

Note that well-defined domain rules and validation will not only limit injection attack vectors, it is also a layer of defense for Denial of Service attacks and attacks on the domain.

With the first four steps complete, we now know that all parts of the request are validated.

Step 5 – validate permission to perform the operation

We base the permission to perform an operation on the transformed permissions in our domain code and not directly with scopes and user identity.

if (!User.HasClaim("urn:permissions:products:read", "true")) 
    return Forbid(); 

The correct status code to return if we fail to validate permission to perform the operation is 403 Forbidden.

Step 6 – validate permission to access the data

The final step is to validate access to the actual data that the request will read or modify. Sometimes we can validate access by looking at the request, and other times we need to retrieve the data before deciding.

In our example, we need to retrieve the product before verifying that the user has access to the product’s market.

if (!User.HasClaim("urn:permissions:market", product.Market))
    return NotFound(); 

We can choose between HTTP status codes 403 Forbidden and 404 Not Found if we fail to validate permission to the data, depending on if we want to reveal that data exists or not, respectively.

Validation of access to data is often overlooked and is called Insecure Direct Object Reference vulnerability (IDOR). Failure to validate data access means the attacker can access any product by iterating product identifiers. Note that making identifiers hard to guess using randomized values or GUID does not mitigate this vulnerability. It will make it harder for the attacker, but identifiers often leak, and you can’t revoke access.

We are now in a position where we have implemented all six steps. Even if we expose this API without infrastructure protection from a firewall or API gateway, we have a lot of defenses in place.

But the API implementation will probably not scale well as our system grows in scope and features. Typically, we would not put business logic like retrieving a product directly in our controller as we have done here. We will address this in the section “Secure by design”. Before we do that, we will elaborate on the importance of trust boundaries and how this will affect our design.

Trust boundaries

A common pattern is introducing a service layer and a repository pattern. We could easily extract the code that retrieved the product into a service class and use a repository pattern in our example.

But consider a new entry point to the service layer, for example, that we listen to incoming messages from a service bus or introduce a second controller. Since the validation logic and access control is still in the controller, we have given the service bus messages full trust to our service logic. This might be okay, but often it is not what we intended.

The obvious solution is to move the validation logic and access control into our service layer. This way, any code that uses the service logic is subject to the controls that we have implemented in our six-step model.

But the repository and the data source (SQL Server) is still within our trust boundary, which can be problematic if it is a shared database. This leads us into a deeper pattern from the book Secure by Design.

Picture a Core Business Domain that contains all our validation and access control. We embrace Domain Drive Design and think of our Core Business Domain as a trust boundary, where all objects are part of the domain, and input data is never trusted.

For example, in our case, the Core Business Domain could refuse to deal with product ids as strings and instead require a domain primitive that includes validation.

We will have a robust, high-quality implementation and a more secure one. Quality and security often go hand in hand.

Let’s look at our implementation again and move to a core business domain model.

Secure by Design

To start, we introduce a “domain primitive” in the ProductId class that will validate input data and throws an exception if not valid.

public record ProductId : IDomainPrimitive
    public ProductId(string id)
        AssertValidId(id); Value = id; 

    public string Value { get; } 

    public static bool IsValidId(string id)
        return !string.IsNullOrEmpty(id) &&
                id.Length < 10 && 

    public static void AssertValidId(string id)
        if (!IsValidId(id))
            throw new DomainPrimitiveArgumentException(id); 

We can now create a service class that accepts this domain primitive as input to the GetById method. We move all access control code into the service class and our business domain.

public class ProductService : IProductService
    private readonly IPermissionService permissionService;
    private readonly IProductRepository productRepository;
    private readonly IAuditService auditService;
    private readonly IMapper mapper; 

    public ProductService(IPermissionService permissionService, IProductRepository productRepository, 
        IAuditService auditService, IMapper mapper)
        this.permissionService = permissionService;
        this.productRepository = productRepository;
        this.auditService = auditService;
        this.mapper = mapper;

    public async Task<(Product product, ReadDataResult result)> GetById(ProductId productId)
        if (!permissionService.CanReadProducts)
            await auditService.Log(DomainEvent.NoAccessToOperation, productId); 
            return (null, ReadDataResult.NoAccessToOperation);
        var entity = await productRepository.GetById(productId.Value);
        if (entity == null)
            return (null, ReadDataResult.NotFound);

        var product = mapper.Map(entity);
        if (permissionService.MarketId != product.MarketId)
            await auditService.Log(DomainEvent.NoAccessToData, productId); 
            return (null, ReadDataResult.NoAccessToData);

        await auditService.Log(DomainEvent.ProductRead, productId); 
        return (product, ReadDataResult.Success); 

This pattern will assert that we always work with correct, validated domain objects in our domain. It will also enforce access control, regardless of how you consume the service.

Note the audit logging, important for accountability and detecting intrusions and misuse.

We introduce a permission service instead of working directly with ClaimsPrincipal and key-value claims. This service enables us to represent permissions in a strongly-typed way that suits our domain.

public class HttpContextPermissionService : IPermissionService
    public HttpContextPermissionService(IHttpContextAccessor contextAccessor)
        var principal = contextAccessor.HttpContext?.User;
        if (principal == null)
            if (contextAccessor.HttpContext == null)
                throw new ArgumentException("HTTP Context is null", nameof(contextAccessor));
            throw new ArgumentException("User object is null", nameof(contextAccessor));

        Subject = principal.FindFirstValue("sub");
        ClientId = principal.FindFirstValue("client_id");

        // It is important to honor any scope that affect our domain
        IfScope(principal, "", () => CanReadProducts = true); 
        IfScope(principal, "products.write", () => CanWriteProducts = true); 

        // There is a balance between this class and ClaimsTransformation. In our case,
        // which market a user belongs to could be added in ClaimsTransformation, but
        // you might find that that kind of code is better placed here, inside your
        // domain, especially if it requires an external lookup. In real world scenarios
        // we would most likely lookup market information etc given the identity.  Here
        // we have just hard coded the market to SE for all users.
        MarketId = new MarketId("SE");

    public bool CanReadProducts { get; private set; }
    public bool CanWriteProducts { get; private set; } 

    public MarketId MarketId { get; private set; } 

    public string Subject { get; private set; }
    public string ClientId { get; private set; } 

    private static void IfScope(ClaimsPrincipal principal, string scope, Action action)
        if (principal.HasClaim(claim => claim.Type == "scope" && claim.Value == scope))

The transformation from token claims to permissions has moved from the ClaimsTransformation class to this service with this approach. This strongly-typed solution might be a better approach when handling more complex permission models and doing external lookups and caching.

Note that this kind of code lends itself nicely to unit tests. You can find examples of tests focusing on security in the repo; good test coverage is vital for security-critical code like this.

Coming back to the controller, we can now use the product service.

public class ProductsController : ControllerBase
    private readonly IProductService productService;
    private readonly IMapper mapper; 

    public ProductsController(IProductService productService, IMapper mapper)
        this.productService = productService; this.mapper = mapper;

    public async Task<ActionResult> GetById([FromRoute] string id)
        if (!ProductId.IsValidId(id))
            return BadRequest("Id is not valid.");

        var productId = new ProductId(id);
        var (product, result) = await productService.GetById(productId); 

        switch (result)
            case ReadDataResult.NoAccessToOperation: 
                return Forbid(); 
            case ReadDataResult.NotFound:
            case ReadDataResult.NoAccessToData:
                return NotFound(); 
            case ReadDataResult.Success:
                var contract = mapper.Map(product);
                return Ok(contract); 
                throw new InvalidOperationException($"Result kind {result} is not supported"); 

Error and exception handling is a vital API security aspect. To detect intrusions, we need a high-quality system without false positives that hide malicious activity. Well-designed clients to the API will never cause input data violations or NoAccessToData events.

Correct HTTP status codes are essential for security. An unexpected rise in 400, 401, 403, or 404 might indicate an attack.

Note that the service class does not return HTTP status codes. Remember that you can use our service from contexts where HTTP status codes are irrelevant, like message bus integrations.

We only raise exceptions when something we did not design for has happened. One example of this strategy is the ProductId class, where IsValid() does not throw, but the constructor does. Our design always validates input data before we create domain primitives, so the constructor should never fail and thus throws an exception.

We recommend reading chapter 9 in Secure by Design for more in-depth reasoning about this.

Note that ASP.NET Core handles exceptions without leaking information to the client. There is no need for try-catch-log-rethrow logic. ASP.NET Core 6 does have a built-in developer exception page when built-in development mode, so always make sure that you build for production when you deploy.

Also, note that we use separate data contract classes for the response, preventing data leakage from our domain.

Martin Altenstedt, Omegapoint

You do not have to use Domain-Driven Design (DDD) to create a secure API. But it is important to clearly identify the trust boundaries and keep domain-specific logic in the domain. Even if we do basic authorization and validation of some basic domain rules in the web layer, using ASP.NET Core attributes or in a reverse-proxy or WAF in front of us, we need to do this in our domain as well. And we should avoid duplicating more advanced domain rules outside of the domain.

The DDD thinking is good design and will introduce a pattern that is harder to opt-out of. But as we said, this is just one way to do it.

Tobias Ahnoff, Omegapoint

This aligns well with the Defence in depth principle, and OWASP ASVS section 13.1.4. We build strong authorization in multiple layers.

From an application code perspective, we have now done what we can. But security is a lot more than application code. To get a secure API, we need to build the API so that it is easy to set up the hosting environment, handle secrets and keep all components like Docker images and libraries up to date.

This is well summarized by the pattern Rotate, Repave and Repair, secure APIs requires automation (see more on or in Secure by Design chapter 10.7).

Hosting — support Repave and Repair

Today it is common to run ASP.NET Core applications using Docker and NGINX. Kestrel benefits from a secure, hardened reverse proxy facing the internet, and it is important that the proxy:

The repo contains code highlighting some key aspects for hosting the API. We have configured NGINX to allow TLS 1.3 only, but in real-world scenarios, you might need to support 1.2, and then you hopefully can omit support for weak ciphers.

Sites like SSL Labs will guide you and analyze the quality of your TLS configuration.

Security headers are from the OWASP recommendations. They are easy to add and help mitigate certain kinds of attack vectors.

# Conceptual NGNIX configuration
server {
    listen        443 ssl;

    ssl_protocols       TLSv1.3; 

    location / { 
        # Add security headers for APIs according to
        # Remove if set by the API application framework or if other caching policy is a
        # requirement
        add_header Cache-Control no-store always;
        add_header Content-Security-Policy "frame-ancestors 'none'" always;
        add_header Content-Type application/json always;
        add_header Strict-Transport-Security max-age=31536000 always;
        add_header X-Content-Type-Options nosniff always;
        add_header X-Frame-Options DENY always; 

        proxy_http_version 1.1; 
        proxy_set_header   Upgrade $http_upgrade;
        proxy_set_header   Connection keep-alive;
        proxy_set_header   Host $host;
        proxy_cache_bypass $http_upgrade; 
        proxy_set_header   X-Forwarded-For $proxy_add_x_forwarded_for;
        proxy_set_header   X-Forwarded-Proto $scheme;

Note that the reverse proxy often terminates TLS, which might be fine if it runs close to the API (Kestrel). By forwarding headers, the ASP.NET Core pipeline will trust that no one is in the middle (between the NGINX and Kestrel) and will treat the traffic as if it was HTTPS.

Docker is a common way to host new APIs today. For secure hosting, we need:

FROM AS build-env 

WORKDIR /app COPY . ./ 

RUN dotnet publish --output /app/out --configuration Release ./ 


WORKDIR /app COPY --from=build-env /app/out . 

# Do not run as root user
RUN chown -R www-data:www-data /app USER www-data 

# Select a non-root port
ENV ASPNETCORE_URLS=http://_:5000 

ENTRYPOINT ["dotnet", "My.Assembly.dll"]

It is important to note that we have infrastructure and configuration as code. With a CI/CD pipeline, we can support Repave, Repair, and have reasonable control over assets management for our network by using code reviews and pull requests, but we have currently not included code for CI/CD pipelines and cloud infrastructure in our repo.

Secrets — support Rotate

Secrets should never leave the environment they are meant for, especially secrets that gives access to production data. And they should be easy to rotate. Also, humans should not use system accounts when performing normal operations or development.

Rotation is hard, so use authentication services from your platform, like Azure Managed Identity. If that is not possible, store secretes in Vault-services like Azure Key Vault, look them up at runtime, and do manual or (semi-)automatic rotation.

By using Azure Managed Identity for reaching the Key Vault, secrets never leave the Vault (the production environment), and we have a design that supports rotation. As an example we have added code for integration with Azure Key Vault in our repo.

Security tests and verification

But even if the API seems secure now, we really don’t know until we performed testing with focus on security. A good place to start is OWASP.

Pontus Hanssen, Omegapoint

Note that testing performed by the development team while crucial for security and quality, it does not replace the need for external security reviews and penetration tests. Read more at Offensive application security.

It is essential to understand the most common type of attacks and how they all work to create strong layers of defense against them. Luckily, you do not have to figure this out yourself as OWASP continuously collects information about real-world attacks and is a great source of documentation.

In our experience, the OWASP TOP 10 list is a useful reference for many systems, not just web applications.

We want to point out that there is an OWASP TOP 10 list specifically for APIs. We think that these are accurate and from the perspective of penetration testing, we usually find vulnerabilities that match this list.

When you have a basic understanding of these attack vectors it often becomes natural to express them as non-functional requirements and test cases. Then it is easy to add automated unit, integration and system tests, as well as manual exploratory, to verify that our code works as expected, even if someone tries to buy -1 book or set a product id to “DROP TABLE”.

We should add tests to prove that our defence layers works as expected. In this repo we have added tests in two projects, one for unit tests with all dependencies mocked and the other for complete system tests where no dependencies are mocked. Larger projects would most likely require more structure and test on different levels of integrations.

The important part is what kind of tests we added to verify step 2-6 in our model for secure APIs, but this is not a complete test suite for a real world product API.

Note that the unit tests for the Product service also verifies the correct audit logging in order to assert requirements for accountability. And that the system tests we added can be run against the production environment as well. It is important to continuously monitor the actual production environment, do health checks and detect any security misconfiguration in that environment (for example a public API endpoint).

In the article Defence in Depth as Code: Test Driven Application Security we show how to implement this set of test and elaborate some more on the importance of test with focus on security.

Erica Edholm, Omegapoint

We often see teams fail to write tests that verify access to the system. Remember to write negative test cases like should_return_403_when_not_admin and should_return_404_when_not_my_data.

The OWASP ASVS is a great resource for identifying security test cases.

As a final step in this article, we will see how the OWASP TOP 10 list for APIs maps to the six-step model and how we mitigate each one.

API1:2019 Broken Object Level Authorization

This is when we can reach data that is not our own. In our example, we need to verify that the user has access to the product’s market. This vulnerability is widespread and can be a potent attack vector, which we mitigated with step 6.

API2:2019 Broken User Authentication

This is perhaps when we forget to require a token or don’t validate all aspects of the token, like the audience, or accept the wrong kinds of tokens. If you use ASP.NET Core, you are in a very good position, with a JWT middleware with secure defaults. We handle this in step 2.

API3:2019 Excessive Data Exposure

This is when we return too much data, perhaps by serializing the domain object. Please use dedicated data contract classes, as we did in our refactoring. We know it can be tedious, but libraries like Automapper helps. We relate this to step 6.

API4:2019 Lack of Resources & Rate Limiting

You need to use some infrastructure in front of your API. If you are in the cloud, basic protection is this often easy to address. We also do more fine-grained rate-limiting in the service by validating domain rules, like max 100 products per customer. So this is part of both step 1 and the domain logic.

API5:2019 Broken Function Level Authorization

This is when you do not properly validate access to functions. A classic example is that you forget to restrict access to administrative functions. In our model, this is step 5, but you could have additional access controls in front of your API (part of step 1) or before step 4.

API6:2019 Mass Assignment

If you use proper data contract classes, you avoid mass assignment issues. We address this in step 4 (together with the FromRoute attribute).

API7:2019 Security Misconfiguration

Anything misconfigured that is security-related. For example, allowing weak TLS versions. We relate this to step 1.

API8:2019 Injection

All things injection where input data is used to do change the behavior of a function. SQL injection is a classic, but the same problem exists for almost everything.

We validate incoming requests in multiple layers, basic validation early in step 1, and complete deep validation in our domain logic, step 4. Input validation will limit the attack vector, but is is important to understand that it is correct output encoding and using hardened components and libraries (which separates data and code) that will close injection attack vectors.

API9:2019 Improper Assets Management

When we find unexpected and insecure things in the network. A common thing in OnPrem configurations, but less so for Cloud deployments, and rarely when you run infrastructure as code and review changes.

API10:2019 Insufficient Logging & Monitoring

This is important on all levels. An example is the audit logging in the Product service and that we use a centralized logging service (like Application Insights). A good test is to verify that you can detect an ongoing penetration test.


Do you have to do all of this to create a secure system?

Yes. We can mitigate some types of attacks using only parts of what this article describes. For example, only validating the JWT token protects us against anonymous access but does not limit access to data once you are authenticated. So please consider all the aspects of the six-step model, regardless of platform and frameworks.

We usually find more vulnerabilities in more complex systems, compared to simple systems. It is not just because of the size of the system, where more functionality will give us a larger attack surface. But also because it is difficult for a team to keep a system secure over time that you do not fully understand.

We would like to suggest that you use complexity as a guiding principle for building and architecting your systems. As your system grows and becomes older, please make every effort to keep complexity under control. We fully realize how hard this is, but from our experience with penetration tests, it is vital that your team share an understanding of your system.

We can really recommend reading this 20 year old paper, still valid!

Further reading

Defence in Depth

Defence in Depth as Code: Test Driven Application Security

Secure by Design

Offensive application security