Rest API Authentication

Internet security actually operates on a number of different laws, rules and concepts that mirror those in the real world. REST API authentication is a means of ensuring that someone attempting to access data digitally is actually authorized to do so and then further determines what they each individual user is authorized to do. Here is a breakdown of REST API authentication: what it means, how it works and what it is used for.

AUTHENTICATION

Authentication establishes your digital identity. It is a means by which you prove to a system that you are who you say you are. Authentication can happen in a variety of ways. Modern digital devices often contain fingerprint scanners or facial recognition software that can literally verify your physical identity. In some cases, your physical identity doesn't need to be verified, but you simply need to be verified as an authorized user. In that case, a system can ask for a simple login ID and password or the answers to pre-arranged security questions or have you enter a code that the system sends to a pre-arranged cell phone number or email account. Authentication does not always mean verifying an individual's physical identity, but rather their digital one. The information used to verify your later identity is collected the first time you log in or set up an account. Information is further collected each time you log in that helps create a more and more secure digital identity.

AUTHORIZATION

Just because your identity has been verified does not mean you are authorized to access certain information or commit certain actions once you are granted access. For instance, just because you walk into a bank and present identification establishing your identity doesn't mean you are authorized to cash a check made out to someone else. On the other hand, if you are an authorized user on someone else's account, then you are in fact authorized to cash that check once your identity has been established. In network systems, administrators have certain privileges that other users do not and there can even be different levels of administrator access. This means that some administrators will be authorized to access certain files or make certain changes to the system that other administrators do not have the authority to do.

API (Application Programming Interface)

In the early days of the internet, there were not only fewer accounts to secure but far less information contained in those accounts, not to mention far fewer predators attempting to access them. As a result, simple login ID's and passwords were all that were needed to protect accounts. Think of it like a small village. When you know everyone, there is little need to lock your door or take many security precautions. In fact, villagers may sometimes enter other villager's homes and borrow things or even leave their keys in their car for other villagers to use as needed.

As the village grows, however, there will come a point where everyone no longer knows everyone else in the village. That is when villagers start putting locks on their doors and taking their keys in at night. API is the beginning of "keys" being distributed. The first time a new user logs in, their login credentials are recorded as well as other identifying information such as the SIM information from the device they are using or the IP address they are logging in from. When they log in again using the same credentials and from the same address or device, their "key" fits the "lock" and they are permitted access.

REST (Representational State Transfer)

If the API is the key and the lock system that grants individuals with the right key access to the system, the REST is the set of rules that determines what they are allowed to do once they are inside. Think of it like giving a key to your apartment or home to your boyfriend or girlfriend. As long as you are dating, they are allowed to use the key to enter at will. Once you break up, you may request the key back or only permit them to enter if they request permission for that single visit. Once they are inside your home or apartment, there may be areas you no longer wish to grant them access to, such as your bedroom or office. API is the key that establishes their identity or authenticates them, REST is the set of rules that governs their allowed access and actions once they are inside. As your trust level increases, you may use REST to grant certain users greater access, as it decreases you may diminish their access but REST is what keeps everyone in check once they have been granted access to a system via API authentication.

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