Digital Communication


Digital Communication

API key: definition and use


If you want to access a program or application through a programming interface, you need an API key. An API key is a unique key; it takes the form of a character string kept secret and acts as an access authorization. The API uses these keys to identify authorized users, and thus protect programs and systems against external access.

API key: definition

Do you want to combine and exchange the functionalities of two programs? For this purpose use programming interfacesbetter known as API (Application Programming Interface, literally “Application Programming Interface”). For programmers, applications or projects, an API provides the ability to interact with another service or program. In this way, an API allows you to exercise control over who can make requests between different APIs and receive the corresponding permissions, as well as over the data formats used.

To control access, it is possible to use unique authentication keys, API keys. To obtain these API keys, you must, among other things, contact the API operators. If the users or applications are in possession of the corresponding key, the API server then authorizes them access.

The operation of an API key is similar to that of a password. From the moment an API “calls” another API and requests access to it, authorization for this access is obtained through the exchange of the API key. The API key is then assigned to the service or program originating the call, then transmitted to the API server. If the API server in question confirms the authenticity of this API key, then it grants access to the concerned program or some of its functionalities. With API keys, you can also make actions regarding multiple applications through API interfaces.

It is the API operators which determine access rules, data format or scope of these actions. Thanks to these programming interfaces, it is therefore possible to precisely determine the type of users or projects for which access rights are granted and actions are authorized. API keys can also anchor directly into certain programming languages, including JavaScript or Python. Users or services must then request the key in JavaScript from the corresponding API server.

What are API keys used for?

API keys are primarily used to perform the following functionalities:

  • Identification : an API key is able to identify the APIs, projects or services originating the call to the API server. It therefore makes it possible to keep track of the entities that have requested access, whether it has been granted or refused.
  • Authentication : the exchange of the API key makes it possible to verify that the clients concerned are indeed authorized to access the server in question. This functionality also allows you to check if the requested API is active.
  • Authorisation : After the project or service is identified, the access rules of the API server are used to determine the extent to which the access in question can be granted.

How do I request API keys?

How you request or obtain API keys depends primarily on the API you want to connect to. The access rules are different depending on the type of operator for the API in question. However, as a general rule, API keys are assigned using the following model:

  • Start by going to the page of the provider whose API you want to access, then log in to the developer's page.
  • Choose API keys for existing projects, or to create new projects.
  • Feel free to give this API key a name to make it easier to assign.
  • Once the API key is created and distributed, integrate it with your website or application so that it can be accessed later and the data transferred. Subsequently, on each call, the API server will recognize the application originating the call using the API key.

Would you like to know how to request an API key for applications like ChatGPT, Google Maps or YouTube? Don’t hesitate any longer and discover our advice on the following topics:

Benefits of API keys

The great advantage offered by API keys is above all simple and rapid authentication of access rights, whether for users, services or programs. This advantage is particularly visible when different applications are connected together for purposes exchange of data or actions concerning several programs. Authentication keys provide benefits to programmers who create applications, and therefore use APIs to access different programs. API servers can use password-like keys. These help prevent any malicious actor from accessing the system.

API keys provide features following if you want to improve and make your authentication processes more complex:

  • Registration of APIs, programs, services or projects requesting access to very specific APIs;
  • Definition of access rights by API servers and corresponding operators, in order to determine the type of actions and access that certain specific APIs can authorize;
  • Overview of access that has already been granted or denied;
  • Additional security provided by API keys which act as unique, singular and secret keys;
  • Blocking all unidentified traffic within the network;
  • Limiting the number of calls to a specific API, thus making it possible to control its use;
  • Better filtering of certain access types or patterns and assignment to specific API keys.

What role do API keys play in security?

API keys alone are not enough to represent a real security measure, but they still make it possible to further secure access. Since API keys, like passwords, contain clients, they are vulnerable to attacks by hackers. As with a stolen password, an unencrypted and stolen API key can quickly give third parties access to your system. Typically, API keys are visible in server logs, which can allow hackers to gain access to your system by pretending they have the necessary permissions. Unfortunately, these keys often play a role in cyberattacks, such as DDoS attacks, so-called “man-in-the-middle” attacks or even injections.

If you use API keys, we advise you to take into account the security aspects following:

  • API keys do not actually identify users, but rather the APIs or programs originating an access request.
  • Unlike passwords, API keys are rarely encrypted and stored client-side; instead, they remain visible in the server logs.
  • API keys, like insecure passwords, can easily be stolen by hackers seeking to gain access to an application.


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Because APIs allow programs to exchange sensitive data with each other and also allow access to internal applications, it is imperative that you have a reliable security system when it comes to your APIs. THE security measures The following are among those that strengthen protection around APIs:

  • Access to API keys deposited on the client side should be limited and protected.
  • Only one API key should be used per project and per application.
  • Any API key that is no longer in use should be deleted.
  • API keys stored as credentials at rest should be encrypted (Credentials-at-Rest) to prevent key theft.
  • API keys should not be embedded in clearly readable code, nor should they be saved in the source structure.
  • The use and exploitation of API keys should be monitored, for example when multiple programmers use REST APIs with OpenAPI.

API keys and data protection

Another important aspect for API keys is data protection. It is worth paying attention to this whenever you install a new application on your mobile phone and it asks for additional permissions. Indeed, you are sometimes likely not to check exactly the permissions that an application requests from you. If these are dubious services, you could unintentionally allow them to access all of your Facebook data, your photos or your phone's memory. As a result, hackers could collect all of your data or, in the worst case, take control of your system. We therefore recommend that you use an API key for access authorization purposes only with reliable applications, in order to avoid any misuse of your data.

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