A Beginner’s Guide to Authorization APIs for Non-Developers


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By Emre Baran, Co-Founder & CEO, Cerbos

In the rapidly changing world of digital security, managing and monitoring access has become more important than ever. With increasing threats and interconnectedness, it is crucial to protect against breaches. Authorization plays a key role in this, especially in modern software designs like microservices-based architectures.

Before diving into Authorization APIs, it is important to understand what authorization means. Authorization defines and enforces a user’s rights, ensuring they can only access actions or data relevant to their role. It follows authentication, which verifies a user’s identity. For example, on an e-commerce platform, different roles like sellers, buyers, and administrators have different access levels, which is controlled by the Authorization API.

In today’s decoupled and modular systems, authorization APIs act as internal system interfaces. They assess and enforce access permissions for authenticated users, separate from application logic. This ensures that changing business logic does not have unintended consequences on user access rights. Authorization involves tokens and scopes. After authentication, an identity provider issues ID and access tokens, which are verified by the Authorization API. Scope checks may be performed to evaluate the user’s access rights based on their role.

Authorization APIs consist of several key components. First, access control models like role-based access control (RBAC) and attribute-based access control (ABAC) lay the foundation. RBAC associates permissions with roles, while ABAC offers more granularity but requires deeper implementation efforts. The policy engine is the decision point where access is granted or denied based on compliance rules and policies. The authorization policy module serves as the rules for the policy engine, allowing for policy administration and oversight. Audit logging ensures transparency and traceability by logging every policy alteration and access attempt.

Implementing Authorization APIs requires following best practices to ensure robust security. Restricting access, employing the principle of least privilege, and periodically auditing policies are key steps. By being conservative with permissions, controlling access through IP whitelisting, and carefully guarding sensitive data, the likelihood of breaches is reduced. The principle of least privilege ensures that users only have access to what they need, minimizing vulnerabilities. Regularly auditing policies and seeking third-party audits can reveal weak spots and keep strategies current and robust.

Centralized Authorization APIs not only reflect evolving security practices but also align with the shift towards zero-trust models. They enable agility, scalability, and robustness in software products and infrastructure. For companies in regulated industries or building next-gen applications, integrating an Authorization API is a necessity.

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