Calendar Icon White
October 17, 2023
Clock Icon
 min read

The Comprehensive Guide to Sharing and Storing API Keys Securely

Explore best practices for API key security. Understand the risks, solutions, and essential dos and don'ts for safeguarding digital assets.

The Comprehensive Guide to Sharing and Storing API Keys Securely
Calendar Icon White
October 17, 2023
Clock Icon
 min read

The Comprehensive Guide to Sharing and Storing API Keys Securely

Explore best practices for API key security. Understand the risks, solutions, and essential dos and don'ts for safeguarding digital assets.


API keys, essential for digital integrations, are at risk if not managed securely. Their exposure can lead to unauthorized data access, system manipulations, financial losses, and reputational damage. To safeguard them:

  • Store keys away from code, preferably in environmental variables.
  • Use secure storage solutions with encryption.
  • Rotate keys regularly and delete obsolete ones.
  • Monitor key usage and set access limits.
  • Train teams on API key security.
  • Avoid exposing keys in public channels or repositories.
  • Implement granular access control and use encrypted channels.
  • Regularly assess third-party integrations and set clear contractual agreements.
  • Backup keys and have a recovery plan.

API keys are the cornerstone of modern digital innovation. They enable developers to create complex applications, integrate various systems, and provide consistent user experiences. However, a critical security concern lies beyond the creative potential that APIs unlock: API key security. If these keys are exposed, attackers can access valuable data and algorithms, potentially compromising applications and corrupting user experiences—or worse, leading to a data breach. 

This is why safeguarding API keys is essential for any business operating in the digital realm today. It's not just about preventing unauthorized access; it's about preserving the integrity of digital innovations and customer trust and privacy.

In this guide, we'll delve deep into how to share API keys securely and the API key best practices every organization should adopt.

Understanding the Risks With API Keys

Security vulnerabilities of API Keys
Security vulnerabilities of API Keys

An API key is a unique code software application to access and interact with other services or platforms. It serves as an identifier and a security measure, allowing only authorized users to access specific functionalities securely. Keep this key confidential, as it can be misused if shared or stolen.

Unauthorized Data Access and System Manipulation: Exposed API keys can lead to serious security risks, such as unauthorized access to sensitive data, system functionalities, and proprietary business information. Common attack vectors like SQL injections and Cross-site Scripting can be used to exploit these exposed keys.

Service Disruptions from External Attacks: Exposing API keys can be a serious security risk. Attackers can exploit them to flood systems with requests, resulting in Denial of Service (DoS) or distributed denial-of-service (DDOS) attacks. Additionally, Man-in-the-Middle attacks can intercept and alter data exchanges, compromising the system's security.

Financial, Reputational, and Legal Consequences: Unauthorized API usage can have serious financial and reputational consequences for businesses. Financial losses can arise from billable services, while security breaches can lead to user distrust, legal action, and regulatory non-compliance.

Accidental Exposures and Staff Turnover: API keys are a key security risk for any organization. API keys can easily become exposed on public platforms like GitHub or other communication channels without proper key management practices. Even staff turnover can lead to further security risks, underscoring the need for secure key management practices.

Client-Side Vulnerabilities and Bypass Tactics: API credentials in client-side code are vulnerable to extraction attacks. Even with obfuscation or other security measures, attackers can employ tactics to bypass these and access sensitive information.

Access Control, Storage, and Rotation Concerns: Poor practices such as overly permissive access, weak storage techniques, and infrequent key rotation can leave the keys vulnerable to unauthorized access or misuse.

Third-party Dependencies and Intellectual Property Risks: Exposing API keys can pose a serious security risk, as it can allow unauthorized access to interconnected third-party systems and result in intellectual property theft. This is especially true if proprietary algorithms and processes are accessed, as this could lead to significant financial losses for the business. Platforms like Strac provide the necessary tools to manage confidential data and secure them effectively.

Now that we understand the risks associated with API keys, the next question is how to secure API keys.

Best Practices to Secure API Keys

Best practices to store and share API keys
How to share and store API keys securely?

1. Avoid Direct Storage in Code

Embedding API keys directly in code can lead to unintentional exposure, especially as code is often shared or stored in public repositories. Avoid direct storage in code and use solutions like Strac for enhanced security. It's best practice to use environmental variables to store the keys to reduce this risk and secure sensitive information. This method keeps them separate from the application's main code and prevents accidental exposure in repositories like GitHub.

2. Secure Storage Solutions

Securing API keys is important to ensure that unauthorized access isn't possible. Secure key management systems or secrets management services should be used to store the keys. Additionally, encrypting the keys at rest will further enhance protection and security.

3. Regular Rotation and Deletion

Static API keys are vulnerable over time and can pose potential exposure risks. To reduce these risks, regularly rotate API keys. Implementing a policy for regularly rotating them (e.g., every 30 days) and deleting unused or obsolete keys will help minimize potential attack vectors.

4. Monitor and Limit Usage

Tracking API key usage can help detect anomalies indicating a breach or misuse. To do this, using tools that provide key usage analytics and rate limiting to control the number of requests a user can make within a certain time frame can be useful. This will prevent potential misuse and ensure the security of your system.

5. Granular Access Control

Adhering to the principle of least privilege (PoLP) is an important security measure when working with APIs. By granting API keys only the permissions they need, you can ensure that no functionality is accessible by any key that shouldn't be. This safeguards your system and helps you avoid potential security risks.

6. Avoid Client-Side Exposure

Storing API keys in client-side code such as JavaScript is an insecure practice as it makes them easily accessible to malicious actors. To ensure the security of your API keys, never embed them in URLs or client-side code. Instead, keep them securely stored server-side to protect your data.

7. Educate and Train Development Teams

Human error can be a major security vulnerability, particularly when API keys are accidentally committed to public repositories. To ensure security best practices, regularly train and educate development teams about the importance of API key security. This will help them avoid such mistakes in the first place and minimize any risks associated with them.

8. Implementing Authorization & Authentication

  • TLS (Transport Layer Security): Transport Layer Security (TLS) is an important security protocol that ensures the data transmitted between two systems, such as an API client and server, is encrypted and secure. When setting up an API, ensure it's served over HTTPS (which uses TLS) rather than HTTP. Doing so encrypts the data in transit and prevents it from being intercepted by third parties.
  • OAuth2: OAuth2 is an authorization framework that enables third-party applications to access user data without user credentials. It works by issuing tokens to the third-party application for a set period, allowing them to access specific resources on behalf of the user. OAuth2 is widely used for secure token-based authentication and has become an industry standard for safely granting access to user data.
  • OpenID Connect: OpenID Connect is an identity layer on top of OAuth2 that allows clients to verify the end-user's identity. It makes Single Sign-On (SSO) solutions easier by returning identity information (in the form of an ID token) about the user. This eliminates creating separate logins and remembering multiple passwords for different websites.
  • Multi-Factor Authentication (MFA): Multi-factor authentication (MFA) adds an extra layer of security to user accounts. Even if a malicious actor obtains the user's password, they need a second factor to gain access. MFA can involve SMS Codes, authentication apps, or hardware tokens. SMS codes are sent to the user's registered mobile number during login and must be entered to gain access. Authentication apps such as Google Authenticator or Authy generate time-based one-time passwords (TOTPs) for authentication. Hardware tokens are physical devices that generate codes and are considered more secure as they're not connected to the internet.

9. Monitoring & Management

Monitoring API key usage is an important security measure that helps quickly detect any unusual or unauthorized activities. Immediate alerts can help prevent potential data breaches, providing your business and customers peace of mind.

Maintaining Logs for API Key Access

Logs maintain records of all access and can be used for audits, troubleshooting, and breach investigations. Solutions such as ELK Stack (Elasticsearch, Logstash, Kibana) or Splunk can be utilized for logging and analysis.

10. Backup & Recovery

Regular backups are essential to maintain the security and reliability of systems. If a system fails due to a breach, key loss, or other unexpected event, having a recent backup allows you to quickly restore services with minimal disruption.

Steps to Recover API Keys:

  • Identify the breach 
  • Immediately revoke the compromised key
  • Create a new API key
  • Use the new key to restore services
  • Inform stakeholders of the change

11. Managing Third-Party Integrations

Guidelines for Securely Integrating and Managing Third-Party Services

  • Generate service-specific keys: For increased security, use individual keys for each third-party service integration instead of a single master key. Generating unique keys for each integration will help protect your data and enhance the overall safety of your system.
  • Strict permissions: Grant only the required permissions to third-party services.
  • Regularly audit and review: Conduct frequent audits to ensure third-party integrations follow security guidelines.
  • Use encrypted channels: Always use secure channels (like TLS) when sharing or transmitting API keys.
  • Contractual Agreements: Establish contractual agreements before sharing API keys with third parties. These should define the scope of use, specify data protection and security measures, and outline consequences for any security breaches or misuse of the API key. Doing this will help ensure that your API key is used only for its intended purpose.
  • Regular security assessments: Conducting regular security assessments or audits of third-party integrations is crucial for ensuring your organization's security. It helps identify potential vulnerabilities or misconfigurations, verify that third parties comply with the agreed-upon security standards, and allow you to take corrective actions if any security lapses are found.

Do's and Don'ts with API Keys

Do's and Dont's in securing API keys
Do's & Don'ts with API Keys


  • Keep API keys isolated from the main code and away from the public eye by storing them in environmental variables. 
  • Always keep API keys in safe key management solutions for storage. Make sure that the keys are encrypted both in transit and at rest. 
  • Alternate your API keys regularly to minimize exposure concerns. Remove any keys that are no longer needed or relevant. 
  • Limit access by only granting API keys the necessary rights. Follow the least privilege principle.
  • To spot anomalies or unusual patterns of API key usage, use technologies that provide key usage analytics.
  • To avoid possible misuse, limit the amount of queries a user can make within a particular interval.
  • Train and educate your development teams on the necessity of API key security and best practices regularly.
  • Allow only trusted IP addresses to make requests to provide an extra degree of protection.
  • Choose secrets with a limited lifespan and rotate them regularly.
  • Use Secrets Scanning Solutions tools like GitGuardian to identify exposed API keys and prevent them from being leaked in public repositories.
  • Maintain a regular backup and recovery plan for your API keys to avoid service outages.


  • Avoid direct exposure. Never explicitly embed API keys in code, client-side scripts, or URLs.
  • Never store API keys in plaintext or insecure storage.
  • Avoid uploading code containing API keys to public repositories such as GitHub without verifying it for secrets.
  • Do not grant unnecessary permissions to every API key.
  • Do not distribute or disclose API keys in public channels such as Slack, Google Workspace, or Jira.
  • Without adequate training, do not assume that everyone on the team knows the best practices. Don't assume IP whitelisting alone is sufficient for security.
  • Do not neglect to monitor and review access logs for potential unauthorized access.


API keys are an integral element of today's connected digital landscape. They provide powerful integrations for applications and systems yet can be easily targeted for malicious use. To ensure secure storage and sharing of API keys, organizations must follow the recommended best practices to protect their digital assets and keep their operations running smoothly.

Strac SaaS Integrations
Schedule a demo to integrate all your SaaS stack with Strac in minutes

But understanding the best practices is only half the battle. Implementing them consistently and efficiently requires a robust solution. Secure your entire digital ecosystem with Strac. Our state-of-the-art encryption, real-time monitoring, and intuitive access controls make it easy to protect your API keys from unauthorized access while improving scalability and performance.

Strac is more than an API key management tool—it's a reliable partner that easily integrates with any infrastructure, so you can rest assured that your sensitive data is safe, secure, and controlled. 

Founder, Strac. ex-Amazon Payments Infrastructure (Widget, API, Security) Builder for 11 years.

Latest articles

Browse all