A lot is said about OAuth 2.0—some positive, others negative. All the same, it is important to ensure the security of your Application Programming Interface (API). And OAuth 2.0 has become an important security protocol for mobile API and native application development.
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Although there are many points of contention over which form of authentication is better, one thing is clear. The Resource Owner Password Credentials Grant configuration as defined in the OAuth 2 specification (OAuth 2 Spec, section 4.3) is profoundly superior to HTTP Basic authentication.
OAuth represents an advanced step in the use of credentials for authentication of API service users. In fact, studies reveal that it is the only security method with close to 100% dependability. Its unmatched reliability is based on its ability to create unique authentication tokens for every user. If a token is compromised, it is deleted immediately and another one is created—and API credentials are completely safeguarded.
When a user launches a native application, they are required to provide a username or email address and password to identify themselves. This credential is sent to the API as a POST request, which ensures secure delivery of user data.
The request passes through the Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) protocol that simplifies the issuing and receiving encryption keys between applications, and allows applications to convey outbound data safely. User credentials are validated and an impromptu authentication or access token is created. The authentication token is kept in the device for access to the API services that support the application. The token expires after a designated period of time or if the user or developer responsible for the API thinks it was breached.
With basic authentication, access to API services is done through the transfer of credentials via the Web. Specifically, data is sent in the HTTP header, making the process and user credentials susceptible to third parties. If these credentials are illegally used by a third party, it is extremely difficult to determine when and where they were compromised or to put a finger on the attack vector that compromised the logins.
Basic authentication doesn’t have the ability to manage tokens. Without this feature, it is almost impossible to regulate access to secured resources using basic authentication processes without potentially having to disable a user's credentials.
When you compare both methods of authentication, OAuth 2.0 provides better security than basic authentication because its initial requests for credentials are made under the SSL protocol and its access object is a transitory token.
If you are serious about running a highly defensible Web API, OAuth 2.0 uses a token management method that offers a means to track every device that connects to your API.
For further reading, check out our other articles like Understanding the Different 2 Factor Authentication Types and Identity and Access Management Implementation Plan.