how to secure your Node JS APIs

how to secure your Node JS APIs

As web development keeps evolving, ensuring the security of your Node.js application becomes critical. This detailed guide steps beyond elementary suggestions, offering a closer look at advanced security techniques for Node.js setups.

  1. Operating Without Root Privileges: A Must-Do


Running Node.js or any web server as a root user poses a significant security risk. A single exploit could grant attackers complete control over the server. Instead, configure your environment to run with minimal privileges.

Implementation Insight:

Creating a dedicated user for your Node.js application restricts potential damage in the event of a compromise.

Creating a non-root user for Node.js service

adduser --disabled-login nodejsUser

sample Dockerfile for node js application

FROM node:18-alpine  
RUN addgroup adx && adduser -S -G adx adx  
WORKDIR /usr/src/app/backend  
COPY package*.json ./  
RUN npm install  
COPY . .  
RUN npm run build  
USER adx  
EXPOSE 5000  
CMD ["npm", "start"]

Switch to this user before starting your application to ensure it runs with limited permissions.

  1. Keeping NPM Libraries Up-to-Date: The First Line of Defense


Dependencies in the Node.js ecosystem can be a double-edged sword. While they significantly accelerate development, they can also introduce vulnerabilities.

Implementation Insight:

Use npm audit for a quick vulnerability scan and fix issues automatically with npm audit fix. Integrate Snyk for continuous monitoring and protection.

Updating packages and fixing vulnerabilities

npm update && npm audit fix

Snyk Integration:

Snyk offers a proactive approach to dependency security, scanning for vulnerabilities and providing fixes or workarounds.

Installing Snyk CLI and scanning your project

npm install -g snyk  
snyk auth  
snyk test

Automate this process in your CI/CD pipeline to ensure continuous security.

  1. Customizing Cookie Names: Obscuring Tech Stack Details


Default cookie names can inadvertently disclose your application’s underlying technologies, making it easier for attackers to tailor their exploits.

Implementation Insight:

Change default session cookie names to something unique and unrelated to the technology or framework used.

const express = require('express');  
const session = require('express-session')  
  // set a custom name for the session cookie  
  name: 'siteSessionId',  
  // a secure secret key for session encryption  
  secret: 'complex_secret_key',  
  // Additional session configurations...  
  1. Implementing Secure HTTP Headers with Helmet: Bolstering Defense


Secure HTTP headers are crucial for protecting your app from various types of attacks like XSS, clickjacking, and other cross-site injections.

Implementation Insight:

Helmet.js is a middleware that sets secure HTTP headers out of the box. Customize it to suit your application’s needs.

The helmet() middleware automatically removes unsafe headers and adds new ones, including X-XSS-Protection, X-Content-Type-Options, Strict-Transport-Security, and X-Frame-Options. These enforce best practices and help protect your application from common attacks.

const helmet = require('helmet');  
  // Custom helmet configuration here  

Regularly review your headers’ security using tools like the Mozilla Observatory.

  1. Rate Limiting: Preventing Abuse


Rate limiting is essential for protecting your application against brute-force attacks and DDoS by limiting the number of requests a user can make in a given timeframe.

Implementation Insight:

Utilize libraries like `express-rate-limit` for easy rate-limiting setup.

const rateLimit = require('express-rate-limit');  
const limiter = rateLimit({  windowMs: 15 * 60 * 1000, // 15 minutes  max: 100, // Limit each IP to 100 requests per windowMs  

Configure thresholds based on normal user behavior and adjust as necessary.

  1. Enforcing Strong Authentication Policies: Beyond Passwords


Authentication mechanisms are often targeted by attackers. Implementing robust authentication methods is critical for securing user accounts.

Implementation Insight:

  • Implement bcrypt for secure password hashing.
  • Enforce password complexity requirements.
  • Utilize multi-factor authentication (MFA) to add another layer of security.
const bcrypt = require('bcrypt');  
const saltRounds = 10;  
// Hashing a password  
bcrypt.hash('userPassword', saltRounds, function(err, hash) {  
  // Store hash in your password database.  

Educate users on the importance of strong passwords and provide support for MFA.

  1. Minimizing Error Details: Avoiding Information Leakage


Verbose error messages can provide attackers with insights into your application’s architecture, facilitating targeted attacks.

Implementation Insight:

Ensure that production environments do not expose stack traces or detailed error messages to users.

app.use((err, req, res, next) => {  
  res.status(500).json({ error: "Internal Server Error" });  

Log detailed errors server-side for debugging, keeping user-facing messages generic.

  1. Vigilant Monitoring: Keeping an Eye on Your Application


Monitoring is crucial for detecting and responding to security incidents in real time.

Implementation Insight:

Integrate Application Performance Monitoring (APM) tools to track application behavior and identify anomalies indicative of security breaches.

const apmTool = require('apm-tool-of-choice');  
  // Configuration options  

Choose a tool that suits your stack and provides comprehensive insights into both performance and security aspects.

  1. Embracing HTTPS-Only Policy: Encrypting Data in Transit


HTTPS ensures that data between your server and the user is encrypted, protecting it from eavesdropping and man-in-the-middle attacks.

Implementation Insight:

Redirect all HTTP traffic to HTTPS and ensure that cookies are set with the Secure attribute.

app.use((req, res, next) => {  
  if (! {  
    return res.redirect(`https://${}${req.url}`);  

Use tools like Let’s Encrypt to obtain free SSL/TLS certificates.

  1. Validating User Input: Shielding Against Injection


Validating and sanitizing user input is fundamental to preventing injection attacks, such as SQL injection, XSS, and more.

Implementation Insight:

Employ libraries express-validator to define validation rules for user inputs.

const { body, validationResult } = require('express-validator');'/register', [  
  body('password').isLength({ min: 5 })  
], (req, res) => {  
  const errors = validationResult(req);  
  if (!errors.isEmpty()) {  
    return res.status(400).json({ errors: errors.array() });  
  // Proceed with registration logic  

Define strict validation rules based on the expected format of the data.

  1. Leveraging Security Linters


Use tools to automatically spot potential security risks in your code.

Short Implementation Guide:

  1. Choose a Linter: ESLint, combined with the eslint-plugin-security, offers a focused approach to identifying security risks in Node.js code.
  2. Setup: Install ESLint and the security plugin.
  3. Configure ESLint: Modify your .eslintrc to use the security plugin.
  4. Scan Your Code: Execute ESLint to uncover and address security concerns.
  5. Integrate with Development Workflow: Embed linting into your regular development practices to catch and rectify issues promptly.
npm install eslint eslint-plugin-security --save-dev

  "extends": ["eslint:recommended", "plugin:security/recommended"],  
  "plugins": ["security"]  

npx eslint .

By integrating security linters into your workflow, following user input validation, you create an additional layer of defense, ensuring your code is not only safe from common injection attacks but also from other potential vulnerabilities identified through static code analysis.


Securing a Node.js application is an ongoing process that involves multiple layers of defense. By implementing the practices outlined in this guide, you can significantly enhance the security posture of your Node.js applications. Stay informed about the latest security threats and continuously update your security practices to protect against evolving risks.

About the author

Hey, I'm Tarun, a software engineer, writer, and open-sourcerer. I publish articles and tutorials about modern JavaScript, design, and programming.

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