Despite the explosive growth in API usage worldwide, many security and development teams are unable to answer basic questions about their API programs – like how many do we have, who owns them, and what do they do. This poses a huge security risk for organizations – especially in today’s complicated threat landscape.
To protect against security risks, it’s crucial that organizations understand all aspects of their API programs and their associated security challenges. This better positions leaders to improve their organization’s security posture through proper mitigation strategies.
Common API Security Challenges
Though APIs enable digital transformation across organizations, they are a double-edge sword. Most organizations expose a number of APIs that are built in-house and open-sourced for customers and partners. These are published by different teams, using different application stacks and following various DevOps and publication procedures. As such, it’s hard to keep track of and understand them fully, so it is understandably an area where IT leaders struggle without the right help.
What is a good place to start to clarify this confusion? Understanding the common security challenges introduced by APIs, including:
- Shadow, deprecated or hidden APIs can fall outside of the security teams’ area of visibility, which leads to them often go unprotected. These APIs may transmit sensitive data and jeopardize an organization’s compliance standing.
- Hidden parameters can lead to privilege escalation by allowing an attacker to change a user profile to “admin” that can then lead to fraud, data loss or worse.
- Exposure of confidential or sensitive data in response codes or error messages can be used to steal data or as a form of reconnaissance for a larger scale attack.
- Application business logic flaws can enable bad actors to commit fraud through account takeovers, scraping, fake account creation and other forms of API abuse.
When looking to address these common API security challenges, it helps to ask questions to evaluate and mitigate your degree of risk. There are a number of questions to consider. What do the APIs we have do? Who are the API owners? Which APIs are subject to legal or regulatory compliance? How do we monitor for vulnerabilities in our APIs? Are our APIs exposing sensitive data or PII which could put us out of compliance? How do we test and measure the effectiveness of our API monitoring?
Mitigating the Risks
While understanding security challenges and asking the right questions is a great start, the best way to fully protect your organization from API security risks is with a visibility and monitoring solution that can aid your team. Solutions like these will be the fastest, most-thorough way for an organization to understand and rein in their API footprint.
When shopping for solutions, the most important components to consider are runtime visibility and monitoring. You cannot protect what you cannot see – so visibility and monitoring are crucial to having full oversight into your API program, so that you can have centralized visibility and inventory into all of your APIs, a detailed view of API traffic patterns, discover any APIs that may be transmitting sensitive data, run continuous API specification conformance assessments, validate authentication and access controls, and automate risk analysis based on predefined criteria. Only a comprehensive API inventory can ensure security teams are providing continuous risk assessments, uncovering security gaps and addressing them before they are published or discovered by an attacker.
APIs are empowering organizations’ digital transformation initiatives. However, these primary business enablement pillars can double as a security threat if not properly monitored. By having a full understanding of your API program, asking the right questions and seeking the help and resources of a third-party visibility and monitoring solution, you’ll be well on your way to improving your organization’s security posture.