How to protect your APIs?

How to protect your APIs?

The majority of internet traffic (71%) in 2023 was API calls

The substantial volume of data transmitted via APIs is a matter of concern for those invested in cybersecurity. Despite proactive measures to implement early-stage security considerations and solidify software development life cycle (SDLC) protocols, APIs frequently enter live environments without thorough documentation, authentication checks, or security audits.

APIs have become popular targets for digital adversaries due to their direct connection to sensitive data. The sectors of banking and e-commerce reported the greatest frequency of API traffic in 2023, attributed to their dependence on extensive API networks to offer services online. Consequently, these sectors were also the most affected by API-targeted cyber attacks during the year.

Cyber attackers are employing diverse tactics to exploit APIs, with Account Takeover (ATO) attacks being particularly prevalent. These occur when vulnerabilities in API authentication are leveraged to gain unauthorized account access. A significant portion (nearly 46%) of all ATO incidents were directed at APIs. Often executed using automated bots, these attacks can result in customer lockouts, data theft, financial losses, and heightened regulatory non-compliance risks. The stakes are especially high for banking and other financial services due to the sensitive nature of the data handled.

Addressing the security concerns posed by mismanaged APIs is a complex task that even seasoned security teams find daunting. The rapidity of software development paired with a deficit in mature tools and collaborative processes for developers and security teams contributes to the challenge. An estimated 10% of APIs present vulnerabilities—due to inadequate deprecation, absence of monitoring, or weak authentication—leaving them open to cyber attacks.

There are three primary categories of mismanaged API endpoints posing security threats: shadow, deprecated, and unauthenticated APIs. Shadow APIs, which account for an estimated 4.7% of an organization's API assets, escape regulation due to lack of documentation or oversight. Deprecated APIs, making up about 2.6%, become liabilities when they aren't properly phased out and continue to operate without updates or patches. The third category, unauthenticated APIs, forming approximately 3.4%, arise from configuration errors or rushed deployment and can freely expose data or functionalities.

To mitigate these security vulnerabilities, conducting regular audits to unearth unmonitored or unauthenticated APIs is crucial. Continuous vigilance helps in recognizing and responding to exploitative attempts. Moreover, consistent updating and upgrading of APIs ensure outdated endpoints are replaced with secured versions.

Guidelines for a multi-faceted approach to bolster API security:

  • Diligently catalog all APIs, including endpoints, parameters, and payloads, and maintain an up-to-date inventory to monitor data exposure.

  • Assess risks targeting sensitive APIs, focusing on endpoints susceptible to authorization and authentication breaches and excessive data exposure.

  • Implement a solid monitoring framework for API endpoints to actively detect and analyze anomalous activities.

  • Embrace an integrated API security strategy combining Web Application Firewall (WAF), API Protection, DDoS prevention, and Bot Protection to provide a comprehensive defense against complex API threats, including those targeting business logic.

These strategies underscore the imperative for robust API management and security in safeguarding digital assets.