By Mo Amao
With the increase in innovation and digital transformation, application programs have become a common part of the modern internet. Application Security (Appsec) is used to mitigate risks associated with application vulnerabilities and ensure the confidentiality, integrity, and availability of information. It is important to be prepared for attacks and incidents against your organization, especially since applications are cyberattack vectors.
Application Programming Interfaces (APIs) form the chassis for modern applications. They are essential to connect services, transfer data, collect valuable information from various software units, and integrate modern technology to provide required features. APIs have been widely adopted by organizations across various industries. A compromised API can lead to a data breach, and since APIs are commonly used to access sensitive software functions and data, APIs are slowly becoming primary attack targets. Reports have shown that 95% of organizations have been attacked through API vulnerabilities in the last 12 months. Additionally, the exposure of Personally Identifiable Information (PII) via malicious API calls is alarming, emphasizing the importance of API security.
Why API Security Is Important
API security is an integral component of modernizing Appsec programs and should be integrated from the development and testing process to the production stage to detect and prevent API exploitation. Organizations prioritize securing web applications since they can be used to access sensitive and valuable data. Credential stuffing, or SQL injection attacks can be achieved by targeting API vulnerabilities, rather than attacking the program directly.
Below are a few reasons why API security is an important part of modernizing any Appsec program:
- Connection to third-party applications: APIs are connected to third-party applications, which allows an outside entity to access resources. A broken or compromised API can lead to the exposure of sensitive data, therefore, securing APIs from the design and development phases is paramount.
- Reduction of vulnerabilities: Per a recent study, organizations and businesses have experienced more API attacks with an increase in malicious API traffic. API vulnerabilities have evolved from denial of service, SQL injection, and authorization flaws to ever more sophisticated manipulations that current security tooling cannot detect or prevent. It is important to create solid API strategies to mitigate API vulnerabilities and threats.
- Improves operational efficiency: Application Programming Interfaces help improve operational efficiency in application development, with reuse and standards to adhere to.
- Access Control: By design, APIs often gain access to application data within their environment. Bad actors often manipulate API calls to authenticate as one user and then request data and services associated with a different user ID. Manipulating authentication and authorization processes are often foundational to API attacks.
- Data Loss Prevention: Organizations need to understand the traffic going out via an API – they need to ensure such requests fit the typical patterns for a given user or API and prevent data loss via APIs.
API Security Best Practices
API security has grown to become a key component of Appsec programs and remains vital to protect data and services across various business areas. Having a reliable API security strategy to help cover all bases and prevent the exploration of API vulnerabilities is critical. An API Security Checklist will help you close gaps in your API security strategy. Highlighting problems and prioritizing activities to secure your API should be the first point of call in securing APIs.
According to the Open Web Application Security Project (OWASP) Top 10 for 2021, critical API vulnerabilities fall within these five categories:
● Insecure Design
● Broken Access Control
● Cryptographic Failures
● Security Misconfiguration
To successfully mitigate these vulnerabilities, the following best practices should be in place:
- Prioritize security: Securing your API should not be an afterthought during application development. Prioritizing API security from the development to the production stage should be paramount for organizations.
- Secure design and development: Organizations should include business logic in design when drafting security requirements for building and integrating APIs. Coding and configuration practices relevant to your technology stack should be drafted.
- Management of API inventory: Organizations should be aware of available APIs to secure and manage them. Regular perimeter scans should be conducted to discover your organization’s API and a collaboration with the DevOps team should be encouraged to manage discovered APIs.
- Security testing: Conduct regular API security testing to inspect known vulnerabilities in your organization’s API code and analyze deployed API code to discover exploitable code in runtime.
- Deploy dynamic runtime protection: Dynamic runtime protection is useful to track changes that cannot be detected using standard build and abuse testing tools. Enabling threat protection features available in your organization’s API gateway can ensure API runtime protection.
While the above is not an exhaustive list of best practices, picking a familiar starting point from the API Security Checklist and gradually expanding and adopting other best practices can help achieve optimum API security.
Application security is incomplete without API security. Security and DevOps are encouraged to work together to ensure optimum security of applications and APIs. Security of APIs should be prioritized from the earliest development step, as opposed to being the last stage of production. Protections at the build stage need to be complemented with runtime security measures that can identify and stop exploits in running APIs. To prevent further attacks and exploitation of API vulnerabilities, implementing security best practices in line with the API security checklist is critical. While cyberattacks cannot be completely eradicated, secure systems can be enforced to reduce attacks, and with application security, this begins with securing your organization’s API.
About the Author
Mosopefoluwa is a certified Cybersecurity Analyst and Technical writer. She has experience working as a Security Operations Center (SOC) Analyst with a history of creating relevant cybersecurity content for organizations and spreading security awareness. She volunteers as an Opportunities and Resources Writer with a Nigerian based NGO where she curated weekly opportunities for women.
Her other interests are law, volunteering and women’s rights. In her free time, she enjoys spending time at the beach, watching movies or burying herself in a book.