Application programming interfaces (APIs) provide a wide range of useful and necessary services to users in all sorts of contexts. They enable processes such as linked login interfaces and streamlined online payments, without which accessing accounts and making financial transactions would be much more complex for the user. APIs handle huge amounts of extremely sensitive data, and the way they are designed makes them particularly vulnerable to attacks and uniquely difficult to protect. This is why API security platforms exist: to mitigate the risks of API usage as much as possible and prevent APIs and their users from being the targets of cyberattacks and breaches.
API Security Risks and Challenges
There are a number of particular security hurdles to API usage due to inherent challenges of the design, API attacks differing from other security risks and going undetected, and organizations being complacent or ignorant regarding proper API security. As APIs “keep everyone connected to vital data and services,” it is important for users and businesses to understand the risks involved and the measures and practices in place to protect against attacks. While API attacks are becoming more abundant and complex, with the number of unique attackers increasing by 400% in only six months, 30% of businesses still lack any kind of API security strategy.
One major challenge of preventing API attacks is detecting them in the first place. Bad actors have advanced their attacks over time, so known attacks that once would have taken seconds or minutes and had a chance of being detected have turned to “low-and-slow” tactics that are more difficult for traditional security tools to find. APIs do not work in the same way as other technologies, and they require unique approaches to security in order to protect against these attacks. Furthermore, many organizations fail to prioritize API security, leaving their APIs vulnerable to cybercriminal activity due to complacence or ignorance.
The Importance of API Security
Although sensitive data exposure and security breaches are not as common as some other API security concerns, they can lead to severe damage, both financial and otherwise, for organizations without sufficient API security. With the recent growing popularity of “the internet of things, microservices and serverless architectures where most apps depend on APIs for core functionalities,” APIs are being used more than ever, and attackers are targeting them more than ever as well. The Open Web Application Security Project (OWASP) keeps a list of the top ten vulnerabilities that challenge API security, many of which can cause serious damage to an organization or its customers.
Attackers can gain access to sensitive or personally identifiable information at endpoints or in the backend of API operations through various means as a result of these vulnerabilities: broken authentication or authorization, unrestricted resource consumption or access to sensitive business flows, server-side request forgery, security misconfigurations, improper documentation, and unsafe API consumption. Common cybercriminal actions targeting APIs include denial-of-service (DoS) and distributed denial-of-service (DDoS), man in the middle, broken access control, and injection attacks. A solid API security strategy is crucial for organizations who wish to protect their sensitive data and business operations from attacks.
API Security Platforms
Organizations have a number of measures, methods, and tools they can put into practice to defend against API attacks. Because there are so many different vulnerabilities in APIs and types of attacks, it is necessary to cover a lot of ground with an API security strategy. Making sure that any APIs in use are documented fully and accurately, documentation is updated regularly, security and other settings are configured properly, design flaws are addressed and fixed, and any potential attacks are able to be detected and identified is a tall order, especially for smaller organizations that may not have the resources for a dedicated in-house cybersecurity team.
What an API security platform does, in its most basic form, is attempt to solve as many of these issues as possible to protect APIs against attacks from bad actors. Different platforms have different services included, but they all aim to close security gaps, fix vulnerabilities, and prevent security incidents. Some of the services that are commonly part of API security platforms include API documentation, security testing, locating vulnerabilities, attack detection, identification, and real-time prevention, and decreasing the size of the attack surface. Each organization will have its own abilities, resources, goals, and needs to take into consideration when choosing an API security platform.
APIs are essentially a ubiquitous part of all online operations, and they regularly process incredibly sensitive data. They enable communications between programs and servers to go smoothly and make a wide range of activities more convenient for users. As such, it is crucial to ensure that APIs are protected against attacks. Bad actors are increasingly targeting APIs, as there are often vulnerabilities and security gaps that allow their attacks to go much more smoothly. There is no one size fits all solution to API security, but API security platforms attempt to account for the difficulties in protecting APIs and build an effective API security strategy.