Did you know 83% of all the web traffic generated can be attributed to APIs? APIs and cybersecurity are only sometimes top of mind when developing a cybersecurity plan, but they should be up front and center.

APIs or Application Programming Interfaces are the key to digital transformation strategies and critical to any modern mobile, SaaS, or web application. With more companies embracing mobile to interface with their customers, the use of APIs only continues to rise.

But maybe you’re thinking, “We don’t use APIs here, or I don’t even know what an API is.” Well, chances are your company is using more APIs than you know and unfortunately, they can be super vulnerable to cyberattacks. Let’s take a deeper look at what APIs are and how they work plus how you can keep them safe.

What is API?

Application Programming Interfaces may be used in various ways within your company. For example, they could be used to collect payments from customers, or they could be used to do things like sync up your CRM platform to your company website to collect email sign-ups. To put it simply, APIs allow your company to share data with external partners.

APIs are the middleman between the application and a web server, allowing the two to communicate and interact. When using an Application Programming Interface, the user is given a code or key to bridge the two systems. The issue, however, is that APIs tend to expose sensitive data by their nature, making them easy targets for cyberattacks.

To transfer information, APIs use two frameworks. One is Representational State Transfer (REST), and the other is Simple Object Access Protocol (SOAP). SOAP APIs carry information over HTTP through a website. REST APIs can use HTTP, Transport Layer Security (TLS) (meant to prevent eavesdropping), or JavaScript Object Notation (a standard text-based format). Even though APIs can be open or closed, public or private, and use two different frameworks, they are still at the heart of many significant data breaches.

What are API Security Vulnerabilities?

There are a few different security vulnerabilities associated with APIs and cybersecurity, and you should consider the following when creating a cybersecurity plan for your business.

It’s important to remember that APIs are different from Web Applications. Yes, APIs can be the framework of modern web apps, but they operate and react entirely differently than web applications. Because of this, API security must be thought about in ways unique to their behavior.

Another alarming vulnerability is that APIs can help hackers hide in plain sight. APIs use new file formats, protocols, and structures in how they operate, making it easier for hackers to conceal well-known attacks.

With these types of vulnerabilities, APIs can accidentally provide attackers access to the backend functions of applications, sensitive company and client data, and other forms of data that could cause a company to shut down and face harsh fines for non-compliance with various data protocols.

What is API Security and Why is it Important?

At its basic definition, API security is preventing or mitigating attacks on your company’s APIs. Basic authentication should be replaced with more robust systems like MFA, where various forms of security tokens can be supplied to the end user.

With more companies relying on cloud-native applications to run their businesses, APIs and cybersecurity are critical to security plans. APIs are the backend framework for most cloud-native apps, including mobile apps that transfer sensitive data.

Hackers know to look for nonsecure API connections to try and perform man-in-the-middle (MITM), distributed denial-of-service (DDoS), or Broken Access Control attacks just to name a few of their schemes. Below you’ll find a comprehensive list of risks and how to mitigate them.

OWASP Top 10 List of API Risks

The Open Web Application Security Project (OWASP) is a nonprofit foundation working to improve software security. OWASP lists the following as the top 10 API security risks. When you’re looking to improve APIs and cybersecurity, consider the following.

Broken Object Level Authorization

Since APIs tend to expose endpoints that handle object identifiers, object-level authorization checks should be considered in every function that accesses a data source using an ID from the user. 

Broken Authentication

Authentication mechanisms are often implemented incorrectly, allowing attackers to compromise tokens or exploit flaws to assume other users’ identities. Broken Authentication compromises a system’s ability to identify your customer/user. 

Broken Object Property Level Authorization

A lack of authorization validation at the object property level leads to information exposure or manipulation by unauthorized parties. 

Unrestricted Resource Consumption

For API requests to work successfully, a host of resources is needed, including network bandwidth and storage, plus resources like emails and SMS biometrics validation (paid for per request). A successful attack can lead to Denial of Service or increased operational costs. 

APIs and Cybersecurity

83% of web traffic is attributed to APIs!

Broken Function Level Authorization

Suppose your company’s cybersecurity plan regarding access control policies and who handles administrative versus regular functions is unclear. In that case, this can lead to authorization flaws. Hackers can then exploit these flaws to access resources and other administrative functions. 

Unrestricted Access to Sensitive Business Flows

If an API you’re using becomes vulnerable to this risk, business flows can be exposed. An example would be buying a ticket or posting a comment.

Server-Side Request Forgery

Server-side request Forgery happens when an API reaches out to connect without validating the user-supplied URI. When this happens, hackers can redirect the application to send a request to an unexpected destination, even when a firewall or VPN protects your business.

Security Misconfiguration

APIs and their systems typically contain complex configurations so that the APIs are customizable. Software and DevOps engineers can often miss these configurations, opening the door for different types of attacks. 

Improper Inventory Management

Your cybersecurity plan should have updated documentation listing the inventory of hosts and deployed APIs so that you can mitigate issues like deprecated API versions and exposed debug endpoints. 

Unsafe Consumption of APIs 

Since developers tend to trust data received from third-party APIs more than user input, they tend to adopt weaker security standards. Hackers know this and will go directly after integrated third-party services instead of the target API. 

APIs and Cybersecurity

72% of enterprises experienced delays in the release of new services,
due to authorization issues with APIs.

API Security Best Practices

Now that you understand the vulnerabilities associated with APIs and cybersecurity let’s look at some of the best practices to include within your cybersecurity plan. You do have a cybersecurity plan, right?

Take Inventory of APIs

You can’t mitigate cybersecurity issues if you don’t understand what your company has in its IT environment. You can use API vulnerability scanners to automate the discovery of endpoints, parameters, and data types. Make sure to tag, label, and segment the APIs. 

Zero Trust Philosophy

Trust no one, not even authorized API endpoints. Adopting a Zero Trust philosophy means that your company verifies everything trying to access the company’s IT environment. 

Identify API Vulnerabilities and Risks

Modern cybersecurity means taking a proactive approach, continually testing and scanning your IT environment. Adding patching and alerting will help identify some risks, and Pen Testing will go deeper to reveal security misconfigurations or business logic flaws. 

APIs and Cybersecurity

44% of enterprises experienced security issues,
concerning privacy and data leakage from APIs.

Enforce Strong Authentication and Authorization

For best practices, include strong and complex password combinations with MFA. Other information to consider is limiting session durations and that tokens expire regularly. 

Expose Only Limited Data

Since APIs are developer tools that often include sensitive data like passwords, keys, and other information, ensure the APIs only expose as much data as needed to fulfill their operation. Also, consider enforcing data access controls and tracking the data. 

Implement Rate Limits

A common practice of hackers is to overwhelm an API with unlimited requests, also known as a DDoS attack. A simple way to avoid these attacks is to limit how often an API is called. 

Incidence Response

As part of your cybersecurity plan, you should have an Incidence Response clearly defining policies and measures related to immediate response, investigation, escalation, and compliance during and post-data breach. Having an incident response in place will help your company bounce back and limit the impact of a breach. 

Putting it All Together 

API adoption isn’t going away anytime soon, and hackers know how vulnerable APIs are, so your company must take APIs and cybersecurity seriously. The stats show that much of today’s web traffic is generated by Application Programming Interfaces, which means there are many more opportunities for data breaches.

But now that you know where the weak links are in your APIs and some fixes to sure up those links, your company should be safe. With that said, the real takeaway is that your business needs a Cybersecurity and Incidence Response plan. API security should be a part of the larger plan.

Within the plan, you should continue to educate your employees and always be testing. A well-informed employee base built upon cybersecurity awareness is your best protection against attacks focused on APIs. If you have any questions, reach out and someone at ONE 2 ONE would be more than happy to help!

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