Best practices for using APIs or application programming interfaces are becoming increasingly available to users. Even still, in today’s current landscape, having this best-practice knowledge at your fingertips may simply not be enough to avoid automated threats.
With the influx of sophisticated adversaries targeting your APIs, a rise in API vulnerabilities, general growth in API attacks, and a worsening time-to-exploit window, it’s now more important than ever to defend your API from harmful attacks.
You may be susceptible to threats due to flaws in API design, implementation, or security vulnerabilities. Whatever the reason, finding out that a cyber attacker has breached your company’s system to steal data can cost amounts into the billions. It may seem far-fetched that a single attacker could breach a vulnerability in your API to steal tremendous amounts of your private data in a matter of a few short hours–but, unfortunately, this scenario isn’t as uncommon as you might think.
- With application programming interfaces growing in popularity, security teams can’t keep up, making them a prime target for attackers.
- Not all APIs are created equally, and we’ll explore some common vulnerabilities that malicious actors can target, including insecure communications, broken access control, and injection attacks.
- In this day and age, developers must implement the best practices to secure their API calls. These best practices include constant monitoring and logging, implementing encryption services, and adopting secure coding practices.
- API protection is now more important than ever as malicious automation and bots, that can remove sensitive information at scale, trend as a growing threat.
- Kasada’s API protection is designed to stand out from our competitors by using a novel approach, including a cryptographic challenge to fight off malicious actors. The use cases for our software are enormous, as are its potential benefits.
What Are Application Programming Interfaces?
An application programming interface, or API, is a set of guidelines and protocols for building software applications. It acts as a layer of communication between different software components, allowing them to interact with each other in a standardized and predictable way.
Importantly, APIs provide developers with a way to access the functionality of an existing software application or service without knowing the details of its implementation. This makes it easier to build applications that rely on external services or data sources, as developers can simply call the appropriate API functions to retrieve the information they need.
Practically, APIs can be used for a wide range of purposes, from enabling communication between different software components within a single application to providing access to third-party services such as social media platforms or payment gateways. They are often documented and made available publicly so other developers can use them to build new applications or integrate existing ones with external services.
APIs have been heralded as a more efficient way to build web applications in contrast to more traditional methods, and research certainly backs this claim up. A recent study showed that public firms that adopted APIs experienced a 12.9% increase in their market value versus their non-adopting competitors. Over 16 years, this figure rose to 38.7%.
But as the popularity of APIs and their use cases have exploded, so too did the needs to tighten their security. Security resources simply can’t keep up with the massive increase in API usage, meaning. the more APIs a company uses, the more potential vulnerabilities exist.
API gateways play a crucial role in preventing API breaches by acting as a mediator between clients and APIs.
An API gateway provides a single point of entry for all API requests and enforces security policies such as authentication, authorization, and rate limiting. This helps to prevent unauthorized access to APIs and reduces the risk of API breaches.
The Rise of API Breaches
It’s no surprise that with the prolific adoption of APIs, there has also been a significant increase in the number of attacks. In the past few years, more companies than ever have found themselves in the headlines as victims of noteworthy hacks, including Facebook, Google, T-Mobile, and Venmo.
In these real-life situations, the far-reaching consequences of API attacks can devastate companies and victims.
Besides the legal aftermaths, the financial ramifications of API breaches can also be crushing. When Australian telecommunications company Optus was hacked last year, the attackers demanded a $1 million cryptocurrency payout, or else they would sell the API data.
Globally, it’s estimated that API insecurity costs businesses between $41 to $75 billion annually and between $12 to $23 billion in the US alone.
Why Are APIs Targeted?
Many APIs are public-facing and Internet-accessible, so they are simple targets for malicious actors to find and attack. They’re also ubiquitous and commonly have deep access to systems. A single vulnerable API can be an entry point to compromise an entire system or service.
Like any other software, APIs are complex. It can be challenging to ensure proper security, authentication, input validation, error handling, and more—leaving opportunities for bad actors to find and exploit weaknesses.
APIs are also used by companies to provide access to sensitive data or resources. Attackers can exploit vulnerabilities in APIs to steal data, take control of accounts, or access systems.
Common API Vulnerabilities
APIs can be vulnerable to hacking, but whether they are easy to hack depends on factors such as the API’s design, implementation, security measures, and the attacker’s skills and resources.
APIs are typically designed to be accessible over the internet, meaning they can be accessed by anyone who knows their endpoint and has the required credentials or authorization.
If an API is not appropriately secured, an attacker can exploit vulnerabilities to gain unauthorized access, steal sensitive data, or launch attacks against the underlying system.
Some common vulnerabilities that can make APIs easy targets for malicious actors include:
APIs that use weak or easily guessable passwords, or that do not implement proper authorization checks, are vulnerable to brute force attacks or access control bypasses. APIs also often rely on authentication using keys or tokens, which can be stolen or cracked.
Broken Access Control
APIs that don’t properly check permissions or enforce access control limits can allow users to access data or resources they shouldn’t be able to.
APIs that use unencrypted or weakly encrypted connections are vulnerable to eavesdropping and man-in-the-middle attacks.
APIs that accept user input without proper validation and sanitization are vulnerable to SQL injection, command injection, or other injection attacks.
Denial-of-Service (DoS) Attacks
APIs that do not have proper rate limiting or resource utilization controls are vulnerable to DoS attacks, where an attacker can overload the web server and cause it to crash or become unresponsive.
Cross-Site Request Forgery (CSRF)
APIs that don’t properly validate the origin of requests can be vulnerable to CSRF attacks, where attackers trick users into performing actions on a web application that they didn’t intend to.
Insecure Data Storage
APIs that don’t correctly encrypt or store sensitive data can be vulnerable to attacks where attackers can steal or manipulate sensitive information.
APIs Aren’t Created Equally
It’s critical to understand that APIs aren’t inherently insecure. When designed and implemented properly with security in mind, APIs can be robust and difficult to hack. Security measures like HTTPS, API keys, OAuth, and input validation can help mitigate threats.
API Security Best Practices
As we’ve seen, API security is critical for protecting digital applications from malicious attacks.
Designers and developers should always follow best practices for API security, such as implementing proper authentication and authorization mechanisms, encrypting all communications, validating and sanitizing user input, and implementing proper rate limiting and resource utilization controls.
Regular security testing and vulnerability assessments can help identify and address potential security issues before attackers can exploit them.
How to Secure API Calls
By having robust measures to secure API calls, organizations can ensure their systems are safe and protect their customers against potential threats. In the following, we’ll explore some of the best practices you can implement to increase your API security.
HTTPS is a protocol that provides data encryption and authentication between two applications. Specifically, HTTPS encrypts data sent between the application and the user, making it difficult for attackers to access sensitive information like passwords or other confidential customer data.
HTTPS also prevents man-in-the-middle attacks that steal users’ credentials and spoof identity by verifying that a website is genuine and authenticating it as a trusted source. Using HTTPS, organizations can provide secure connections for their APIs and prevent unauthorized access while keeping customer information safe.
Authentication and authorization are important measures for protecting APIs from malicious attacks. Authentication verifies the identity of users before they can make requests to an API, while authorization determines what level of access each user has to the system. By implementing these measures, organizations can ensure that only authorized users are able to access their APIs and restrict access to certain areas or data sets.
Implementing authentication and authorization also helps protect sensitive information from data breaches, since unauthorized users cannot access the system. This enhances the security of APIs by ensuring that only those with valid credentials can access the data stored in the system. In addition, authentication and authorization measures help strengthen compliance with data privacy regulations by ensuring that customer information is kept secure.
One practice you can implement is to require users to authenticate themselves before accessing the API, and then authorize them to access specific resources or perform specific actions. You can also use strong passwords or implement multi-factor authentication such as two-factor or token-based authentication to verify user identities and prevent unauthorized access.
Use Rate Limiting
Rate limiting is a security measure that helps protect APIs from malicious attacks by preventing users from making too many requests to a system in a short period of time. Rate limiting can intercept brute-force attacks, DoS attacks, and other types of attacks that involve excessive API requests and are intended to overwhelm the server with traffic. Additionally, rate limiting helps protect user privacy by preventing malicious actors from gaining access to sensitive data stored in an API.
For instance, you can limit the number of requests that can be made to the API per user, per time period, or per API key. By setting an appropriate rate limit for API requests, organizations can prevent unauthorized users from accessing the information stored in their system and safeguard customer data from cyberattacks.
Validate Input Data
Validating input data is an important measure for protecting APIs from malicious attacks by verifying that all input data provided by the user doesn’t contain malicious code or scripts. By verifying the information received through a request before processing it, organizations can ensure that only authorized users are able to access their APIs and that requests are coming from legitimate sources. Validation helps prevent cross-site scripting (XSS) attacks, which could potentially inject malicious code into the system. It also helps minimize SQL injection attacks, which are designed to steal sensitive data stored in the system.
By validating input data through techniques such as input sanitization, data type validation, and length validation, organizations can reduce the risk of unauthorized access to their APIs and protect customer information from being exposed to cybercriminals. In addition, validation helps prevent certain types of errors from occurring and ensures that only accurate data is processed within the system.
Implementing encryption is a key measure for protecting APIs from malicious attacks. By encoding data before it is transmitted between services and devices, organizations can prevent unauthorized access to sensitive information stored in their systems. Encryption also makes it more difficult for bad actors to intercept or decrypt requests sent through an API. Additionally, encrypting data helps protect user privacy by preventing malicious actors from gaining access to confidential information such as credit card numbers and other personal details.
Practically, it’s always a good idea to encrypt sensitive data such as user credentials, session tokens, and other confidential data, both in transit and at rest. Strong encryption algorithms, such as transport layer security (TLS), should also be used to encrypt all incoming and outgoing traffic to protect sensitive data in transit.
By using encryption when transmitting requests through an API, organizations can ensure the security of their systems and protect user data from being exposed to cybercriminals. Encryption can even help increase performance and reduce latency by decreasing the amount of data transferred over the network.
Use Secure Coding Practices
Using secure coding practices is also an essential measure for protecting APIs from malicious attacks. Developers can reduce the risk of vulnerabilities being introduced into their systems by writing code that follows best practices, such as output encoding, error handling, and access control. Secure coding standards also include avoiding hard-coded credentials, using strong authentication mechanisms, and validating user input data to prevent errors and malicious attacks. Additionally, securely coded code helps eliminate security bugs such as cross-site scripting (XSS) attacks that could inject malicious code into the system.
Secure coding practices can ensure that only authorized users can access an API. Besides that, implementing secure coding practices helps prevent certain types of errors from occurring and ensures that only accurate data is processed within the system.
Keep APIs Up to Date
Keeping APIs current is an essential measure for protecting against malicious attacks. By regularly updating the code and underlying infrastructure of an API with security patches, bug fixes, and new security features, organizations can ensure their systems are protected and patched against potential vulnerabilities and threats.
As an added benefit, updating an API allows for new features and fixes to be released, which may improve performance or reduce latency. Additionally, regularly monitoring and updating APIs helps prevent certain types of errors from occurring, as well as ensuring that only accurate data is processed within the system.
Secure Database Connections
Secure all database connections is also an important measure to take to protect confidential customer data and company information. Securely connecting to a database helps to safeguard the data stored within it by preventing malicious actors from gaining access.
By securing database connections, organizations can ensure that only legitimate users can access the information stored in them. Additionally, using secure authentication mechanisms helps prevent certain types of errors from occurring and ensures that only accurate data is processed within the system.
Monitor API Usage
Monitoring API usage is an essential measure for protecting against malicious attacks. The regular monitoring of how APIs are used and implementation of notification alerts when suspicious activity is detected can help developers quickly identify any potential security issue or vulnerability before malicious actors can exploit it.
For instance, excessive API requests, unauthorized access attempts, or abnormal usage patterns, could indicate an attack in progress. Additionally, monitoring how APIs are used can help developers identify potential security issues within their code, which could lead to vulnerabilities down the road.
How Kasada Protects Your APIs From Potential Threats
Bad actors leverage malicious automation to carry out attacks at scale, and attacks on APIs are no different. Kasada API protection helps protect both web and mobile APIs from potential threats, by blocking the automation used to launch attacks, and by quickly identifying malicious bot requests.
Here at Kasada, we understand that an organization’s most sensitive API endpoints, like account creation, authentication, and the handling of sensitive data, are the most significant targets for malicious actors, and realize the significance of stopping potential threats in real time.
By implementing Kasada API protection, you can realize many benefits, including the reduction of online fraud losses leading to lower operating costs, less time spent managing rule based anti-bot solutions, and the overall enhancement of user experience.
How Kasada API Protection Works
Kasada API protection defends your business by detecting the malicious automation used by attackers.
Kasada deploys hundreds of sensors to collect hidden traces of automation. The solution uses this data to identify and block malicious automation. Using a highly obfuscated code the data collected is hidden from attackers attempting to reverse engineer the protection. As an added layer of security, the sensors used to detect automation changed between requests. Meaning even if an attacker can successfully reverse engineer Kasada’s code, the insights they gain will be outdated, making repeat attacks not worthwhile.
How Kasada Stands Out
While our system is based on client-side attributes, other bot mitigation vendors use static first-generation processes such as “fingerprinting,” they try to identify a bot by examining unique data and specific traits such as IP address, browser type, and headers sent with the request.
These techniques allow bots to enter your infrastructure before they are able to block them, allowing them to have a window of opportunity to conduct their attacks. They also fail to detect highly sophisticated bots that look and attack like a real user. Static defenses also take too long to learn and adapt to bot attacks, needing manual tuning, requiring a large amount of resources and time, giving botters yet another window of opportunity to successfully launch attacks.
Kasada’s API protection doesn’t rely on static defense tactics, instead Kasada uses dynamic detection methods that can adapt as quickly as attackers do. Kasada also leverages in depth threat intel to ensure that the solution stays ahead of constantly evolving threats.
The use cases for Kasada are enormous, with potential benefits for revenue-focused digital enterprises ranging across the financial services, eCommerce, travel, gaming, and retail industries. With Kasada , you can protect your APIs from threats including:
Keep your users’ accounts secure by preventing the abuse of stolen credentials through account takeover (ATO) attacks.
Fake Account Creation
Protect against malicious actors attempting to create fake accounts at scale to commit fraudulent activities.
Loyalty Program Abuse
Defending your APIs that provide users with rewards services by securing your customer loyalty programs against automated fraud.
Get ahead of the game by stopping competitors and malicious actors from scraping your APIs for pricing and sensitive information.
Kasada API protection stands out from its competitors for offering key benefits, including:
Protecting Your Reputation and Revenue
Save time and money through our proactive efforts to stop malicious attacks in their tracks before they even have the chance to cause you damage.
Protect API Traffic
Kasada monitors all traffic sent through your APIs, identifying and blocking malicious requests.
Reducing User Friction
Enhance the overall user experience for your customers by getting rid of CAPTCHAs.
Kasada’s easy to use dashboards give you real-time insights into which requests are legitimate customers and which are bad bots or malicious traffic.
Request a Demo of Kasada
Here at Kasada, we’re committed to protecting your APIs, website, and mobile apps from the growing proliferation of automated threats and bot attacks by constantly adapting to stay one step ahead of bad actors.
If you want to see how Kasada can help your organization, request a free demo.