As companies increasingly rely on digital systems, the safety and security of their data should be a top priority. Enterprise-level organizations often face the challenge of keeping their data secure. Excessive data exposure can lead to dire consequences, such as costly data breaches and reputational damage. T-Mobile disclosed a new API data breach this month.

An application programming interface (API) allow software components to communicate with each other. Third-party APIs can contain potential security vulnerabilities, so it is important to take the necessary steps to ensure that these APIs are secure.

Instead of shooting in the dark, each company should develop a comprehensive API strategy to ensure all possible vulnerabilities are addressed. Let’s explore how malicious actors abuse APIs and how you can improve your organization’s security posture.

APIs provide developers with a way to access data or services from other applications, allowing them to integrate functionality into their own websites or apps. APIs allow for the rapid development of complex applications with robust features and are widely used today in web development, mobile apps, and numerous other sectors.

APIs are powerful tools that can shape how businesses process and store data. However, with this power comes great responsibility. Without proper API security measures, malicious actors could exploit weaknesses in the system.

We’re about to dive into the dangers of open APIs and explore how companies can protect their systems and data from potential attacks with a bit of knowledge and the right tools.

Checklist Summary

  1. API asset management: documentation, discovery and cataloging
  2. Secure design, development, and configuration
  3. API security testing
  4. Authentication
  5. Authorization and access control
  6. Data management and encryption
  7. Vulnerability management
  8. Logging and monitoring
  9. API abuse prevention
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What are APIs?

Benefits and Security Concerns

APIs are powerful tools that allow businesses to optimize their customer experience (CX). API developers create applications that can access data from other systems and services, making them an invaluable asset for businesses of all sizes.

By using APIs, businesses can quickly and easily integrate new features into their existing systems, allowing them to keep up with the ever-changing needs of customers.

However, while APIs offer many benefits, they also come with risks. Without proper security measures, bad actors could gain access to sensitive data or even take over an entire system.

1. API Asset Management: Documentation, Discovery, and Cataloging

API asset management involves collecting and organizing APIs for your organization to use. We recommend creating clear and comprehensive documentation for each API, including its purpose, inputs, outputs, and usage instructions.

Utilizing a discovery tool to crawl the web and uncover APIs that may be of use to your organization can save time and help you more efficiently identify potential assets. Creating an API catalog allows you to catalog each API asset and store all related information in one organized location for easy access.

2. Secure Design, Development, and Configuration

You should consider API security best practices while designing, developing, and configuring your API. This checklist will provide you with considerations to secure your API at each stage.

Taking care when designing the API architecture and considering authentication protocols, data validation, and authorization can help you create a balanced security strategy.

While developing your API, protecting against common web-based attacks such as Cross-Site Request Forgery (CSRF) will help reduce API vulnerabilities. Configuration processes, such as deploying a reverse proxy, can be used to manage API access and further increase security.

3. API Security Testing

API security testing is a process used to identify potential vulnerabilities in an API. It involves both manual and automated methods. Manual tests include code reviews, fuzzing, or black box testing. Automated tests can check for common threats such as cross-site scripting and other malicious attacks. This is why it is so crucial for businesses to have an API security checklist in place.

By taking the time to properly evaluate each of these areas and ensure that they are up-to-date with the latest security protocols, businesses can significantly reduce their risk of being targeted by malicious actors.

Implementing an API security checklist is one of the best ways to ensure that your business’s data remains safe and secure. Here are some of the most important considerations to keep in mind when evaluating the security of an API.

4. Authentication

Authentication is an integral part of any API. It helps to ensure that only authorized users can access the data. Passwords or two-factor authentication (2FA) are examples of authentication methods businesses often use. It is crucial for APIs to have strong authentication measures in place so only those with the correct credentials can access the data.

Passwords are one of the most common authentication methods, and they should be strong enough to prevent unauthorized users from accessing the API. Never reuse passwords across multiple accounts or share credentials with unauthorized people.

2FA is another way to authenticate users before allowing them access to an API.

Two-factor authentication requires users to provide two pieces of information before being granted access:

  • Something they know (such as a password)
  • Something they have (such as a code sent via text message)

This makes it much more difficult for unauthorized users to gain access because they need both pieces of information, not just one set of credentials.

Access Controls Kasada

5. Authorization and Access Control

API access control is a method for protecting data, resources, and services by limiting access only to authorized users. Organizations can implement access control using modern authorization protocols and authentication techniques, such as:

  • Role-based access control (RBAC): A mechanism for regulating access to computer systems and networks. It assigns roles to users of the system and then grants or denies access based on those roles. For example, an administrator might be able to view all records in a database. At the same time, a customer service representative might only be able to view certain records related to their area of work.
  • Identity management systems: Systems that are used to manage the identities of users within an organization. They provide features such as authentication, authorization, and access control, as well as other functions like user provisioning, password reset, and more.
  • Digital certificates: Data files used to authenticate and identify individuals to gain access to a secure network. They use encryption to create a secure tunnel between the user and the server. Digital certificates are used for authentication, authorization, and single sign-on services, allowing users access to systems and applications with fewer passwords. They also allow two parties to securely exchange data, encrypting messages so no third party can read them.
  • Public key infrastructure (PKI): A system of digital certificates and cryptographic systems used to create secure networks and ensure secure access control. PKI grants users access to network resources, applications, and services based on the authenticity of their digital certificate, while also ensuring data integrity and preventing unauthorized use. PKI enables authentication through an encryption process that uses two keys — a public key for verification, and a private key that’s kept safe and secure. The encryption process ensures that only an individual with a valid private key can decrypt data encrypted with the corresponding public key.

API security best practices should also be implemented to protect against malicious actors attempting to gain unauthorized access. This includes using standards such as OAuth and JWT for authentication, as well as implementing Access Control Lists (ACLs) and Protected Object Policies (POPs). Organizations should consider using an identity provider to manage user identities across multiple applications and services.
Establishing rules for who has access to the API ensures that only authorized users can view or modify sensitive information or resources within an organization’s system. By implementing these rules based on user roles and permissions, organizations can ensure that their data remains secure while allowing users with appropriate levels of access to perform necessary tasks within their system.

Security Controls Kasada

6. Data Management and Encryption

Data security is an important aspect of any business or organization. It is essential to ensure that data is processed securely, as it can be vulnerable to unauthorized access, corruption, or theft. Data security involves protecting digital information throughout its entire lifecycle, from the moment it is created to when it is no longer needed.

Encryption is one of the most effective ways to secure data. Encrypting sensitive data ensures that only authorized users can access and view the information. HTTP methods are often not enough. Additionally, using secure protocols like HTTPS for communication between server and client applications helps protect data from being intercepted by malicious actors.

Organizations should also implement user role-based access control systems to limit system access only to those who need it. This will help prevent unauthorized users from accessing sensitive data. Furthermore, organizations should regularly monitor their networks for any suspicious activity or potential threats and take appropriate measures if necessary.

Data security is a critical component of API security. Organizations should take it seriously to protect confidential information from malicious actors and ensure that only authorized users can access their API gateways.

7. Vulnerability Management

Input validation is a critical practice when it comes to data security. It ensures that the input received by an application is properly formed and not malicious code or other dangerous content. This helps protect the system from potential attacks and data breaches.

So, how can an organization validate user input? Well, security teams can use regular expressions to check for valid formats, check for specific characters or strings, or use a whitelist of acceptable values. These measures help ensure that only valid data is accepted into the system.

In addition to protecting against malicious code and other dangerous content, input validation can also help prevent errors caused by incorrect user input.

For example, if a form requires a date in a specific format, input validation can be used to make sure that only valid dates are accepted into the system. This helps reduce errors caused by users entering invalid data and improves the overall accuracy and reliability of the system.

By implementing proper input validation techniques, organizations can help protect their systems from potential attacks and reduce errors caused by incorrect user input.

Components with Vulnerabilities

It is essential to ensure that all components used in an API are regularly updated and patched for any known vulnerabilities. This is especially important with the ever-evolving threats that exist today, as well as the increasing complexity of applications and APIs.

By regularly monitoring and patching for potential vulnerabilities, organizations can protect their applications from malicious attacks and data breaches.

It is vital to stay up-to-date on the latest security trends and best practices to keep up with the constantly changing landscape of cyber threats. This includes understanding how attackers exploit APIs, implementing access control measures, encrypting requests and responses, validating data, falsely authenticating users, and more.

Organizations should also consider implementing a comprehensive API security testing strategy that includes:

  • Regular vulnerability scanning: Assessing a system or application for security flaws and vulnerabilities. In the context of API security, this involves running automated tools to identify any potential weaknesses or misconfigurations that could lead to malicious attacks, such as a data breach or denial-of-service (DoS) attack. The goal is to identify and address any vulnerabilities before attackers can exploit them.
  • Threat modeling: Identifying, analyzing, and prioritizing potential threats to inform security strategies and processes. This involves evaluating the types of threats that APIs may be exposed to, understanding how attackers can exploit them, and creating countermeasures to reduce or eliminate vulnerabilities. By understanding the risks posed by various threats and how they can be mitigated, organizations can more effectively protect their APIs from malicious activity.
  • Penetration testing: A type of API security test that involves actively and deliberately attempting to exploit weaknesses in a system or application. This involves sending carefully crafted requests to an API to identify common vulnerabilities or weak points that can be exploited by attackers. Pen-testing helps organizations identify any security flaws and allows them to evaluate and improve their API’s overall security posture before any attacks occur.
  • Incident response plans: An essential aspect of API security that provides clear and actionable guidance for responding to security threats or incidents. Incident response plans should include steps for preparation, detection, containment/eradication, recovery, and post-incident reporting.

These strategies will help ensure that all components used in an API are secure from potential threats.

Structured Query Language (SQL) Injection Vulnerabilities

SQL injections target applications that use Structured Query Language (SQL) to communicate with a backend database.

This type of attack is used to manipulate the SQL code to gain access to sensitive data or execute malicious SQL statements to compromise API endpoints. It is one of the most common web hacking techniques and can be used to bypass authentication, modify data, or even delete entire databases.

For an attacker to successfully exploit an application’s vulnerability, they must first identify which parameters are vulnerable and then craft a malicious SQL query.

Once the query has been executed, the attacker can gain access to the application’s data or perform other malicious activities, such as deleting records or creating new accounts. The impact of a successful attack can be devastating, as it could lead to data theft, financial loss, reputational damage, and even legal action.

To protect against these attacks, developers should always use parameterized queries when interacting with databases and ensure that all user input is validated before being sent to the database server.

They should also implement security measures such as input sanitization and output encoding to prevent malicious code from being injected into their applications. Finally, organizations should also consider using web application firewalls (WAFs) to detect and block any suspicious activity on their networks.

By following these best practices and implementing proper security measures, organizations can protect their API endpoints and reduce their risk of falling victim to an attack.

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8. Logging & Monitoring

API monitoring is an essential tool for any business that relies on APIs to provide services. By monitoring all activity on the API, including requests, responses, errors, and other data points, businesses can quickly identify any suspicious activity and address it appropriately. This helps ensure that their customers have a secure and reliable experience when using their APIs.

API monitoring also provides valuable insights into how it is performing. It can help detect potential API performance issues before they become major problems and allow businesses to make adjustments to improve the user experience. Additionally, it can be used to track usage trends over time so that businesses can better understand how their customers are interacting with their APIs.

Furthermore, API monitoring can help businesses stay compliant with industry regulations by ensuring that all activities are logged and monitored in accordance with applicable laws and regulations. This helps protect both the business and its customers from any potential legal or financial repercussions due to non-compliance.

API monitoring is an invaluable tool for businesses that rely on APIs for providing services to their customers. By keeping track of all activity on the API, businesses can ensure a secure and reliable experience for their customers while also staying compliant with industry regulations.

Data Types Kasada

9. API Abuse Prevention

API abuse is a growing threat to data security and can come in many forms. Attackers can gain unsanctioned access, scrape business-critical data, perform DDoS attacks, use scripts or bots to automate requests, apply compromised credentials, and more. It’s important for organizations to be aware of the different types of API abuse and how they can defend against them.

Common ways that APIs are abused include gaining unsanctioned access, account takeover, scraping data, applying compromised credentials, using malicious bots to attack APIs, and automating requests with scripts or bots. Organizations should be aware of these threats and take steps to protect their APIs from being abused.

Organizations can prevent API abuse by implementing authentication measures such as multi-factor authentication (MFA) or token-based authentication, monitoring API usage for suspicious activity, using rate-limiting techniques to control the number of requests an API receives, and deploying technologies like WAFs or API Abuse Detection services which detect harmful activity on APIs.

It’s important for organizations to stay up-to-date on the latest threats and take proactive measures to protect their APIs from abuse. By doing so, organizations can ensure that their data remains secure and protected from malicious actors.

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How Bots Can Compromise an API

Bots are a powerful tool that can be used to compromise an API. Malicious actors can use bots to exploit human errors in coding to launch targeted attacks against APIs.

Malicious automation or bot attacks can be used to abuse APIs to gain access to sensitive data. Organizations must acknowledge the role of bots in API attacks to better mitigate this cybersecurity risk and protect their systems from bad actors.

Bots are being used for a wide variety of applications, from customer service to search engine optimization. For example, sneaker bots are used by resellers worldwide to buy limited-edition shoes from online retailers. With a bot on their side, sneaker resellers can get these rare sneakers before they sell out and make an easy and sizable profit on resale.

Learn more about sneaker bots.

Bot Defense Simplified

Bot detection and mitigation are essential measures to secure APIs against bot attacks. APIs are vulnerable to automated scraping, spamming, credential stuffing, and other forms of malicious automation.

Here are a few types of attacks bot mitigation can protect against:

Account Takeover

Bots can use stolen credentials to access user accounts and sensitive data, leading to fraud and identity theft. You can prevent account takeover attacks by identifying and blocking bots that attempt to use stolen credentials.

Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) Attacks

Botnets can launch DDoS attacks by overwhelming the API with a high volume of requests, leading to service disruptions or downtime. Bot detection and mitigation can help prevent such attacks by identifying and blocking suspicious traffic patterns.

Scraping Attacks

Bots can scrape large amounts of data from APIs, leading to data theft, content theft, and even IP theft. By identifying and blocking malicious automation, you can protect your APIs from scraping attacks. Due to the sheer volume of data a bot can scrape, it is important to implement a comprehensive approach to detect and mitigate scraping attempts.

Bots can consume significant API resources, leading to slower response times and decreased performance. Bot detection and mitigation can help ensure fair usage of resources by identifying and limiting bot traffic.

Bot Defense Simplified

Bot defense is an essential part of protecting businesses from malicious actors, and companies should make sure they invest in a reliable solution to keep their APIs secure.

Kasada’s software provides comprehensive bot protection to help organizations prevent automation-based attacks, allowing them to maintain the security of their systems while providing a better service experience for customers.

With Kasada’s advanced threat mitigation capabilities, organizations can focus on delivering the highest quality product or service without worrying about malicious API exploitation. By investing in Kasada’s software, companies will be better equipped to guard against malicious bots and protect their valuable resources.

Next Steps For API Security

In today’s digital world, API security is of the utmost importance. By protecting APIs from malicious actors and breaches, organizations can ensure their data remains safe and secure. Not only does this protect sensitive information but it also allows businesses to protect their consumers and protect their brands.

For these reasons and more, proper API implementation and security testing are essential for keeping applications safe and reliable for users. This means companies must stay one step ahead of malicious actors and ensure their systems are up-to-date with current best practices for securely handling data requests and responses.

It is essential to recognize various ways an API can be compromised, and new security threats emerge all the time. Unfortunately, this means businesses must stay vigilant to protect their applications from potential threats. Organizations must remain up-to-date on the latest exploits and keep a close eye on their APIs to ensure they remain secure and safe from any malicious actors.

To ensure your most critical data and APIs remain secure, it is essential to have the right software in place. By leveraging your API security strategy and investing in cutting-edge solutions, you can be sure that your applications are safeguarded against any potential threats.

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Although a security checklist is critical, it is not enough to protect your organization’s data in 2023. Having the right security tools in place is essential for protecting your applications and data. Online threats come in many forms and can be challenging to detect and defend against, so it’s vital to have additional measures in place.

Kasada’s powerful software has helped lots of companies improve their security. To learn more about Kasada’s powerful software, request a demo today.

Resources

Key Terms

  • API keys: A code or authentication token that is sent to a server when an API request is made. It helps the server recognize and authorize requests from specific applications or websites.
  • API infrastructure: A set of protocols, databases, services, and tools that allow applications to interact with each other. With the use of an API infrastructure, developers can create custom APIs which enable access to their databases and services.
  • API calls: A way for a computer program to request information from an application, web service, or operating system. The API acts as an intermediary layer between the requesting program and the requested application, which then returns the data in a structured format.
  • API traffic: The flow of data that occurs when an application communicates with another application or web service. API traffic is typically generated when a program requests a certain type of data from another source.
  • API gateways: A type of software that sits between a client and a collection of microservices in order to provide an interface for external consumers of the services. It acts as a single entry point for all incoming requests and can be used to manage traffic, security, authentication, rate limiting, load balancing, and caching.
  • API consumers: Any program or user that accesses an API for the purpose of reading and/or writing information from or to a system or service.
  • API dependencies: A software component that allows two separate applications to communicate with each other. An API dependency defines how the two applications interact and share data, allowing them to work together seamlessly.
  • API documentation: Explains how an API works and provides instructions on how to use the features of an API. It includes detailed information about the functions and classes available, code samples, and any other related topics.
  • Secure APIs: Secure APIs make use of secure communication protocols like Transport Layer Security (TLS) as well as encryption algorithms like AES-128/256 in order to provide an extra layer of security. It also requires authentication from the API users to successfully access the API.
  • API lifecycle: the various stages of an API’s existence over its lifespan. The lifecycle typically begins with the creation of an API, followed by an API testing period, and then launch and maintenance.

Summary

  • Malicious actors use bots and automation to take advantage of APIs, so it is vital to be aware of their risks and employ suitable security measures.
  • Organizations must stay one step ahead of malicious actors and ensure their systems are up-to-date with current best practices for securely handling data requests and responses.
  • Implement proper API security protocols to protect applications from potential threats.
  • Invest in reliable software solutions to defend against malicious bots and ensure your APIs remain secure and safe from malicious actors.
  • Be aware of the latest exploits to keep an eye on APIs and maintain their security at all times.
  • Investing in security solutions is essential for the protection of applications and data against online threats that come in many forms and can be challenging to detect or defend against without additional measures, such as Kasada’s powerful software, which has helped lots of companies improve their security.

Want to learn more?

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