APIs help adjacent systems of disparate kinds to communicate with each other. With the boom in complex, distributed workloads, there has been a rise in API usage. Today, applications aren’t one giant monolith where business and communication logic is a part of the application build. With the rise of microservices, applications now consist of services using different programming languages and technology stacks. Integrating these services to perform specific tasks is made efficient and easy with the use of APIs. APIs expose the backend of one service to other services so they can perform tasks they are meant to. It goes without saying, however, that APIs can expose your application logic and data to risks internal and external.
There is plenty of documentation available that details how to work with APIs since developers need to know how APIs work to leverage them in their projects. The problem is that this information is also readily available for malicious actors. Attackers can reverse engineer APIs and find backdoors to your mission-critical workloads. Large, distributed applications use hundreds of APIs, which makes your workloads extremely vulnerable to API attacks. The large attack surface of microservices workloads calls for teams to develop strategies to prevent attacks of all kinds. This includes securing your APIs. API security is a relatively new concept in the tech world. Organizations understand the risk APIs pose and are taking steps to eliminate these risks. However, several teams commit faux pas that can leave your application vulnerable to API attacks. Without a proper strategy in place, vulnerabilities could go unnoticed till it’s too late.
Let’s take a look at some reasons your API security strategy might be failing.
Limited exposure to APIs
Implementing APIs doesn’t require expertise. However, developers who are not well-versed may misconfigure APIs, which is the equivalent of leaving the door to your house unlocked. With wrong configurations or human errors, attackers won’t even have to put in any effort, and they could easily steal your data. Without individuals in your team well versed with API best practices, there is no way for teams to catch these vulnerabilities, let alone address them with due diligence before deploying these APIs to production. The bottom line is that you need to protect your applications from API attacks and not just individual APIs. Your team could enable impenetrable security in your applications, but all it takes is one faulty API for attackers to enter your workloads. And without proper visibility into your workloads, you’d just be a sitting duck.
Lack of visibility
Teams develop APIs and then forget about them. There is hardly any inventory of all the APIs involved in a workload. This is because it’s inconvenient for teams to focus on these tedious tasks on a tight schedule. Usually, multiple groups may be involved in the creation and deployment of APIs. And, these siloes can lead to a chunk of APIs slipping through the cracks. Even if organizations document every single API involved in their workloads, it’s difficult to validate these APIs and their behaviors. How do you find which API isn’t working the way it’s meant to and which one is misconfigured?
The growing threat of API attacks
API security is harder to implement than some would think. This is because of the sheer volume of APIs involved in today’s applications. The rate at which APIs are developed today exceeds the rate at which organizations can ensure the security of each of these APIs. It’s almost a certainty that some faulty APIs will eventually make their way to production. With the adoption of CI/CD pipelines, development is quicker than ever. And, even though DevSecOps teams try their best to ensure the builds are not just functional but also secure, it is almost impossible for teams to be on top of security. Now, more than ever, there is a need for a comprehensive API security strategy.
Implementation of traditional security practices
Most organizations rely on Web Application Firewalls (WAFs) and API gateways to enforce security in their modern workloads. Most WAFs address top security risks to web applications documented by OWASP. However, this list has little to no overlap with top API security risks. This is not to say API gateways and WAFs are not necessary. However, these tools work best with other modern tools that can help scan your APIs for any misconfigurations and provide insights into your workloads.
Improper security ownership structure
Different teams could take care of API development, deployment, and management, leading to confusion when understanding security ownership. Without a clear security ownership structure, misconfigured APIs will keep finding their way to production. Different organizations and different teams might implement the ownership in a way that suits their needs. It’s essential to have a proper ownership hierarchy in place before you start working on an application.
Putting the onus of API security on the developer
With the growing popularity of DevSecOps, developers are often expected to address security concerns themselves. However, teams are usually quite swamped with new releases and don’t have enough time to address API vulnerabilities. Developers, inevitably, rely on tools to automatically scan for these vulnerabilities. However, due to cost and complexity constraints, many faulty APIs might still make their way to the production environment.
Rushing to market
Often, teams readily push new releases to market. Deadlines are not to be missed and can lead to teams cutting edges in security implementation. It is not possible to have a 100 percent secure application in the cloud-native era. This can make teams less willing to put security first. There needs to be a shift in developers’ thinking because delivering an application vulnerable to attacks is much worse than missing a deadline.
The misses mentioned above in your API security strategy can leave your workloads exposed to attacks. So, how do you go about addressing these failures? You start by making an inventory of all the APIs in your workloads. This can be done with the help of automated tools that can identify known and unknown APIs and provide information about these APIs that can be important when implementing security. Automated tools are available in the market that use machine learning to identify the nature of your APIs and their normal baseline behavior. Any deviations from this behavior will be flagged, and the teams will be alerted. Efficient API security tools will also differentiate between anomalies and malicious behavior for a more efficient implementation of security. Mature tools will also scan APIs at runtime, ensuring attackers don’t exploit APIs that slipped through the cracks in production.
API security should not be taken lightly, especially when there are ways to implement it without shifting your teams’ focus from essential tasks. A sound API security strategy will help you gain more confidence in your releases and ensure adequate security implementation.
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