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API security risks & how to mitigate them

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An excellent tool for automating tasks and improving communication between software programs, Application Programming Interfaces (or APIs) have become a household name for modern businesses. 

However, with every bid to create a more seamless user experience, APIs become increasingly vulnerable to security risks, unmanaged and unsecured APIs more so. According to the State of API Security Report, Q3 2022 from SALT Security claims that 94% of their survey respondents have faced API security issues in production APIs. But what are the most prevalent API security risks? In this article, we will answer this question in detail and find ways to mitigate these security risks.

5 Common API security risks and how to mitigate them

Before we dive into the risks, it’s important to note that there is no definite API security checklist that will cover all your specific concerns. New vulnerabilities are bound to come up. While the long-term solution requires you to continuously evaluate your applications from a hacker’s perspective, here’s a list of common API security risks that you should look into right now.

1. DDoS attacks

APIs help in making new business models accessible to customers programmatically. But in a bid to automate various processes for a range of customers, APIs have become vulnerable to distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks. In a DDoS attack, your server is flooded with ghost requests, creating a zombie network. In the case of an API, these attacks not only flood the server but also attack each endpoint of your API service.

In general, DDoS protection is designed to accept and reject requests from insecure sources but segregating them becomes difficult for API products as the traffic feels automated.

Solution: Access to web applications requires an API key. To deal with DDoS attacks, you must reject requests that don’t have the key.

2. Key exposure

The manner in which API keys are used can determine whether they’re vulnerable to leaks or hacks. For instance, most APIs are designed to be obtained over an indeterminate period. Since they don’t expire, hackers have a high chance of obtaining them. Again, API keys are mostly considered mere bearer tokens that don’t need any further identifying information. There’s no concept of one-time use or multi-factor authentication which makes them vulnerable to theft.

Furthermore, when debugging a web app through third-party platforms like Postman or CURL, a user has direct access to the application credentials. In such a scenario, it’s common for developers to post their CURL command online on a public forum along with the API key.

Solution: To protect your API keys against accidental exposure, you can use 2 tokens instead of one where the refresh token is stored as an environment variable to generate short-lived access tokens indefinitely.  

3. Security misconfiguration

Security misconfigurations result mostly from unnecessary HTTP methods, ad hoc configurations, incorrect or missing configurations, misconfigured HTTP headers and opened cloud storage. Other reasons include sharing of verbose error messages that contain sensitive information, misconfigured SSL certificates, non-HTTPS traffic, and permissive Cross-Origin resource sharing (or CORS).

Solution: As a means to deal with security misconfigurations on various fronts, you can disable unused HTTP verbs, test the SSL implementation over an SSL test tool, and block the non-HTTP traffic while load-balancing. Furthermore, repeated hardening processes are required to assess and continually review the configurations.

4. Insufficient logging and monitoring

In the event of a data breach, it can take you several weeks, and sometimes months simply to realize that it happened. The lack of API security best practices for logging only aggravates the problem, allowing hackers to use it to create more vulnerabilities.

Solution: You must monitor and log API activity to discover attacks and data breaches early on and take necessary steps. Also, ensure that the API logging mechanism you use goes beyond simply tracking API requests to link them back to users and store them for an extended time period for behavior analysis. Again, ensure that the data doesn’t get deleted by securing the logging mechanism.

5. Insufficient security in API key generation

By and large, API keys or JSON Web Tokens (JWTs) are used to secure the APIs. It serves the essential purpose of differentiating abnormal behavior in the traffic so that security tools can block their access to API keys.

But just as a hacker would utilize hundreds of IP addresses to break DDoS protection in applications, they can make use of a large pool of API keys accumulated from users.

Solution: To prevent attacks due to faults in the API key generation process, you must request human verification to sign up for your service, and only then generate the API keys. Alternatively, you can filter out bot traffic by deploying multi-factor authentication.

Final Thoughts

APIs will continue to get prone to vulnerabilities as businesses get rid of their monolithic systems to adopt microservices. Although the checklist above provides a good place to start your bid to improve the API security of your web app, it needs to be upgraded from time to time. To that end, you must stick to the cloud API security best practices and go beyond that to identify potential threats and gauge whether you need additional resources to operate your API more effectively.

Although keeping on top of it all can be overwhelming for the in-house SecOps team. That’s where partnering with Noname Security comes in. Discover sensitive data in your APIs, uncover all those who have access to it, manage compliance, monitor user behavior, and more all through Noname Security.

If you have questions related to this topic, feel free to book a meeting with one of our solutions experts, mail to sales@amazic.com.

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