The API economy continues its growth despite the current economic crisis. APIs allow for instant transactions between almost any application and service. This speeds up the flow of goods, services, and products in most industries. A recent report by F5 described how APIs are rapidly growing in popularity as follows: “If data is the new oil then APIs will be the new plastic.” Open APIs come with inherent risks, so enterprises must address these issues before they embark on their journey.
Public APIs offer many opportunities and competitive benefits. Open APIs can be used by companies to transform their supply and delivery chain. Companies can access a large pool of developers’ talent and a growing repository of software resources. Companies can also release commercially-developed APIs as open APIs. This will allow them to attract new customers, build brand loyalty and improve their market profile.
This article will give you a quick snapshot of the 10 threats to the open API ecosystem for IT professionals, leaders, and cybersecurity professionals.
The API Economy: A Threat and an Opportunity
There are many benefits to open APIs, including improved collaboration and connectivity with suppliers, service providers, and customers. This ultimately leads to improved customer experiences. By connecting microservices via API endpoints, businesses can take advantage of appropriate technologies that are fit for their purposes, thereby increasing productivity and removing the need to use monolithic, cumbersome systems. This results in dramatically lower costs for application development, deployment, and maintenance.
Open APIs by their very nature attract both individual and organizational cybercriminals. Because APIs can be transactional, it is also possible for them to accidentally or maliciously disclose financial, personal, and other sensitive information. An API can be exposed to DDoS attacks, SQL injection, and ransomware if it is not secured or if clients are not validating their requests. These attacks can have serious consequences for both developers and users of open APIs.
Also read: 7 Ways to Improve Your Security Posture
Participation in the open API ecosystem requires careful preparation. This preparation starts with threat identification.
Top 10 Threats to Open APIs
The cybersecurity industry has spent substantial resources to identify and classify API attack vectors. We’ve created a list of 10 threats to open APIs based on this research.
1. Object-Level Incursions
Endpoints that deal with object IDs are a key component of APIs. These objects can be any resource such as files, tables in databases, or ports. Bad application design can lead to an object’s ID being sent along with a client request.
An API’s code must conduct object-level authorization checks each time it retrieves an object’s data or performs any operations on it. These checks ensure that only the minimum permissions are required for the application or user making the request. Conventional implementation using best practices uses the principle of least privilege, and role-based access controls to perform these checks.
2. User Authentication Exploits
Malicious actors use APIs that have broken user authentication to spoof users and gain unauthorized access to other parts of the system and launch further attacks.
This threat can be prevented by securing API endpoints using a strong authentication mechanism. Client authentication encrypts API endpoints by asking clients to verify their credentials, such as username/password combinations or API access keys.
3. Careless Data Exposure
Bad programming practices can expose sensitive data and object properties in code. Before returning results to users, client applications must filter this information. These data, such as keys to other APIs, credentials, or personal information, might still be in the code. However, they could accidentally become publicly available if the API code is stored in public repositories.
Also read: Top 5 Security-as-a-Service Providers
4. Distributed Denial of Service
An API endpoint that does not have a limit on requests access rate is susceptible to Distributed Delusion of Service (DDoS). These attacks are perpetrated by malicious actors who launch multiple requests against the API endpoint using multiple sources (often compromised systems) to overwhelm the endpoint and take it offline. These attacks can target popular open APIs.
Rate limiting limits the number of client requests within a certain time period to a maximum value. Additional client requests received after this time will be rejected. This task is typically performed by API gateways.
5. Authorization hacks
Complex object and function access control policies may have multiple hierarchies and groups. They can also include roles and privileges. Complex security mechanisms can be cumbersome and hard to manage. Administrators and developers may give users higher privileges in order to avoid the problem. Intruders may take advantage of these higher privileges to target individual accounts or bypass a flaw with access control.
6. Mass Assignment Weaknesses
This is also known by the names auto binding and object injection vulnerability. Modern app frameworks encourage developers to use functions that automatically link client input values to code variables, internal objects, and other objects to speed up development. An attacker can modify or overwrite critical attributes that developers have never intended to expose by taking advantage of the framework side effect.
7. Security Misconfiguration Flaws
Security misconfigurations can include insecure default settings and untracked or insecure configuration changes. Insecure storage, misconfigured HTTP headers. Permissive Cross-Origin Resource Sharing and verbose error messages containing sensitive data are all examples. Security is a key consideration when configuring and deploying infrastructure resources to support open APIs.
8. Code Injection Vulnerabilities
Code injection is when malicious actors exploit poor input validation to embed SQL commands or other commands into an API request. These commands, when executed by API code that isn’t well protected against such attacks can expose sensitive data or perform data modification or deletion or facilitate further infiltration.
9. Poor Asset Management
Poorly maintained documentation, interface descriptions and versioning can make APIs more vulnerable than traditional web apps. This can result in being unaware of important attack surfaces and making it difficult to secure your system.
10. Inadequate Monitoring and Logging
Inadequate monitoring and log logging results in security incidents not being reported and proactive warnings being not sent. Inadequate or faulty incident response processes can allow attackers to gain momentum in their efforts and continue their activities without being noticed. Numerous breaches have been discovered that breaches can go unnoticed for more than 200 days.
Also read: Top 15 Cyber Security Tools
Open APIs Threats
It is important to implement security best practices in the API design and development phases. This will help address the vulnerabilities and threats discussed. These are the essential security measures to be aware of
- Monitoring software supply chain, and analyzing software composition can help identify potentially vulnerable components like insecure third-party libraries.
- Static application security testing ( SAST ) examines application code to identify potential vulnerabilities.
- Dynamic application security testing ( DAST ) simulates attacks against an application code while it is running and so finds potential weaknesses.
- Security Incidents and Events Management ( SIEM) solutions scan application logs for suspicious activity, trends, or anomalies.
- Security Orchestration Automation and Response ( SOAR) goes further and performs remediation steps in runbooks when security anomalies are detected or threats are identified.
Validating API users can be done with a robust authentication method. A strong authorization allows users to only perform the actions they are authorized to.
- Data encryption using symmetric keys and API endpoints secured with SSL/TLS certificates guarantee data security at rest and during transit.
- Tested and robust disaster recovery planning ensures that the API is quickly repaired and brought back online, even if compromised.
An API gateway can provide service discovery, routing, and load balancing services, as well as observability services for the APIs it hosts. You can secure all communication channels using SSL/TLS and implement rate-limiting to stop DDoS attacks. It also allows you to limit the size of API response and client payloads. For additional security, API gateways can be combined with a Web Application Firewall (WAF).
Conclusion — Open APIs Threats
We’ve seen that companies can take part in the API economy and build powerful applications using open APIs. Open APIs come with their own security risks. The 10 security risks we have discussed along with the steps to mitigate them are briefly described below. API gateways are able to facilitate some of these security measures and provide advanced management functions.