Address Growing API Security Vulnerabilities in 2023

June 15, 2023

APIs are a vital element of modern digital businesses. Unfortunately, they’re also vulnerable to cyberattacks that may steal sensitive information and damage systems. Enterprises should implement APIs security controls and monitoring to guard against these threats. This includes strong authentication methods as well as access control policies for creating, using, and managing APIs.

1. Authentication

APIs have become an essential part of modern business operations, and organizations must understand the security implications associated with their growth. If not addressed, businesses could suffer severe damage and brand reputational harm from neglecting to address security threats.

APIs can be compromised in several ways, but one of the most popular is by bypassing authentication. This occurs when a client calls an API without informing the server who they are. An attacker may listen in on communication to capture their client token or use it to access sensitive data held within.

Authentication is a fundamental aspect of security for both web and mobile apps. An API sends a token to the client in encrypted form, which the client then verifies against what they expect to be the entity the API belongs to. Authentication also serves to guarantee that only authorized personnel have access to your application and its contents.

Passwords or security questions are the most popular type of authentication. But other forms of verification such as fingerprints, biometric identifiers or even physical devices can also be utilized for protection.

In 2023, APIs will remain a prime target for hackers as they try to obtain sensitive data or access vital applications. Fortunately, there are several best practices that can be employed to mitigate these threats.

1. Authentication

Ensuring an extra layer of security is a best practice in API security. By ensuring only authorized personnel have access to sensitive data or applications, organizations can safeguard both their business operations and customer information.

2. Authentication Measures

Implementing strong and complex authentication mechanisms is a best practice for API security. This involves using multiple factors of identification such as a user ID/password combination or biometric identifiers like retina scans.

3. Object Level Authorization

Another essential security measure is enforcing object level authorization at the API level. This prevents clients from sending arbitrary credentials to the API, potentially leading to system or data breaches.

2. Rate limiting

Rate limiting is an API security best practice that restricts the number of requests made to a particular server or resource. This helps guarantee all users have equal access to resources and prevents abuse by human users or bots. Furthermore, rate limiting protects against various kinds of attacks such as brute force attempts and data scraping.

Rate limiting is an ideal strategy for any organization looking to protect its resources from malicious users or hackers. It provides organizations with control over how much bandwidth and memory their APIs consume, helping them reduce costs while boosting security.

It is also beneficial for preventing infrastructure overload, which can result in costly downtime and data loss. This could occur if a website or database is hit by a denial of service (DoS) attack that causes it to crash or become unreachable.

Another reason to limit the number of requests made to an API is to prevent malicious users from taking advantage of all available resources and damaging the system. For instance, if a concert promoter’s ticket sales website receives one million requests in short succession, it could overload its servers and cause it to crash.

Rate limiting can be an effective tool in dealing with this situation, but its implementation in a distributed system presents unique challenges. Implementing logic that limits the number of requests sent to each server would significantly slow down the system and negatively affect user experience.

The most common method for enforcing rate limits is sending a 429 response when an request exceeds the rate limit, meaning the caller needs to adjust their quota or cease making calls. This technique works particularly well for services which are invoked by other applications or connect to legacy backend systems.

One solution for enforcing rate limiting is using a sliding window algorithm. This technique makes it easier for API consumers to understand the rate limit and time window in which their requests can be processed. Sliding windows enable more recent requests to be processed more quickly, while older ones are ignored. This strategy avoids both starvation problems associated with leaky bucket algorithms and bursting issues associated with fixed window implementations.

3. Security

APIs are an integral component of today’s software development process, as they enable different programs to communicate and exchange data. Unfortunately, these open interfaces present numerous potential security holes which hackers could exploit.

Furthermore, many of these vulnerabilities can be exploited to circumvent traditional security measures and gain direct access to sensitive data. For instance, an attacker could use an API to gain direct access to a company’s database and servers, giving rise to theft of sensitive information as well as other security flaws.

Although APIs present inherent risks, these can also be minimized by employing secure coding practices and regularly testing for vulnerabilities. Furthermore, organizations can implement secure authentication and authorization protocols.

The OWASP API Security Project recently published the API Top 10 list, outlining the most critical API security risks organizations must address. As part of their ongoing update process, they’ve added a few new threats and removed others from their list.

Shadow APIs remain one of the most prevalent vulnerabilities that can be exploited by attackers. They take advantage of innocuous errors made in development and asset management control, enabling attackers to circumvent existing security measures.

SSRF (server side request forgery) is a widespread attack that uses server-side code to manipulate an API and perform actions on behalf of the attacker. SSRF is commonly used to bypass firewalls or other network security devices, as well as gather information from within a company’s internal networks.

Injection flaws are becoming a growing concern for APIs. When APIs return data that has been altered without sanitizing and validating it prior to usage, this can lead to various issues such as injection attacks, encryption gaps and even exhaustion of application resources.

These vulnerabilities can be mitigated by integrating security into the API management lifecycle and adding security tools to CI/CD cycles. An API management solution provides dynamic API visibility throughout this entire CI/CD process, helping teams detect business-logic attacks quickly and reduce Mean-Time-To-Resolution times. It also provides contextual issue records, detailed remediation guidance and tools for deeper investigation of vulnerabilities.

4. Monitoring

APIs are one of the primary drivers of digital transformation, providing easier access to applications, better integration between systems and efficient data exchange. Unfortunately, these capabilities come with increasing vulnerabilities that hackers can use to exploit APIs to gain control over sensitive information and networks.

APIs are becoming more and more prevalent, necessitating security teams to find ways to protect them at every step of the development process. This requires creating an extensive security strategy that covers multiple elements such as authentication, rate limiting, protection and monitoring.

The initial step is to guarantee APIs are coded correctly and secured from the start. This requires continuous quality assurance and testing to prevent vulnerabilities that could lead to data theft or system malfunctioning.

Another essential step in protecting APIs is monitoring them for suspicious behavior and activity. This can help identify shadow APIs that remain hidden to security teams but still possess sensitive data, as well as identify rogue APIs being utilized for malicious purposes or disseminating false or deceptive data.

Finally, monitoring APIs for changes and modifications is critical. This is an effective way to detect security threats in real-time.

According to OWASP, the top API security threats in 2023 include Broken User Authentication (#2), Excessive Data Exposure (#3) and Improper Asset Management (#9). These three issues work together in concert to circumvent many of the security controls many organizations employ.

These vulnerabilities can lead to data breaches, account takeovers and automated content scraping. Furthermore, these flaws could be exploited to break data protection legislation if they expose customer data.

As the security landscape shifts, attackers will continue to employ new strategies to circumvent traditional defenses and exploit API vulnerabilities. In 2023, this will be especially visible through bot attacks to compromise APIs.

To address these challenges, security teams must implement tools and processes that automatically discover and create an exhaustive inventory of APIs in their environment. Furthermore, these instruments should enable collaboration between security and development teams so that accurate information is collected and analyzed.

Ammar Fakhruddin

ABOUT AUTHOR

Ammar brings in 18 years of experience in strategic solutions and product development in Public Sector, Oil & Gas and Healthcare organizations. He loves solving complex real world business and data problems by bringing in leading-edge solutions that are cost effective, improve customer and employee experience. At Propelex he focuses on helping businesses achieve digital excellence using Smart Data & Cybersecurity solutions.


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