API security represents the application of any security best practice to APIs, which are widely used in modern applications. API security encompasses API access control and privacy, as well as the detection and remediation of API-related attacks such as API reverse engineering and the exploitation of API vulnerabilities.

Whether an application focuses on consumers, or anyone else, the client-side (mobile app or web app) interacts with the server-side via Application Programming Interface (API). APIs make it simple for a developer to create a client-side app. APIs enable microservice architectures as well.

An attack on API could include bypassing the client-side application to disrupt the operation of an application for other users or to compromise private information. API security is concerned with securing this application layer and addressing what might happen if a malicious hacker interacts with the API.

According to Infosecurity Outlook, “by 2023, API abuses will be the most common attack vector resulting in data breaches for enterprise web applications. To avoid these attacks, it is best to take a continuous approach throughout the API development and delivery cycle, designing security into APIs.”

Features of API Security

API security is concerned with securing the APIs that you expose directly or indirectly. API security is less concerned with the APIs you use that are provided by third parties, though analyzing outgoing API traffic, one can get valuable insights that can be used whenever possible.

It’s also worth noting that API security as a practice involves several teams and systems. API security includes network security concepts like rate limiting and throttling, as well as data security, identity-based security, and monitoring.

Technology advancements such as cloud services, API gateways, and integration platforms enable API providers to secure APIs in novel ways. The technology stack you use to build your APIs has an impact on, how secure they are.

Larger organizations have different departments, and they can develop their own applications using their own APIs. Large organizations also end up with multiple API stacks or API silos because of mergers and acquisitions.

As we know, API security requirements can be directly mapped to the technology of a single silo when all your APIs are contained within it. In the future, these security configurations should be portable enough to be extracted and mapped to another technology.

However, in heterogeneous environments, API security rules are typically defined using API security-specific infrastructure that operates across these API silos. The connectivity between API silos and API security infrastructure can be achieved by using the sidecars, sideband agents, and APIs integrated between cloud and on-premises deployments.

API Discovery

There are numerous barriers that prevent security operatives from having full visibility into all APIs exposed by their organization. API silos reduce API visibility by providing only a subset of APIs under disconnected governance.

API discovery is a tussle between API providers and hackers who will easily exploit the APIs once discovered. API traffic metadata can be used to locate APIs before they are discovered by attackers. This information is extracted from API gateways, load balancers, or directly inline network traffic, and then fed into a specialized engine that generates a useful list of APIs that can be compared to API management layer catalogues.

OAuth and API Access Control

To limit API resources to only those users who should be able to access them. The user, as well as any applications acting on their behalf, must be identified. This is typically accomplished by requiring client-side applications to include a token in API calls to the service, which can then validate that token and retrieve user information from it. OAuth is the standard that describes how a client-side application first obtains an access token. OAuth defines numerous grant types to accommodate different flows and user experiences.

API Data Governance and Privacy Protection

API leaks occur because data flows through APIs. As a result, API security must also include inspecting the structured data flowing into and out of your APIs and enforcing rules at the data layer.

Because data in your API traffic is structured predictably, enforcing data security by inspecting API traffic is an excellent choice for this task. API data governance, in addition to [yes/no] type rules, allows you to transform the data structured into your API traffic in real-time for redaction purposes. This pattern is commonly used to redact specific fields that may contain information that a user’s privacy settings dictate should be hidden from the requesting application.

API Threat Identification

API threat detection is a logical extension of general threat protection measures. APIs, for example, are frequently protected by a firewall, which provides some basic security. APIs are sometimes protected by a web application firewall (WAF). A WAF may scan API traffic to detect signature-based threats such as SQL injections and other injection attacks. API gateways also play a role in API-specific threat detection. A gateway may impose a strict schema on the way in as well as general input sanitization. In addition to acting as a policy enforcement point, it will look for deep nesting patterns, and XML bombs, and apply rate limits.

API Analytics and Behaviour

An AI engine can build models for what normal API traffic looks like using API traffic metadata and then use this model to look for anomalous behavior. These anomalies can aid in the detection of ongoing attacks, but they can also indicate system misbehaviors and other non-malicious disruptions to your services, such as friendly fire. Such a layer can pinpoint the source of this attack or misbehavior by analyzing API traffic metadata, and this information can then be used to cease the incident in progress and fix it.

Conclusion

APIs are highly regarded targets for malicious actors and are expected to become the primary attack. APIs require a dedicated approach to security and compliance due to the critical role they play in digital transformation and the access to internal sensitive data and systems they provide.

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What is API Security?