How to Identify and Mitigate API Security Risks to Defend Critical Infrastructure

Posted in

Application Programming Interfaces (APIs) are integral components in internet-connected services as they provide businesses with a cost-effective way to improve user experience on their websites. This is why APIs are growing rapidly in use and popularity, with new ones being released every month.

Unfortunately, as more and more businesses integrate APIs on their websites, security risks are also becoming more common. According to one study, API traffic to websites increased by 141% while API attack traffic simultaneously surged by 348%. There are a number of common cyber threats associated with API traffic that put systems and data at risk.

This article will discuss the most popular API security threats and outline strategies for identifying vulnerabilities and defending critical infrastructure.

What is an API?

APIs are a programming approach that enables different websites and tools to interact to better utilize data and improve user experience. Using reliable APIs improves communication and ensures an effective operation of your front-end software. It also allows firms to extend their services and provide a more comprehensive array of options to users.

There are different types of APIs to assist various industries. For instance, APIs for digital marketing can assist with critical functions like audience segmentation, analytics, monitoring social media growth, SEO, and more.

Similarly, if you choose APIs designed for running advertisements, you can benefit from different tools that streamline ad campaign processes on Google, Amazon, Facebook, and other such platforms. Just about any business function can be made more efficient and user-friendly with a well-designed API.

Identifying and Mitigating API Security Risks

Although APIs have numerous advantages, they can bring several security threats to businesses. Let’s look at how you can identify and mitigate these API security risks.

Resource Abuse

A significant cybersecurity risk is API resource abuse. To mitigate this threat, keep an eye on API calls from bots and block sophisticated human-like bots. You should also use advanced encryption to avoid authentication errors, inspect and keep records of system requests and responses, and track API calls, usage, and paths to identify data incongruities.

Of course, the best way to prevent breaches is to start with a secure product. A developer can help you monitor your security measures and design with security in mind. If you’re looking for an economical option, you can expect to pay up to $80 an hour for an experienced freelance developer. Additionally, API-specific monitoring tools can provide automated analysis to detect malicious behavior.

Broken Authentication and Authorization

Broken user authentication allows unauthorized access to confidential information. This usually occurs due to shortcomings in session management and credential management. API endpoints primarily determine the path users take while interacting with the application and the data they have access to.

One type of attack, credential stuffing, occurs when an attacker tries to access an account by trying out various account names and passwords taken from different websites. The access attempt is usually successful as most users keep the same credentials for different platforms. If your account credentials were leaked at some point, unauthorized personnel could easily input them in the API endpoint to check if they work on the application.

Broken authorizations also occur when endpoints do not have the required captcha checks to prove the user’s authenticity, or the API allows users to create weak passwords. API endpoints using GET parameters to transfer vulnerable data are also at risk of falling victim to attacks like man-in-the-middle.

Broken authentication also occurs when an API endpoint employs invalidated tokens or fails to validate the expiration date of authentication tokens. It also occurs when the endpoint fails to encrypt or hash passwords or uses unreliable encryption algorithms and encryption keys.

Companies can use two-factor authentication or biometric authentication techniques to heighten up their access security. Moreover, all authentication endpoints should be safeguarded by rate-limiting and strict lockout mechanisms, and you should select APIs with endpoints that include captcha and two-factor authentication to prevent credential stuffing.

Mass Assignments

Some API frameworks use mass assignment functionality to streamline the development process. With this approach, developers enter the complete set of user-entered data into an object or database instead of adding specific code for each data field.

Most APIs use this function due to its convenience for the developer. However, the approach is often used without a whitelist that safeguards users from assigning data to protected fields. To mitigate the risks of mass assignment, you can ensure that the binding for whitelist fields is enabled, whereas the binding for blacklist fields is disabled.

Data Exposure

Many APIs are developed to be data sources. In the process, some developers create generalized mechanisms without regard to the type of data. Data exposure occurs when the API provides excessive data to the client. These weaknesses make it easy for hackers to identify vulnerabilities to gain access to confidential information.

To mitigate data exposure risks, the API must not serve unnecessary data to the client. This way, the likelihood of data exposure is limited. Moreover, if an API is not designed to collect or issue vulnerable data, it must not do so based on requests. You can use tools like Amazon Macie or Traceable AI to find vulnerable data in your data classification.

Injection Attacks

A common attack known as SQL injection occurs when SQL queries are added to the input fields via the system’s primary SQL database. These vulnerabilities are taken advantage of when the forms allow users to directly query the database using SQL statements.

To avoid SQL injections, you need to integrate parameterized statements in SQL queries to limit the type of data amalgamated to create a complete query. By taking this initiative, you can stop users from adding complete SQL statements that reveal data they shouldn’t have access to.

Shadow APIs

Shadow APIs are undocumented programs that are not governed by IT management and security standards. As a result, they pose a considerable security risk of providing data access to unauthorized third parties.

To identify and mitigate the risk of shadow APIs, you can automate API documentation as part of the CI/CD deployment and build process. You can also adopt a standard process for updating new APIs. These standards can include a programming language description to provide a detailed understanding of the objectives to computers and people alike.

Wrapping Up

Companies are increasing their reliance on microservices to provide the best experience to users. Because of this trend, the use of APIs will continue to increase. If you are taking advantage of APIs in your organization, keep the preceding tips in mind to ensure all security risks are taken care of. This way, you can strengthen your application infrastructure and remain safeguarded against cyber attacks.