Insider Threats and API Security: Key Issues to Consider

Insider Threats and API Security: Key Issues to Consider

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Insider threats and API security issues are two of the most significant dangers to modern organizations. Between June and December 2022, API attacks rose by 400%, while recent research found that 74% of organizations are at least moderately vulnerable to insider threats.

If organizations want to effectively protect themselves from cybercrime, API security and insider threat prevention must be top of mind. This article will outline the critical issues for insider threats and API security.

What Is an Insider Threat?

An insider threat is a current or former employee, business partner, or any other personnel who knowingly or unknowingly exposes their organization’s sensitive systems or information to an outside threat. There are three main types of insider threats:

  • Accidental insiders unwittingly expose their organization to an external threat, typically by falling victim to a social engineering scam or losing a company device.
  • Malicious insiders intentionally expose their organization to an external threat for personal gain.
  • Moles pretend to be legitimate employees for the sole purpose of exposing an organization to an external threat.

What Is an API?

An API, or application programming interface, is a set of definitions and protocols developers use to build and integrate application software. They facilitate communication between disparate products or services, enabling organizations to open application data and functionality to third parties, simplify application design and management, allow flexible development, and offer opportunities for innovation.

Some of the best-known APIs include APIs that enable social sign-in, price comparison, and Google Maps.

There are five main types of APIs:

  • Open APIs are shared freely on the internet to allow outside developers or businesses to access them, typically to encourage third-party developers to discover novel ways of using the software.
  • Public APIs are also shared on the internet but typically have more restrictions. Organizations often implement moderate authentication and authorization or even monetize the API by imposing a per-call cost.
  • Partner APIs aid communication between business partners and are typically subject to stringent authorization and authentication requirements.
  • Internal APIs facilitate communication between internal business applications, for example, between HR and payroll systems.
  • Composite APIs combine multiple APIs to craft a sequence of related or interdepended operations, typically to address complex API behaviors or improve the speed and performance of individual APIs.

Insider Threats and API Security Considerations

At first glance, insider threat and API security management may seem unrelated, but the two concepts have significant overlap. Below, we’ll consider some insider threats and security considerations for APIs.

User Access Controls

Organizations must effectively manage user access rights and permissions to prevent unauthorized access to sensitive data. To ensure that employees have the appropriate level of access for their roles and responsibilities, security teams should implement role-based access controls (RBAC). Organizations should deploy robust authentication mechanisms, such as multi-factor authentication, to prevent unauthorized access.

Similarly, organizations must implement robust authentication mechanisms such as API keys, OAuth, or JSON Web Tokens (JWT) to verify the identity of API clients. Security teams must also enforce proper authorization controls to ensure that only legitimate clients can access the right APIs and resources.

Monitoring and Auditing

Monitoring and auditing systems such as user and entity behavior analytics (UEBA) solutions leverage algorithms and machine learning (ML) technologies to alert security teams of unusual behavior or unauthorized access attempts that could indicate an insider threat. The best UEBA solutions empower security teams to create user risk profiles, identifying which user is most likely to be an insider threat and informing response strategies.

Security teams can also utilize UEBA solutions to track API usage, detect anomalies, and identify potential security breaches. UEBA solutions are most effective when integrated with security information and event management (SIEM) systems, providing security teams with a centralized hub for data analysis.

Secure Communication

Securing communication channels is essential to preventing insider threats. Organizations must ensure that staff only use trusted channels that encrypt messages when communicating sensitive information.

Similarly, organizations must encrypt data transmitted over APIs using secure protocols such as HTTPS/TLS, safeguarding sensitive information from eavesdroppers, meddlers, or interceptors.

Incident Response

Finally, a comprehensive and well-rehearsed incident response plan is essential to preventing insider threats and API security issues. Security teams and the wider organization must know their roles should an incident occur. The quick, thoughtful response will likely save a compromised organization from significant financial, legal, and reputational damages.

Protecting APIs From Insider Threats

Protecting modern organizations from cyber threats requires a sharp focus on insider threats and API security. APIs, API security issues, and insider threats are on the rise, and organizations that fail to address them will undoubtedly fall victim to a compromise. While the above best practices and considerations are a good starting point, organizations must work to understand their security environments and apply general rules to their specific needs.