Standing as the “fuel” powering the customer-driven platform revolution, application programming interfaces (APIs) are the new “it thing” amongst operating systems.
APIs are responsible for how apps communicate with each other and have become key components in many digital transformation strategies. Serving as a set of tools for building software application, they have empowered many businesses to increase their value. However, as they have risen in popularity, concerns have risen over the adequacy of measures being put in place to ensure security for businesses using APIs.
The Open Web Application Security Project (OWASP) is a global non-profit organization committed to improving application security and makes it a primary mission to ensure software security is a priority for all. OWASP regularly issues a top 10 standard set of rules that are applied to security policies across various platforms. The most recent list presents notable changes that reflect the increase in dependency on APIs, with a focus on how they can both help and hinder security efforts.
Why Should Businesses Care About API Security?
Every application needs APIs. It is difficult to find an organization today that doesn’t have its own app or uses an app to complete critical business activities. They contain programming standards, instructions and protocols that allow applications to communicate with one another. Essentially, APIs serve as a bridge that ensures proper and consistent communication between two systems.
API security is a critical part of API development because millions of applications communicate back and forth daily. With the cyberthreat landscape constantly evolving and the cloud API market predicted to experience a 20 percent CAGR by 2022, it is easy to understand why it is so imperative that companies develop and continually implement thorough API security measures.
Most APIs do have some governance from management tools, which can offer a range of control features aimed at making APIs more reliable, secure and controllable. However, security should also be top of demand in the design phase of an API and formulating controls that can be implemented across the organization.
Arming Your Organization with the Right Security Tools
Systems that host public APIs feel the impact of heavy traffic on a daily. Some of that influx is, unfortunately, not authentic. To avoid overburdening the legitimate users and protect their system, companies need to evaluate behavior to flag potential problematic traffic.
API security works in the same manner by using rules and algorithms that evaluate client sessions. APIs ask simple questions that gauge how clients are behaving, what they are doing and whether there are unusual error rates or repetitive behavior in short time periods.
Machine learning is often used to answer these questions and to identify and deter malicious API client practices. Standard web approaches typically don’t function properly with APIs, simply because hackers work to continuously be ahead of the game. They know that standard DoS attacks don’t work, so they distribute hacking attempts across bots that hide alongside legitimate traffic to sneak them through the system, undetected.
To find these bad eggs and stay on top of the large amount of them, it’s necessary to set up a machine learning-based system that have a deep understanding of API traffic, with a thorough understanding of API keys, access tokens and what the typical request context is on any payload.
How Can You Prevent Attacks Right Now?
There are several actions you can take immediately to protect your system from potentially damaging attacks. Begin by using HTTPS, if you’re not already, to ensure proper authentication and authorization. Also, adjust your software development life cycle (SDLC) to include rigorous API security testing and validation with a primary focus on input validation.
Also important: Make sure all network servers are running on regularly patched OS versions that are stable and include carefully configured security groups. Implementing role-based access control and VPC isolation across environments also can help improve responses to prevent attacks.
Finally, having a pre-documented response policy for security incidents will help your company establish a secure development environment that is properly maintained at all times.
Routine API audits and testing can help your organization continually improve the API development and ensure your business is protected against DDoS attacks and malicious bots, while still letting legitimate API traffic through. These techniques will help you validate API requests and sort through which are legitimate and which are not, to completely eliminate or reduce API attacks.