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The Challenges to API Security

by | Apr 4, 2022 | BLOG

Some services depend on the integration between software, applications, or systems to be run by the end-user and this communication is possible due to the existence of APIs in people’s daily lives.

However, with the constant evolution of technology, these tools have been vectors for attacks by malicious agents, as explained below. Here, we also show you how important it is to invest in API security and what are the main challenges to achieving this goal.

To facilitate your reading and make our content more understandable, we divided this article into topics addressing the following subjects:

  • What is an API?
  • API Today
  • What Is API Security and How Important Is It?
  • Types of Frequent API Attacks
  • Six Best Practices for API Security
  • About senhasegura
  • Conclusion

Enjoy your reading!

What is an API?

The expression Application Programming Interface (API) consists of a set of programming standards that allow access to an application or platform. 

This mechanism is created when a software organization intends to develop other programs related to the service they offer. 

In this way, they provide codes to be used on other websites by their end-user. This is what happens with Google Maps, when it is adapted for use by other websites, such as hotel pages. 

This is possible with the intermediation of an API used by the developers of the hotel’s website with the Google Maps code.

This means that APIs enable communication between different applications through multiple codes, without any effort from the users. 

An API is useful for connecting several features of a website that can be used in other services, which is possible via programming. 

API Today

An API is typically described as an interface that connects applications. However, this generic concept no longer fully explains the features of this tool, which recently gained new ones.

APIs today adhere to models accessible and easily understood by developers. They are considered products, used by specific consumers, and present versions, which guarantees their lifecycle.

They are extremely standardized software, focused on governance and security, and one can also monitor the APIs and manage their performance. 

Their lifecycle includes the design, testing, construction, management, and version control phases. Modern APIs are still documented for consumption.

These APIs spread through plug-ins. In practice, the developers of a given application create an API and make it available to other developers, who create other plug-ins, enhancing the operation of this program. 

What Is API Security and How Important Is It?

With the evolution of technology, cybercriminals are going beyond their conventional targets and expanding their operations to IoT, external applications, and mobile applications. 

As a result, the large number of existing APIs has become a challenge for information security professionals. 

To complete, developers often do not have all the skills to develop a flawless API that complies with web and cloud security standards, which creates vulnerabilities to programs. Thus, many risks arise, such as:

  • Authorization Failures;
  • Data Exposure;
  • Denial of Service;
  • Failures in Security Settings;
  • Endpoints.

Vulnerable APIs open space for hackers, who can access sensitive information, medical and financial data of organizations, generating incalculable losses.

When we talk about API security, we typically refer to the protection of an application’s back-end services, including its database, user management system, or other components that interact with data storage.

Thus, it is essential to ensure the security of APIs, which covers the use of resources and the adoption of protection procedures. The security of a company’s APIs involves the services that use them and should prevent malicious agents from accessing sensitive data and performing unauthorized actions. 

It is important to mention that applications from other companies impact API security. Therefore, the risks must be evaluated by the IT team so that an efficient protection plan is created. 

Types of Frequent API Attacks

Here are the most common API attacks:

  • Injection Attack

When an API developer does not limit entries to certain applications, malicious agents can perform an API injection attack by sending a script to the server with a request that allows them to access the program. 

  • Stolen Authentication Attack

APIs configured with wrong authentication standards generate vulnerabilities for organizations, which need to prevent hackers from accessing the controls of this API and stealing data from their customers. Inadequate authentication processes can also result in brute force attacks. 

  • Man-in-the-middle Attack (MITM)

Transmission of unsigned or unencrypted messages, problems with secure session configuration, or even the use of SSL/TLS encryption with incorrect configuration can compromise API security and make an organization vulnerable to Man-in-the-middle attacks, compromising all messages with the customer.

Thus, malicious agents gain access to sensitive data, such as personally identifiable information. 

  • DDoS Attack

API endpoints have become the target of DDoS attacks. Malicious agents point a bot to the API and make multiple requests on an endpoint until it exceeds the tolerance of those requests and affects its responsiveness, making the service unavailable to users. 

To protect an API from DDoS attacks, we recommend edge protection and the Web Application Firewall with WAAP. 

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Six Best Practices for API Security

Some practices are recommended to ensure API security. Below you will find what should be done for this purpose.

  • Analyze API Vulnerabilities

To ensure API security, automatic verification must be enabled in order to detect vulnerabilities and eliminate them at different stages of the software lifecycle. 

Automated verification features allow you to identify security flaws by comparing the application configuration to a known vulnerability database.

In practice, Crashtest Security Suite allows you to scan vulnerabilities, helping to establish a continuous testing process and prevent intrusions generated by a lack of API security

The suite also performs benchmarks referring to OWASP’s top 10 and provides a security analysis for APIs, applications, and JavaScripts

  • Restrict HTTP Methods

REST APIs enable programs capable of performing multiple HTTP operations. HTTP information is not encrypted, so these methods can facilitate attacks. 

For added security, it is important to prohibit unsafe HTTP methods, but if this is not possible, we recommend restricting your whitelist by rejecting all requests that are not on the list. 

Another important measure is the use of RESTful API authentication practices, which ensure the user can use the HTTP method.

  • Avoid Untrusted Entries by Implementing Input Validation Mechanisms

When the API client makes data available, do not fully trust it, since the authentication server can run an unauthorized application service or a malicious script. 

In this sense, it is recommended information security professionals implement mechanisms to validate the entry into the server and the client in order to avoid untrusted entries. 

Concerning the client, this validation has the job of indicating errors and warning about entries that must be accepted. On the server-side, it works to verify incoming data and prevent threats such as SQL Injection and XSS attacks. 

  • Set a Maximum Request Limit 

Limiting requests is an API security measure that requires setting up a temporary status for the API to analyze requests. It is usually used to prevent abuse, spam, or denial of service attacks. It also contributes to managing REST API security and preventing brute force and DDoS attacks. 

Some APIs may have flexible limits, enabling users to exceed request limits for a short time. Therefore, setting the time limit is a best practice to ensure API security

Also, request queue libraries make it possible to create APIs that accept a predefined number of requests, placing the others in a queue. 

  • HTTPS/TLS Must Be Used For REST APIs

HTTPS and Transport Layer Security (TLS) provide security for the transfer of encrypted information between web servers and browsers. In addition, HTTPS contributes to the protection of authentication credentials being transferred. 

Every API should implement HTTPS to ensure confidentiality, authenticity, and integrity. What’s more, security professionals are advised to use mutually authenticated client-side certificates to provide more security for sensitive information and operations. 

When creating a REST API, it is necessary to avoid redirecting HTTP to HTTPS, endangering user security. It is also important to take action to divert Cross-Source Resource Sharing (CORS) and JSONP requests for cross-domain calls.

  • Use An API Management Platform

An API gateway is intended to separate the client interface from the back-end API collection and to ensure the availability and scalability of API services. 

In addition to managing the most diverse API services, the API management platform makes it possible to manage standard functions, such as rate limitation, telemetry, and user authentication.

The API gateway is characterized by accepting API calls, coordinating resources needed to service it, performing authentication, and ensuring appropriate results. 

About senhasegura

For us, from senhasegura, the protection, access, and confidentiality of privileged information is a right of all individuals and legal entities. Therefore, we strive to operate as the best-privileged access management solution in the market.

Our commitment is to assist organizations to build sovereignty and security over access and privileged information.

Conclusion

By reading this article, you saw that:

  • APIs are a set of programming standards that allow integration between software, applications, and systems run by the end-user.
  • They contribute to the governance and security of organizations, can be monitored, and have their performances managed;
  • Nevertheless, with the evolution of technology, these tools have become vectors of attacks by malicious agents;
  • Thus, the large number of existing APIs has become a challenge for information security professionals;
  • It is essential to ensure API security with the use of tools and the adoption of procedures aimed at protecting this solution;
  • Among the types of API attacks, the following stand out: Injection Attack, Stolen Authentication Attack, Man-in-the-middle Attack (MITM), and DDoS Attack;
  • To ensure the security of APIs, it is critical to analyze their vulnerabilities; restrict HTTP methods; avoid untrusted entries by implementing input validation mechanisms; set a maximum limit of requests; use HTTPS/TLS for REST APIs and API gateway.
  • You also had the opportunity to learn a little about the work developed by senhasegura to promote its customers’ protection.

 

Did you like our article on API security? So, share it with someone else who is interested in this topic and keep following our posts. 

 

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