Three immediate steps to take to protect your APIs from security risks

In one form or another, APIs have been around for years, bringing the benefits of ease of use, efficiency and flexibility to the developer community. The advantage of using APIs for mobile and web apps is that developers can build and deploy functionality and data integrations quickly.

API security posture

API security posture

But there is a huge downside to this approach. Undermining the power of an API-driven development methodology are shadow, deprecated and non-conforming APIs that, when exposed to the public, introduce the risk of data loss, compromise or automated fraud.

The stateless nature of APIs and their ubiquity makes protecting them increasingly difficult, largely because malicious actors can leverage the same developer benefits – ease of use and flexibility – to easily execute account takeovers, credential stuffing, fake account creation or content scraping. It’s no wonder that Gartner identified API security as a top concern for 50% of businesses.

Thankfully, it’s never too late to get your API footprint in order to better protect your organization’s critical data. Here are a few easy steps you can follow to mitigate API security risks immediately:

1. Start an organization-wide conversation

If your company is having conversations around API security at all, it’s likely that they are happening in a fractured manner. If there’s no larger, cohesive conversation, then various development and operational teams could be taking conflicting approaches to mitigating API security risks.

For this reason, teams should discuss how they can best work together to support API security initiatives. As a basis for these meetings, teams should refer to the NIST Cybersecurity Framework, as it’s a great way to develop a shared understanding of organization-wide cybersecurity risks. The NIST CSF will help the collective team to gain a baseline awareness about the APIs used across the organization to pinpoint the potential gaps in the operational processes that support them, so that companies can work towards improving their API strategy immediately.

2. Ask (& answer) any outstanding questions as a team

To improve an organization’s API security posture, it’s critical that outstanding questions are asked and answered immediately so that gaps in security are reduced and closed. When posing these questions to the group, consider the API assets you have overall, the business environment, governance, risk assessment, risk management strategy, access control, awareness and training, anomalies and events, continuous security monitoring, detection processes, etc. Leave no stone unturned. Here are a few suggested questions to use as a starting point as you work on the next step in this process towards getting your API security house in order:

  • How many APIs do we have?
  • How were they developed? Which are open-source, custom built or third-party?
  • Which APIs are subject to legal or regulatory compliance?
  • How do we monitor for vulnerabilities in our APIs?
  • How do we protect our APIs from malicious traffic?
  • Are there APIs with vulnerabilities?
  • What is the business impact if the APIs are compromised or abused?
  • Is API security a part of our on-going developer training and security evangelism?

Once any security holes have been identified through a shared understanding, the team then can collectively work together to fill those gaps.

3. Strive for complete and continuous API security and visibility

Visibility is critical to immediate and continuous API security. By going through step one and two, organizations are working towards more secure APIs today – but what about tomorrow and in the years to come as your API footprint expands exponentially?

Consider implementing a visibility and monitoring solution to help you oversee this security program on an ongoing basis, so that your organization can feel confident in having a strong and comprehensive API security posture that grows and adapts as your number of APIs expand and shift. The key components to visibility and monitoring?

Centralized visibility and inventory of all APIs, a detailed view of API traffic patterns, discovery of APIs transmitting sensitive data, continuous API specification conformance assessment, having validated authentication and access control programs in place and running automatic risk analysis based on predefined criteria. Continuous, runtime visibility into how many APIs an organization has, who is accessing them, where they are located and how they are being used, is key to API security.

As organizations continue to expand their use of APIs to drive their business, it’s crucial that companies consider every path malicious actors might take to attack their organization’s critical data.

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