Application Programming Interface (API) is a method of accessing digital information through various channels, such as mobile applications, cloud, and the Internet of Things (IoT). API allows companies to share their data with wide audiences, including customers, partners, or employees. Even though APIs have become an integral part of standard enterprise architecture, they can offer major security vulnerabilities that can be exploited by hackers and external developers. Organizations that rely only on network security solutions are open for API application breaches since API security is fundamentally different from web application and network security from the identity and access management (IAM) standpoint. This article provides an overview of security concerns of APIs and offers ways to mitigate the risks.
API Security Risks
APIs give access to valuable data that may include information about business processes or are protected by privacy laws. Therefore, API platforms are to be properly protected by carefully managing authentication, authorization, identity mediation, data privacy, Denial-of-Service (DoS) threats, and threat detection. The unique nature of APIs allows malicious users to expand the surface area of attacks. The security concerns are often connected to IAM since hackers can get unintended rights to manipulate different aspects of API.
One of the most evident IAM risks while managing API is the identity and session threat. A hacker can exploit a real session ID to gain access to the user’s account if an API lacks adequate authentication and authorization controls. This problem may become even more complicated in the situation with multi-party authentication schemes. Another risk connected with IAM is the SQL injection technique used by malicious users to manipulate the database of an enterprise through API. Additionally, service information leakage can also lead to “unauthorized access through authentication factors that are not functioning because of poor security design or technology bug” according to F5 Labs. Exploiting the flaws of APIs management system may be associated with considerable impact on business.
API security vulnerability connected with IAM may lead to various problems. The adverse events associated with security breaches are usually the loss of service, compromise of personal and identifiable information, and theft of private data. In IoT, API hackers can get access to devices and use them in dangerous ways. The potential business impact of such events is lost revenues, legal liability, reputation damages, competitive disadvantage, contract breaches, and loss of trust from all the stakeholders. In 2018, the organizations that experienced the consequences of API security breaches were US Postal Service, T-Mobile, Valve, and even Facebook. These events led to various implications, such as exposing information on 50 million Facebook users. Hackers often decompile and examine the mobile application for API vulnerabilities. For instance, in 2017, Instagram allowed access to user contact information due to IAM flaws of API. The examples provided above demonstrate the importance of finding strategies to mitigate the IAM risks in API.
Mitigating the Risks
Protecting API from hackers is a laborious endeavor; however, the time to prevent attackers is worth spending. The first step for an enterprise to make is to realize what APIs are being used and what they can do. Modern application has many layers and may have hidden APIs of which only developers may know. Malicious users are more than glad to invest their time and effort into looking for these covered layers and finding security holes. The second step is to understand the API by reviewing the permissions and functions that are allowed. According to F5 Labs, “many APIs have identity access management privileges hidden within a configuration setting” that need to be eliminated. Even though these two steps seem obvious, they are often overlooked by companies.
Another security solution is to control access to API and mitigate the risks of identity and session threats. Akana suggests separating the identity of the user and the application that is accessing an API. However, it is a major challenge for API to become a part of a broader IAM apparatus since the providers will need to take into account authorization based on details such as user, application, geo-location, device type, and time. However, there are simple methods of dealing with security problems. They are to monitor, audit, log, and analyze the API traffic since excessive API use may be associated with greater losses than with using no API. A good API management platform may enable companies to apply the strategies mentioned above, along with other numerous ways of protecting sensitive information.
APIs are crucial for many businesses to acquire new partners and clients. The use of APIs is associated with increased risks of security breaches connected with IAM. Such breaches may lead to various problems, including reputation damage, loss of trust from all the stakeholders, legal liability, and competitive disadvantage. However, despite the potentially disastrous impact on business, API threats can be mitigated. The most efficient way of addressing the issues is by adopting an adequate API management platform and carefully analyzing the API traffic.