Just a few years ago, APIs were far from being a topic of conversation for most company leaders — but that’s changed. Today, regardless of their size or industry, most businesses are leveraging APIs as core elements in their digital strategy.
The truth is, for companies that have a technology product or solution as a revenue stream, APIs are essential. They connect the dots between different systems and databases, empowering teams to deliver more value to their customers. To make the most of this technology, businesses are building and deploying APIs faster (and in larger quantities) than ever before. However, this growth doesn’t exist without its own challenges.
As technology facilitates the transfer of information, APIs often share sensitive data between parties, and that makes them a valuable target for bad actors. To make it worse, APIs are notoriously difficult to secure and that, in turn, turns them into significant points of vulnerability within a company’s security posture.
So, what does this mean for companies that are looking to capitalize on the value in the API ecosystem? To be truly successful, they need to also prioritize building a robust API security strategy that covers all the bases.
The Important Role of APIs
Today’s businesses use APIs in a number of different capacities. At their core, APIs facilitate the quick exchange of data with other applications and systems. The biggest benefit of this is that instead of building features from scratch, teams can use APIs to add tracking features, payment capabilities, and other core elements to their digital products. This means developers don’t have to reinvent the wheel and can focus on their core competencies, and also enables teams to get products to market faster.
Moving quickly is also important for building trust and loyalty with customers. If your team is able to address customer feedback quickly, they’ll be more likely to return and become ambassadors for your brand. Some APIs can help take this customer-driven approach further, leveraging customer data to provide tailored customer experiences.
Another way that APIs support business success is by fostering innovation. By introducing automation and extending the features of a given product or service, APIs empower companies to expand their reach and explore markets they may not have considered previously.
With all of the value that APIs provide, it’s no wonder they have become a strategic driver for businesses. That said, companies that deploy APIs without a supporting security strategy are bound to stumble.
APIs Present Various Security Concerns
The nature and rapidly growing popularity of APIs have made them a primary attack vector for cybercriminals. In fact, recent data from Salt Security states that 94% of companies experienced API security problems with APIs in production in the past year. This trend has led Gartner to include API security in its security reference architecture in 2022, recognizing the need for dedicated API security tools and methods. As a result, API security is also becoming a hot topic for business leaders.
The trouble is, that securing APIs is no easy feat, and traditional mechanisms like web application firewalls, API gateways, or identity and access management solutions can’t keep up. This is because:
- The API landscape is always changing, and APIs are rarely built on the same standards. This makes having a single set of parameters for securing APIs impossible.
- While shift-left tactics have introduced security earlier in the DevOps lifecycle, they don’t account for vulnerabilities rooted in API business logic gaps that might be introduced in the code.
- Because every API is unique, attackers make more concerted efforts to compromise each one, giving them a higher chance of success. This also means you can’t use a widespread approach to secure every API.
This latest trend is particularly concerning. Low-and-slow attacks are harder to detect, and that means that an attacker can make their way, get what they want, and leave your system before you notice.
What a Robust API Security Strategy Looks Like
An API security strategy should include a number of key initiatives across development, testing, and production. These include, but aren’t limited to:
- Promoting secure API design and development by leveraging secure coding and configuration practices.
- Reducing the exposure of sensitive data by limiting how much data is sent in a given request.
- Conducting design reviews that account for business logic flaws.
- Documenting all APIs so everyone can easily understand how the API is built or integrated.
- Creating and maintaining an accurate API inventory so that there’s clarity and visibility around what APIs exist where and who owns them.
- Running security testing that identifies configuration issues and vulnerabilities.
- Turning on logging and monitoring to set a baseline and have real-time visibility into the API ecosystem.
- Setting up ways to identify API drift — that way, there’s an insight into how an API has changed and what impacts that might have.
- Continually authenticating and authorizing to ensure that no one is accessing sensitive data from an API without the right permissions.
- Deploying runtime protection that can identify configuration issues in API infrastructure.
- Implementing an API security platform that automatically detects and stops attacks before they reach critical infrastructure or data.
Protection needs to exist across the API lifecycle, and an API security solution should exist at the foundation of an API security strategy. The right platform will be able to collect, store, and analyze hundreds of attributes across millions of users and API calls and, more importantly, leverage artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) to correlate them over time. As businesses increase their API usage, they should also dedicate time to finding the right solution that can underpin a comprehensive API security strategy.
Ali Cameron is a content marketer that specializes in the cybersecurity and B2B SaaS space. Besides writing for Tripwire's State of Security blog, she's also written for brands including Okta, Salesforce, and Microsoft. Taking an unusual route into the world of content, Ali started her career as a management consultant at PwC where she sparked her interest in making complex concepts easy to understand. She blends this interest with a passion for storytelling, a combination that's well suited for writing in the cybersecurity space. She is also a regular writer for Bora.