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Mastering API Security: From Discovery to Defense

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Application Programming Interfaces (APIs) serve as the bridge between different software applications, enabling them to communicate and share data seamlessly. They define the methods and protocols for how software components should interact, allowing developers to integrate diverse systems and functionalities.

APIs are crucial in modern technology ecosystems because they empower businesses to enhance efficiency, foster innovation, and expand their digital reach. By facilitating interoperability between diverse applications, APIs streamline processes, enable the development of new features, and ultimately contribute to the creation of more dynamic and interconnected digital experiences for users.

The increasing significance and growth of APIs in today’s digital landscape has made them a prime target for cybercriminals seeking to exploit vulnerabilities and misuse APIs. Successful API exploitation can lead to severe consequences, including data breaches, service disruptions, and compromised systems, posing significant risks to businesses and their customers. The escalation in web API traffic and attacks is evident, with Postman’s latest State of API Report showing that 30% of companies report API-security-related events occur quarterly (or more). Venture Beat also estimates that API vulnerabilities cost businesses $75 billion annually worldwide.

Discover and Monitor Your APIs Before Attackers Discover Them

In a recent survey conducted by the Ponemon Institute, 54% of survey participants find it challenging to identify and catalog all APIs. The pressures of rapid innovation, across hybrid application landscapes, often leads to the creation of APIs that are not documented or part of any proper governance process, leading organizations to lose control over the diverse range of APIs in use and being offered. So, to protect your APIs you first need to discover them before your attackers do – you cannot secure what you cannot find.

“API security is complicated by the fact that many organizations don’t have an inventory of the APIs they provide, or the APIs they use.”

Gartner®, API Security: What You Need to Do to Protect Your APIs, Mark O’Neill; Dionisio Zumerle; Jeremy D’Hoinne, 13 January 2023.

GARTNER is a registered trademark and service mark of Gartner, Inc. and/or its affiliates in the U.S. and internationally and is used herein with permission. All rights reserved.

Mobile and web applications are a good place to start. Other areas to analyze are application integration, APIs in development but not yet published, and any third-party APIs your organization uses.

Once you’ve discovered your APIs, you need to categorize them for proper analysis and measurement. This also includes monitoring API traffic and usage patterns – anomalous traffic spikes and repetitive requests, for example – for early detection of suspicious activities. Gartner suggests using the following criteria for categorization in the 2023 Gartner API Security: What You Need to Do to Protect Your APIs report:

What You Need to Do to Protect Your APIs

Best Practices to Enhance API Security

To bolster API security, it is essential for your organization to adopt a continuous and holistic security approach across all phases of the API life cycle. Consider the following recommendations:

  • Implement Robust Authentication and Authorization Mechanisms: Enforcing robust authentication and authorization mechanisms is a fundamental step in preventing API abuse. Implement strong API key management and enforce the principle of least privilege, ensuring that each API key has limited access to only the necessary resources. Utilize industry-standard protocols like OAuth 2.0 to handle authorization securely and avoid relying solely on simple API keys.
  • Implement Rate Limiting: Mitigate application DDoS attacks by implementing rate limiting, which restricts the number of requests a client can make within a specific time frame. This measure helps manage the flow of API requests, preventing overload and ensuring a fair allocation of resources to legitimate users while discouraging abusive ones.
  • Utilize Web Application Firewalls (WAF) and API Gateways: Leveraging Web Application and API Protection (WAAP) and API gateways can significantly enhance API security posture and governance. WAAPs inspect incoming API requests, filtering out potentially harmful traffic based on predefined security rules to identify application attacks (e.g. SQLi and RCE). API gateways act as intermediaries between clients and backend servers, providing an additional layer of security and allowing for centralized control and monitoring.
  • Conduct Regular Security Audits and Penetration Testing: Regular security audits and penetration testing are critical for identifying vulnerabilities and weaknesses in your API infrastructure. Engage security experts to simulate real-world attacks and assess the effectiveness of your security measures. Address any identified issues promptly to reinforce the resilience of your systems.

Edgio’s Advanced API Security Capabilities

Edgio’s API Security solution discovers and safeguards enterprise APIs from evolving threats. By integrating seamlessly with developer workflows, it enhances application performance and accelerates release velocity.
With the exponential growth of APIs in microservices and cloud-native architectures, many enterprises lack visibility into their API landscape. Edgio addresses this challenge by using machine learning (ML) to inspect application traffic patterns, ensuring the discovery, management, and security of API endpoints.

Delivered as part of a holistic Web Application and API Protection (WAAP) solution, Edgio’s ML-powered API discovery capabilities enable easy onboarding and management of API endpoints. Once onboarded, Edgio’s API Security provides multiple capabilities that strengthen API security posture, including enforcement of encryption, API rate limiting, and other controls, ensuring consistent security practices and reducing the risk of unauthorized access and other forms of API abuse.

Furthermore, Edgio offers a positive security model through API schema validation, ensuring improperly specified API requests are blocked. This prevents errors and exploitation from attacks like SQL injection, CMD injection, and even zero-day attacks while also filtering out malicious API calls to protect application performance.

As a part of Edgio’s Dual WAAP, the solution empowers DevSecOps to test and validate API schema changes in production efficiently in an audit mode. This decreases the risk of blocking legitimate traffic and speeds up the mean time to resolution (MTTR) when a vulnerability is discovered by enabling rapid testing, as well as deployment of rule changes network-wide (in under 60 seconds).

Wrapping Up

As APIs continue to play an integral role in modern software development, the risk of API abuse grows each day. By proactively implementing robust security measures, organizations can effectively detect and mitigate API abuse, safeguarding their systems and protecting sensitive data from malicious actors.

Discovering APIs becomes a foundational step in this defense strategy. API discovery, the process of identifying and cataloging APIs, enables organizations to assess security risks associated with each API. Understanding the diverse range of APIs in use is crucial as it forms the basis for subsequent security measures. Without a clear understanding of the APIs in the ecosystem, organizations may overlook potential vulnerabilities, creating gaps in their security posture.

Next, adopting a continuous and holistic security approach across all phases of the API life cycle, with measures including strong authentication, comprehensive monitoring, rate limiting, and regular security audits, is essential to ensure the integrity, availability, and confidentiality of APIs. As the threat landscape evolves, staying vigilant and continually updating your security strategies is vital to maintaining a robust defense against API abuse.

Edgio offers an advanced API Security solution, leveraging ML and integrated features to provide robust protection against API abuse and emerging threats. Talk to one of our security experts today to discover how Edgio can help safeguard your entire digital ecosystem and uphold the trust of your customers.