15
Mar

The Top API Security Risks and How to Mitigate Them

Top API Security

Application Programming Interfaces (APIs) play a vital role in enabling seamless communication and data exchange between various software applications, platforms, and services. However, with this increased connectivity comes the potential for security vulnerabilities and risks.
Some API Security Report also shows 400% increase in attackers in 2023, which could double up this year. And this surge is not just a mere statistics, but a red flag in the face of compliance.
In this blog, we delve into the common challenges and threats associated with API security.

What is API security and why is API Security important?

API security risk refers to the potential threats and vulnerabilities associated with the use of Application Programming Interfaces (APIs). These APIs can compromise the confidentiality, integrity, and availability of data and resources exposed through those APIs. These risks can arise from various factors, including insecure design or implementation of APIs, inadequate authentication and authorisation mechanisms, and many more.
These security risks leads to unauthorised access to sensitive data, manipulation of system functionalities, injection attacks, denial of service (DoS) attacks, data breaches, and other malicious activities.
Therefore, addressing these security risks requires a comprehensive approach that encompasses secure API design, implementation, testing, and ongoing monitoring. By identifying and mitigating potential vulnerabilities proactively, you can minimise the occurrence of security incidents and protect digital assets from getting exploit by malicious actors.
Why is API Security

Why Do Hackers Target API?

Hackers often target APIs for several reasons:

Abundant Attack Surface: APIs typically expose a large attack surface, providing hackers with numerous entry points to exploit vulnerabilities and gain unauthorised access to sensitive data or system resources.

API are Rich Data Sources: APIs often handle valuable data, such as personal information, financial data, or business-critical information. Hackers are drawn to APIs because compromising them can provide access to this valuable data for malicious purposes such as identity theft or fraud.

Ease of Automation: APIs are designed to facilitate automated interactions between systems, making them attractive targets for automated attacks. Hackers can leverage automated tools and scripts to probe, exploit, and manipulate APIs, increasing the efficiency and impact of their attacks.

Third-party Integrations: Many applications rely on third-party APIs for functionality or data access. Hackers may target these APIs as a means to compromise the security of multiple interconnected systems or to exploit weaknesses in third-party services.

Inadequate Security Measures: In some cases, APIs may be inadequately secured due to factors such as poor authentication mechanisms, insufficient access controls, or lack of encryption. Hackers exploit these security weaknesses to bypass defences and gain unauthorised access to sensitive data or system functionalities.

Hackers Target API

Top API Security Risks and How To Mitigate Them?

Some API stand out because of the risk and threat they poses. The following section explains the most common API security risks and how you can mitigate them:

BOLA: BOLA stands for Broken Object-Level Authorisation. It refers to a type of security vulnerability where an attacker can access or modify data they shouldn’t have permission to by manipulating object references in API requests.
In simpler terms, BOLA occurs when an application fails to properly check whether a user has the appropriate permissions to access or modify specific objects (such as files, records, or resources) within the system. This allows attackers to exploit the vulnerability by manipulating the object references in API requests and to gain unauthorised access to sensitive data.
For example, if a web application allows users to access their own profile information through an API endpoint, but doesn’t properly verify the user’s identity or permissions, an attacker could modify the API request to access another user’s profile data. This is a classic example of a BOLA vulnerability.

To mitigate BOLA:

  • Implement proper authorisation checks at the object level.
  • Verify that users have necessary permissions for accessing or modifying resources.
  • Use access control mechanisms like Role-Based Access Control (RBAC) or Attribute-Based Access Control (ABAC).
  • Validate user permissions for each API request.
  • Conduct regular security assessments and testing.

DDOS: DDoS stands for Distributed Denial of Service. It’s a type of cyberattack where multiple compromised systems, often infected with malware, are used to flood a target system, network, or website with a large volume of traffic or requests. The goal of a DDoS attack is to overwhelm the resources, such as bandwidth, server capacity, or network infrastructure, causing it to become slow, unresponsive, or completely unavailable to legitimate users.
In simpler terms, imagine a highway with too many cars trying to pass through a single toll booth at once. The toll booth becomes congested and unable to process all the vehicles, causing a traffic jam. Similarly, in a DDoS attack, the target system becomes overwhelmed with an excessive amount of traffic, making it difficult or impossible for users to access the services hosted on that system.
This attack is often carried out using botnets, which are networks of compromised computers or devices controlled by the attacker.

To mitigate DDOS attack:

  • Use DDoS mitigation services.
  • Implement network security measures like firewalls and intrusion detection systems (IDS).
  • Deploy content delivery networks (CDNs) to distribute traffic.
  • Regularly monitor and analyse network traffic for unusual patterns indicating an ongoing attack.

API Security Risks

Broken Authentication:

Broken authentication refers to a security vulnerability where authentication mechanisms in an application are improperly implemented or configured. This leads to unauthorised access to sensitive data or functionalities.
Authentication is the process of verifying the identity of users attempting to access a system or application. But when authentication mechanisms are broken, attackers can exploit weaknesses to gain unauthorised access by bypassing or manipulating the authentication process.

Common causes of broken authentication include:

Weak Password Policies: Allowing users to create weak passwords or failing to put complex passwords increases the risk of brute force attacks, where attackers systematically try different combinations of passwords until they find the correct one.
Improper Session Management: Insecure session management practices, such as not using secure cookies or failing to expire sessions after a period of inactivity, can leave user sessions vulnerable to hijacking or session fixation attacks.

Insufficient Multifactor Authentication (MFA): Multifactor authentication adds an extra layer of security by allowing users to provide multiple forms of identification. If MFA is not implemented or is poorly configured, it increases the risk of unauthorised access.

Predictable Authentication Credentials: Using predictable authentication credentials, such as default usernames and passwords, or failing to change default authentication settings, makes it easier for attackers to gain unauthorised access.

Insecure Password Recovery Mechanisms: Insecure password recovery mechanisms, can be exploited by attackers to reset passwords and get unauthorised access to accounts.

To mitigate broken authentication vulnerabilities, you should:

  • Enforce strong password policies.
  • Implement secure session management practices
  • Enable multifactor authentication wherever possible.
  • Use secure authentication protocols, such as OAuth or OpenID Connect.
  • Regularly audit and update authentication mechanisms to address emerging threats and vulnerabilities.

Weak API Key Generation

API keys are typically used to authenticate and authorise access to APIs, allowing developers and applications to interact with a service or platform securely. When API keys are weak and not secure, it means that they lack sufficient randomness, complexity, or secrecy, making them easier for attackers to guess, intercept, or brute force. This can lead to unauthorised access to sensitive data or resources exposed through the API, as well as potential misuse of the API for malicious purposes.
Additionally, most of the APIs use JWT (JSON Web Token) or API keys for security. These methods help protect the API by allowing security tools to detect unusual activity and block access to the API key when necessary.

To secure API Key:

  • Use manual sign-up for the service.
  • Use 2-Factor Authentication to prevent bot traffic.
  • Implement Captcha to further deter automated attacks.

Injection attacks:

Injection attacks refer to a type of security vulnerability where attackers exploit input validation or insufficient sanitisation mechanisms to insert malicious code or commands into a system. These attacks typically target web applications, databases, or other software systems that accept user input, such as forms, search bars, or login fields.
Some of the common injection attacks include SQL attacks, command injection, LDAP (lightweight directory access protocol) attack, XPath injection, and etc. Injection attacks are dangerous because they can result in unauthorised access to sensitive data, compromise of system integrity, and unauthorised execution of commands.

To prevent injection attack:

  • Implement proper input validation and sanitisation techniques.
  • Use parameterised queries or prepared statements for database access.
  • Avoid executing user-supplied input as code.
  • Employ web application firewalls (WAFs) to detect and block injection attempts.
  • Regularly utilise security testing tools to identify and mitigate injection vulnerabilities.

Insufficient Logging:

Insufficient logging refers to a security vulnerability in which an application fails to log in to security events. This includes activities, such as login attempts, access control failures, or system errors. Insufficient logging can
When an application lacks sufficient logging, it becomes challenging for administrators and security teams to monitor and detect potential security incidents. This leads to delayed detection and response to security threats; allowing attackers to exploit vulnerabilities and carry out malicious activities unnoticed.

Insufficient logging can have several negative consequences, including:

  • Delayed Detection of Security Incidents
  • Difficulty in Incident Response
  • Limited Forensic Analysis
  • Regulatory Compliance Violations

To address insufficient logging vulnerabilities, you should:

  • Implement comprehensive logging mechanisms to capture security-relevant events and activities.
  • Ensure that logs are stored securely and protected from tampering or unauthorised access.
  • Regularly review and analyse logs to detect and respond to security incidents promptly.
  • Use security information and event management (SIEM) systems or log management platforms to centralise and automate log management processes.
  • Timely review and update logging policies and configurations to align with evolving security requirements and best practices.

Security Measures to Protect against API risks

Several security measures can be implemented to protect against API risks:

Authentication and Authorisation: Implement strong authentication mechanisms to verify the identity of users. This ensures that they have the necessary permissions to access resources through the API. This may include techniques such as OAuth, JWT (JSON Web Tokens), or API keys.

Input Validation and Sanitisation: Validate and sanitise all user inputs to prevent injection attacks such as SQL injection, XSS (Cross-Site Scripting), and LDAP injection. Ensure that only valid and expected data is processed by the API.

Encryption: Use encryption protocols such as HTTPS (HTTP Secure) to encrypt data transmitted between clients and the API server. This helps protect sensitive information from providing unauthorised access.

Rate Limiting and Throttling: Implement rate limiting and throttling mechanisms to restrict the number of requests that can be made to the API within a certain time frame. This helps prevent DDoS (Distributed Denial of Service) attacks and ensures fair usage of resources.

Monitoring and Logging: Monitor API traffic and log all requests and responses to detect and respond to security incidents in real-time. Implement centralized logging and monitoring solutions to track suspicious activities and unauthorised access attempts.

API Gateway: Use an API gateway to centralise security enforcement, authentication, and access control for all APIs. API gateways provide features such as rate limiting, authentication, authorisation, and traffic management to enhance API security.

Secure Development Practices: Follow secure development practices such as secure coding guidelines, code reviews, and vulnerability assessments. This helps in identifying and mitigating security vulnerabilities in the API codebase during development.

Regular Security Audits and Testing: Conduct regular security audits, penetration testing, and vulnerability assessments to identify and remediate security vulnerabilities. This helps ensure that the API remains secure against evolving threats and attacks.

API Lifecycle Management: Implement a comprehensive API lifecycle management. This process includes security considerations at each stage, from design and development to deployment and withdrawing. This ensures complete API security from the outset.

Protect against API risk

How can Ficode help in API Security?

To protect your APIs, it’s important to have complete visibility and understanding of the malicious activities. Ficode provides robust API development services by offering comprehensive visibility across your entire API infrastructure. Some of the steps we follow to ensure that your applications are completely hack-proof and doesn’t have any loop holes are:

  • Build a threat model: We Assess, mitigate, and prevent app vulnerabilities by evaluating risks through threat modelling.
  • Validate parameters: Our team ensure that incoming data doesn’t cause harm by validating it against a stringent schema.
  • Use tokens: Allocate tokens to identities for controlled access to trusted identities.
  • Use OAuth: Our experts implement OAuth for authorisation and authentication control
  • Use rate throttling and limiting: Prevent DDoS attacks and API spikes by setting rate limits on API calls.
  • Use API gateway: Employ API gateways for traffic enforcement, authentication, control, and monitoring.
  • Use service mesh: Add a layer of management and optimise functions by routing requests and ensuring access control.
  • Data encryption: Improve security by encrypting data using Transport Layer Security (TLS) and requiring signatures for modifications and decryption.
  • Zero-trust formula: Implement a zero-trust model focusing on resources and users rather than network location.
  • Find vulnerabilities: Identify insecure areas of the API lifecycle and track them through development stages.

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Conclusion

As APIs drive today’s digital world, developers must stay vigilant against security threats. API threat protection helps you stay ahead of attackers, hindering their attempts to exploit vulnerabilities and access sensitive data.

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