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Traditional API Security Approaches are a Bulwark – But Companies Need a Comprehensive Strategy for Additional Defenses

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Written by: Ethen Casey & Louis Maggs

The digital landscape increasingly relies on APIs, serving as the backbone for modern applications and services. However, the dynamic nature of APIs, coupled with a rapidly evolving threat landscape, has exposed the inadequacies of traditional API security solutions. Let’s delve into why a more holistic approach to API security is imperative.

The Ever-Changing Landscape of APIs

APIs are far from static; they undergo frequent changes, with over 30% of APIs experiencing monthly modifications. This constant state of flux complicates the task of securing APIs, making traditional point solutions less effective.

Stealth and Adaptability: The Hallmarks of Modern Attacks

API attacks can be incredibly subtle, with “low and slow” probing revealing weaknesses and then scaling quickly, with attacks sometimes involving up to 100,000 requests per minute. These attacks are not only diverse in type but also in duration and origin. We’re increasingly seeing that attackers are highly adaptable, exploiting various components of APIs through different attack vectors. Using pivoting strategies, an exploit for one API endpoint can gain access to another, more valuable, endpoint.

The Documentation Gap

Shockingly, just 3% of organizations believe their APIs are adequately documented. This lack of comprehensive documentation exacerbates security challenges, leaving both internal teams unsure about vulnerabilities and full scope and users unclear about functionalities. This lack of documentation means that weaknesses that are commonly used by bad actors are often unknown by the teams charged with defending them.

The Adoption Cycle: A Differentiating Factor

Current API security vendors often start with traffic mirroring, gateway proxies, or agents, requiring a complex implementation for the user and a substantial time sink to understand the attack surface. We start with observations using synthetic tests. This approach makes it easier for organizations to gain immediate visibility into their API landscape. Internal stakeholders recognize the value of monitoring and observability, making the next logical step moving toward discovery using agents. The ultimate goal of API security should always be prevention, with protection as a bulwark, or last line of defense.

Strategies for a Comprehensive Approach

  • Enhanced Documentation: Filling the documentation gap is crucial for providing a clear understanding of an API’s functionalities and vulnerabilities.

  • Continuous Monitoring: Given the dynamic nature of APIs, real-time visibility into API activity is essential for identifying abnormal traffic, that could be a sign of an attack.

  • Behaviour Analysis: Investing in tools capable of analyzing the behaviour of API requests can serve as an early warning system against potential threats.

  • Security Governance: Establishing a robust security governance framework is vital for defining access controls, authentication mechanisms, and encryption standards to safeguard API endpoints.

  • Holistic API Security Solutions: Partnering with organizations specializing in API security can offer insights into API quality, performance, security, and governance, facilitating proactive detection and mitigation of API attacks.

Conclusion

The limitations of traditional API security measures are becoming increasingly apparent in today’s complex digital landscape. A more comprehensive, holistic approach is needed—one that starts with easy-to-adopt observation methods and evolves toward a prevention-focused strategy. By adopting such an approach, organizations can better mitigate the risks associated with APIs and ensure the security of their digital operations.

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