An Application Programming Interface (API) acts as the intermediate layer between the client and the server, facilitating the communication and data exchange between them. According to a recent API security survey conducted by Imvision, 73% of businesses currently use more than 50 APIs. As the use of APIs has surged over the years, the threats for API security are also on the rise. Thus, It is crucial to understand the importance of API security as one of the topmost security concerns in IT enterprises.
What is the importance of API security?
APIs expose sensitive information
APIs expose the internal data of businesses to external parties, and these data can range from trivial to business-critical information such as personal, financial, and medical data. A single API flaw could be sufficient to expose sensitive information to cybercriminals. For instance,
- In 2017, attackers obtained email addresses and phone numbers of high-profile accounts on Instagram through its API flaw, and this data is now being used in other search databases.
- In 2018, the Google+ People API exposed data from more than a half-million users that had been marked as ‘private.’ External reports claimed that this API vulnerability might have been exposing data since 2015.
These stolen identities could be used for illegal purposes. For instance, data such as email addresses of users can be used to login into other accounts, and their social media profiles might also be compromised. Companies have been sued due to such sensitive data breaches.
Some features offered by APIs could also become the point of attack as in the case of the Twitter API exploitation, where attackers used one of its API endpoints to match Twitter accounts using phone numbers. This type of API vulnerability can exploit the personal information of millions of users. These exploitations can damage the reputation of companies as the trust of consumers is lost, and customers may even discontinue using the services of the company.
What are the misuses of API keys?
Even though APIs use strong authentication and authorization mechanisms to identify legitimate users, there can still be vulnerabilities. For instance, in the Starbucks API key exposure, one of the developers accidentally left an API key in a public Github repository which enabled manipulating the list of authorized users. Therefore, proper API key management is essential to avoiding such unnecessary data breaches. Furthermore, it is important to make API security a part of the development process rather than building afterwards.
APIs vulnerability to MITM, DOS, and DDOS attacks
Most of the API attacks reported worldwide are Man-In-The-Middle (MITM) attacks where unauthorized external parties intercept the communication between APIs. This interception of data in transit can be avoided by embedding security techniques such as asymmetric encryption, or else confidential information can be exposed to hackers. Hackers can initiate Denial-of-service (DOS) attacks or Distributed-Denial-Of-Service (DDOS) attacks by making too many API calls the server cannot handle. This will lead to performance degradations and system downtimes. Ultimately, businesses could face severe financial loss if they are not well-prepared for such circumstances.
Growth of Cloud APIs
With organizations rapidly moving to the cloud, API threats in cloud platforms are also expected to rise. As mentioned previously, there are several possible attacks against APIs, which makes it very challenging to secure them. Thus, cloud hosting providers such as AWS and Google Cloud are paying attention to API security more than ever. For example, AWS uses REST API monitoring and has introduced best practices to defend their API gateways.
As discussed above, tightening API security should be the primary focus of API-driven businesses as there can be adverse effects if their APIs are vulnerable to cyber threats. The primary measures for API security should be taken from the API design level. API developers should be well-aware of the potential security loopholes in APIs, and they should possess the most up-to-date knowledge about the state-of-the-art methods of protecting them.
How apilayer can help you
At apilayer, we have focused on security across the entire suite of APIs we offer. Connections to these APIs can be established via industry-standard 256-bit SSL encryption and we use secure databases to house data. This provides protection from unauthorized access from third parties. We take steps to protect against DDOS attacks and ensure our users will continue to have API access even if malicious parties attempt to attack the APIs. It’s no wonder millions of users trust apilayer with their API needs.