Breaking Down the OWASP API Security Top 10 (Part 2)

Due to the widespread usage of APIs, and the fact that attackers realize APIs are a new attack frontier, the OWASP API Security Top 10 Project was launched. From the beginning, the project was designed to help organizations, developers, and application security teams become increasingly aware of the risks associated with APIs. This past December, the 1st version of the OWASP API Security Top 10 2019 was finalized and published on OWASP. In my first article on this topic, I provided a high-level view of the interaction between API endpoints, modern apps, and backend servers, in addition to how they’re different from their traditional browser-based counterparts. I also discussed why this project was so important to the contributors and industry overall. In my second article, I focused on the first five (5) risks and emphasized some of the possible attack scenarios in the context of the risks. In this article, I will attempt to clarify the last five (5) risks to help organizations understand the dangers associated with deficient API implementations. The following discussion follows the same order as found in the OWASP API Security Top 10.

API6:2019 – Mass Assignment:

Modern frameworks encourage developers to use functions that automatically bind input from the client into code variables and internal objects. What this means is that users should have the ability to update their user name, contact details, etc. (within their profiles for example), but they should not be able to change their user-level permissions, adjust account balances, and other administrative-like functions. An API endpoint is considered vulnerable if it automatically converts the client input into internal object properties, without considering the sensitivity and the exposure level of these properties. This could allow an attacker to update things that they should not have access to. Example Attack Scenario: To illustrate this further, imagine that a ride sharing application provides the user the option to edit basic information about themselves in their user profile. For example, they can adjust their user name, age, etc. In this case, the API request would look like this: PUT /api/v1/users/me with the following legitimate information {"user_name":"john","age":24} However, the attacker determines that the request GET /api/v1/users/me includes an additional credit_balance property (field) as shown below. {"user_name":"john","age":24,"credit_balance":10}. The attacker desires to increase their credit balance on their own and replays the first request with the following payload: {"user_name":"john","age":24,"credit_balance":99999} Since the endpoint is vulnerable to mass assignment, the attacker can easily adjust their own credit_balance at will, for example changing it from 10 credits to 99999 as shown above.

API7:2019 – Security Misconfiguration:

Attackers will often attempt to find unpatched flaws, common endpoints, or unprotected files and directories to gain unauthorized access or knowledge of the system they want to attack. Security misconfigurations can not only expose sensitive user data, but also system details that may lead to full server compromise. Example Attack Scenario: Say for instance that an attacker uses a popular search engine like Shodan to search for computers and devices directly accessible from the Internet. The attacker found a server running a popular database management system, listening on the default TCP port. The database management system was using the default configuration, which has authentication disabled by default, and the attacker gained access to millions of records with PII, personal preferences, and authentication data.

API8:2019 – Injection:

Injection vulnerabilities cause computing systems to potentially process malicious data that attackers introduce. To put it in its simplest terms, attackers inject code into a vulnerable piece of software and change the way the software is intended to be executed. As a result, injection attacks can be somewhat disastrous, since they normally lead to data theft, data loss, data corruption, denial of service, etc. Example Attack Scenario: Suppose an attacker starts inspecting the network traffic of their web browser and identifies the following API request designed to help a user recover their password. The attacker identifies the request responsible to start the recovery-password process as follows: POST /api/accounts/recovery {"username": "[email protected]"} Then the attacker replays the request with a different payload: POST /api/account/recovery {"email": "[email protected]';WAITFOR DELAY '0:0:5'--"} By adding the ;WAITFOR DELAY '0:0:5'--" the attacker observes that the response from the API took ~5 seconds longer, which helps confirm the API is vulnerable to SQL injection. Exploiting the injection vulnerability, the attacker was able to gain unauthorized access to the system.

API9:2019 – Improper Assets Management:

Old API versions are often unpatched and can become an easy way to compromise systems without having to fight state-of-the-art security systems, which might be in place to protect the most recent API versions. Attackers may gain access to sensitive data, or even takeover the server through old, unpatched API versions connected to the same database. Example Attack Scenario: Say for instance that an organization redesigning their applications forgot about an old API version ( and left it unprotected, and with access to the user database. While targeting one of the latest released applications, an attacker found the API address ( Replacing v2 with v1 in the URL gave the attacker access to the old, unprotected API, exposing the personal identifiable information (PII) of millions of users.

API10:2019 – Insufficient Logging and Monitoring:

Without logging and monitoring, or with insufficient logging and monitoring, it is almost impossible to track suspicious activities targeting APIs and respond to them in a timely fashion. Without visibility over ongoing malicious activities, attackers have plenty of time to potentially compromise systems and steal data. Example Attack Scenario Imagine that a video-sharing platform was hit by a “large-scale” credential stuffing attack. Despite failed logins being logged, no alerts were triggered during the timespan of the attack, and it proceeded without being noticed. As a reaction to user complaints about a possible breach, API logs were analyzed and the attack was detected, way after the fact. The company had to make a public announcement asking users to reset their passwords, and report the incident to their regulatory authorities. Pertaining to the five (5) risks above, one could easily imagine similar attack scenarios. Those provided were just examples of the nearly unlimited possibilities when attacking vulnerable API implementations. Hopefully, you can see the risks above are primarily caused by errors or oversights that could be easily remedied, especially when it comes to the way organizations utilize APIs today.

About the Author

About the Author

Never miss an update. Subscribe today!

By submitting my information to Checkmarx, I hereby consent to the terms and conditions found in the Checkmarx Privacy Policy and to
the processing of my personal data as described therein. By clicking submit below, you consent to allow Checkmarx
to store and process the personal information submitted above to provide you the content requested.
Skip to content