Appsec Knowledge Center

API Management Best Practice: Automated API Security Testing

6 min.

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Navigating The API Security Landscape

APIs are the name of the game for any company with its sights set on growth and innovation. These application programming interfaces are the interconnected highways of the digital world. They help development teams move quicker and more efficiently to keep up with the speed of businesses.

It’s not unusual for a single developer to use 10 to 15 APIs for each application they build. But what is the API management best practice for organizations with large development teams to document and keep track of hundreds and even thousands of APIs? More importantly, how do they prevent API security threats? With everything moving to the cloud, this become one of the most challenging puzzles of API threat protection. The hard truth is that developers and security teams that want to stay ahead of the API curve can’t do it alone with standard tools. They need help – and that help is through automated API security testing.

Why APIs Are Inherently Vulnerable

By their nature, APIs are rife with weaknesses and easy targets for attack by hackers and criminals. This is not surprising considering APIs account for over 80% of all web traffic today. Yet, developers are quickly pumping out APIs without always paying attention to API security testing. Often, multiple teams work on the same project and contribute to the same API, making the ownership unclear. Sometimes developers sprint to get an API into production and forget to create the corresponding documentation. As a result, most APIs are released into production before undergoing any form of API vulnerability testing.

Unfortunately, none of the traditional technological solutions today adequately address all pieces of API security risks as outlined in the OWASP API Security Top 10 for 2023. Some of these unique vulnerabilities and risks include broken object-level authorization, unrestricted access to sensitive business flows, and improper inventory management. The consequences of ignoring these flaws can be catastrophic. Attackers might attempt to abuse paths for logged-in users, exfiltrate sensitive data by fuzz testing the endpoints, or force the site down using DDoS attacks. In many API attacks, adversaries work under the radar over the course of many months or even years, bypassing traditional security methods and leading to massive losses of data.

However, one of the most vulnerable parts of an API doesn’t get talked about much at all — hidden APIs.

Shadow And Zombie APIs

API sprawl happens when organizations fail to keep track of which internal and external APIs they are using, known as undocumented APIs. So, how to find undocumented APIs? It’s not easy. With so many in use, managing inventories and corresponding documentation can become overwhelming.

Sometimes an API is developed and deployed without an application but it’s never actually used. The result is a zombie API. Or an API that was quickly built to address a business need, outside of official processes and governance. These are called shadow APIs. Neither of these APIs are properly documented or decommissioned, leaving an exposed attack surface. Finding these hidden APIs requires a special approach that is not normally infused within typical API security solutions.

Limitations Of Traditional API Security Testing

Most of the traditional API security platforms in use today, including web access firewalls (WAFs), API gateways and load balancers, are unable to get the job done.

The overall problem is that these solutions are only scanning APIs that are live at the end of the code lifecycle. Additionally, WAFs and gateways are largely run on signature-based rules that are designed to catch known attack patterns.

Rules can’t be configured for unknown vulnerabilities or zero-day bugs. And what about the security vulnerabilities and weaknesses that cannot be seen — like the zombies and shadows that are undocumented and do not use live traffic but are still an open attack surface? The reality is that many APIs are going into production outside of the purview of security frameworks.

Introducing API Security Testing Automation

Piling all these issues onto the plate, it’s easy to see why even the most astute developers and AppSec teams can’t keep up with the growth of APIs without automated API security tools.

Forward-thinking API security testing and monitoring tools like Checkmarx One use a holistic solution that spans the whole lifecycle of the API — not just one little part of it.

This “shift left” approach starts with API vulnerability scanning tools in the development stage, which catch problems before they reach production, where the fixes are cheaper and easier.

It also takes into account API documentation, ensures compliance, and finds hidden APIs.

These API security testing automation tools also integrate with other tools (like static and dynamic code analysis) to provide continuous monitoring throughout the entire lifecycle.

Learn more about automated API security solutions provided by experts like Checkmarx, and see how it all works:

  1. Design: All API documentation (Swagger, RAML files etc.) are scanned before developers start coding to ensure that security is added to this process.
  2. Coding: Scanning is integrated into the tools developers are already using, so there is no need to work with yet another dashboard. Developers can run a scan at any time using the CLI, getting prioritization suggestions and guided remediation.
  3. Check-in: Source code is scanned again at check-in or code merge, and findings are aggregated for a full API inventory. The inventory is cross-referenced against the API documentation to make sure no zombie or shadow APIs were missed.
  4. Build: Once in the CI/CD pipeline, the API security management system sends developers and AppSec teams updates on flaws, and automatically opens tickets (closing them when resolved).
  5. Deploy: Deployments are secured using infrastructure as code. Common IaC files are parsed to detect insecure configurations that could expose APIs.

The Checkmarx One API security solution doesn’t just scan individual APIs in isolation but looks at them within the context of each other and the entirety of the source code — exactly the way an attacker does.

Peace Of Mind With End-To-End API Protection

Developers can’t handle API security management alone if they want to continue working fast and scaling up. They also can’t rely on current solutions that focus on live traffic that will miss hidden APIs and problems with documentation. The Checkmarx One API security platform offers a complete holistic approach, spanning the entire SDLC. It provides the assurance that security touchpoints are doing what humans can’t. To find out why automation is AppSec’s best friend when it comes to API protection, visit the Checkmarx One page on API security.