Appsec Knowledge Center

2024 API Risk Management: Secure Your APIs In Cloud-Native World

5 min.

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API Risk Management In 2024

In today’s digital-first era, cloud computing and mobile applications are at the forefront of innovation.

Technology advancements have resulted in more application programming interfaces (APIs) than ever.

An API is a set of routines, protocols, and tools developers use to build software applications. They define how software components interact and communicate with one another.

This enables integration between different applications and systems and allows software developers to develop complex software applications more efficiently. And because APIs are the backbone of modern software applications, malicious actors are increasingly likely to use an API attack to compromise a business.

In these complex environments, Chief Information Security Officers (CISOs) must understand API security risk management and choose API vulnerability scanning tools to protect the enterprise from emerging threats due to an API attack or API vulnerability.

APIs Risk Assessment & Management In A Cloud-Native World

As more organizations have moved to the cloud and adopted as-a-Service models, the number of APIs has skyrocketed.

Development teams use APIs to create applications quickly, creating internal APIs to connect to internal microservices or applications and using external APIs to integrate with outside resources.

Many developers do not know how to secure APIs or how to document them.

Understanding the difference between documented and undocumented APIs (often called shadow APIs or zombie APIs) is important.

  • Documented APIs: These APIs are officially recorded and part of an API inventory, making them easier to manage and secure.
  • Undocumented APIs or Shadow APIs: Undocumented APIs are APIs that exist and function within a system but are not officially documented, which means their existence, purpose, functionalities, and security protocols haven’t been formally declared by the creators or maintainers. Also known as shadow APIs, these APIs are often created for internal use, during development phases, or to meet an urgent business need, but teams may forget about them. They may not have the proper authentication and access gates in place, potentially exposing sensitive data.
    Undocumented APIs can provide entry points for attackers, so security teams must identify, manage, and secure them.
    Zombie APIs are created when developers create new versions of the same API when they update an application, but developers don’t decommission the earlier version to avoid an impact to user experience if there’s a problem with the new version.
    Often, development teams forget about the previous version of the API, which means it continues to run, but is not documented and therefore is unprotected.

As developers create new APIs or make updates to existing ones, they may not update the security teams about changes, making it impossible to configure controls to protect those APIs.
API security risk management and API protection assessment are impossible without appropriate API security testing tools and aligning to API security best practices.

What Is API Security?

API security refers to the API security best practices (like OWASP Top 10) and API security solutions used to prevent the exploitation of API vulnerabilities. And because APIs connect so many services and many APIs also transfer data, it’s important to align to API security standards to ensure API protection. If an API attack successfully compromises an API, the consequences may be significant, including:

  • Exposure of data: A malicious actor could use a compromised API to leak sensitive user information, financial data, or even trade secrets, causing damage to the company’s reputation and its bottom line.
  • Impact on functionality: An attacker could manipulate APIs to disrupt critical functionality, making applications and services inaccessible and negatively impacting millions of users.
  • Loss of trust: Customers rely on the systems they interact with to be secure. A breach can destroy trust, prevent new customers from signing on, and negatively impact future business growth.

API security protects APIs from exploitation, unauthorized access, and misuse by limiting access to authorized parties and ensuring the data transmitted through APIs remains secure and private.

Because APIs play such a vital role in software applications today, having an API security strategy is critical because protects data and enables security leaders to safeguard an organization’s digital infrastructure.

Addressing API Security Risks & Vulnerabilities

Modern, cloud-native applications comprise microservices, containers, open source libraries, infrastructure as code, and many APIs. Most organizations use both internal and external APIs, relying on web application firewalls (WAFs) and API gateways to protect applications. However, these API security solutions may not sit in front of the entire application and neither solution offers API protection for undocumented APIs. WAFs, web application and API protection (WAAP) solutions, and API gateways only protect APIs after they are in production.

By including API security in the software development lifecycle (SDLC), organizations can align with secure coding practices and discover APIs by scanning APIs for vulnerabilities and testing source code with advanced static application security testing (SAST). Using an API security platform, organizations can shift API security testing left and enable developers to conduct API security testing in development using familiar tools, such as the Checkmarx One Enterprise AppSec platform.

API Security Risk Management Best Practices

One of the challenges of cloud API security is that it can be difficult to know which APIs are in use. To manage risks related to API security, security teams need to know what APIs are in place and where. Select API security testing tools, such as Checkmarx API security, that enable API security testing and API security management by providing these capabilities:

  • API Inventory: Create a full inventory using an API vulnerability scanner to find all APIs and detect API vulnerabilities to prioritize remediation based on actual business risk.
  • API Discovery: Scan source code and documentation to identify and inventory every API, both documented and hidden APIs, that exists in the digital infrastructure at the organization.
  • API Documentation Scanning: Scan API documentation automatically and compare it to the global inventory to discover data discrepancies and undocumented APIs.
  • API Change Log: View the history of API changes to discover when or how risks were introduced.
  • Checkmarx DAST: Dynamic application security testing (DAST) helps identify zombie and shadow APIs by testing code in in live applications. Using Checkmarks One, security teams can see API vulnerabilities identified by SAST and DAST tools in a single location, the API global inventory, enabling easier correlation of vulnerabilities identified using these testing tools and prioritized vulnerability remediation.

Robust API security testing solutions enable organizations to identify all APIs to address risks effectively. This API security vulnerability assessment methodology enables application security teams and developers to focus on the most critical areas by prioritizing API vulnerabilities based on business value and risk. This reduces the cognitive load on teams managing multiple security and compliance requirements.

Adopt Dynamic API Security Posture

Enterprises must take a proactive approach to cloud API security.

By adopting secure coding practices, shifting API security left, and building an accurate API inventory, CISOs can identify API security risks early and address them quickly, minimizing risk exposure.

This enables enterprises to defend against API attacks and develop new applications and services confident that APIs in place adhere to established API security standards.