Why Are Traditional Security Measures Not Enough for API Cybersecurity?

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Every company right now, operating on the cloud, or for that matter with software in the pipeline, relies heavily on key APIs – Application Programming Interface security. There are no two ways about it. API security is a whole other beast. It’s more complex, more dynamic, and more dangerous. 

API cybersecurity is a whole other branch of security that differs greatly from traditional cybersecurity measures — a branch that has become an absolute necessity for companies that need to protect their critical services and their customers’ data. 

What is an API? 

API is an acronym for Application Programming Interface. It is a set of tools that allow developers to build software applications. The API simplifies the process by providing a standard way for programmers to interact with the software. API can be used in many different ways to achieve different goals. For example, some APIs are used as a data source while others are used as an interface between two separate applications.

There are 4 types of API right now:

  • Public: one that is open and available to the whole public. 
  • Partner: an API that’s only available to a selected few — it’s meant to facilitate B2B activities. 
  • Internal: This type of API is intended to be used solely within an organization. For example, one that can connect payroll to HR systems.
  • Composite: An API that combines two or more functions or types for a specific agenda. 

At their core, APIs exchange data, commands, and actions and demand a strict architecture and protocol — rules and regulations that govern and construct its functions. 

A great example of an API is those used by travel agencies. Airlines, hotels, and other vendors need to transfer data automatically and efficiently with a travel site, so they create an API for said site. Another example is all those ride-share apps that need access to Google Maps — the tech giant needs to give them an API that allows them to sync up their driver’s GPS with that of Google’s infrastructure. 

What is API cybersecurity? 

Security at its core is the process of protecting something from being damaged, harmed, or destroyed. Cybersecurity is the protection of computer systems from unauthorized access, damage, or exploitation.

APIs serve as an entry point to your network or applications, that’s why security is so important. Today, most organizations, due to the advent of cyber-threats have opted out of a zero-trust model. 

What is a zero-trust model?

It’s the stance that everyone regardless of who they are, is a threat. That no one can be trusted. This means that they limit all interaction – human or computer – to access their resources until properly authorized — and even then, those authorizations are basically “escorted” around their systems by armed guards. 

Zero-trust models put a lot of weight on API security — since, one of the most hazardous problems with APIs, is that security has to be built on both sides. You have to have redundancies in pale, in case the vendor or creator of that API drops the ball. 

What does API Application Programming Interface Security take into account?

Security takes into account the following aspects: 

  • Authentication: Authentication is the process by which a system verifies that you are who you say you are — Authentication can be done through username and password combination, and biometric data like a fingerprint scanner, facial recognition, etc.
  • Authorization: Authorization is the process by which a system determines what operations or resources you have access to based on your identity and permissions.
  •  Access Control: Access control is the process by which resources are protected from unauthorized use.
  • Auditing: Auditing is a log of changes made to digital data that can be used for tracking, detecting, or proving its authenticity
  • Remediation: remission takes into account what protocols and backups you have in place in case you are attacked. How to lessen the damage.

How is API security different from general application security? 

API security is a subset of application security. It focuses on the security of application programming interfaces – APIs – and the data they exchange. The main goal is to protect the API from unauthorized access and ensure that it’s available at all times.

In general, API security has four main components: authentication, authorization, confidentiality, and integrity. Authentication ensures that users are who they say they are and authorization ensures that users have permission to access the data they’re requesting. Confidentiality ensures that data is only accessible by authorized parties. Integrity ensures that data wasn’t altered or corrupted during transmission or storage.

The key characteristics of why API cybersecurity differs from traditional security are: 

Changes

Constant changes in the API landscape — APIs and how they function have nothing to do with your security protocols. You are at the mercy of some other developer. A developer that constantly changes aspects of it, plays with the code and transforms pattern rules and enforcements for better or worse. The landscape is constantly evolving. That’s why API security, from your end, is critical, you simply can’t trust that they’ve done their due diligence. 

Nature of API attacks. 

Traditional attacks like cross-site scripting are like bee stings — One and done. Attacks on API meanwhile are more wasp-like. They are unique and based on gaps in the API’s business logic. That’s why they take their time to mature. Hackers have to probe the API repeatedly and constantly to find out where there’s a vulnerability. 

There’s no Shift-Left

Shift left protocols right now are critical for your security posture. They make sure your codes, your apps, and your products take security into account right from inception. That they are constantly being put through the wringer throughout the entirety of the development process. An API, like all other code that enters your system from an outside source, can be tested this way. Why? Because the responsibility of security protocols and testing is not up to you — it’s up to the developer. 

Why is API cybersecurity important in 2022?

API security is important because it can be the gateway to your company’s data. If a hacker can access this, they can steal information, or manipulate it. And if you want to keep your customer’s data safe, you need to make sure that your API is secure.

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