Demystifying API Security

June 13, 2024

Demystifying API Security

API security is no longer another tech buzzword. 

But a pressing concern for CISOs& Engineering leaders, bearing immense weight in safeguarding enterpriseinterests.

So, what's the path to effectiveAPI Security?

The quest for answers might appearelusive at first glance, but it all boils down to the questions you ask. 

These questions wield immensepower, shaping your security endeavors and determining the efficacy of yourchosen solutions.

Therefore, asking the rightquestions is paramount to making informed decisions and tackling API Securitychallenges effectively. 

The foremost step is theidentification of security loopholes you’d like to address within yourSDLC. 

Various stages of the SDLC pose distinct challenges: 

  • Lack     of API Inventory: Identifying all APIs within an organization proves     challenging, leading to vulnerability blind spots.
  • Governance:     Ensuring APIs comply with security policies and best practices during     development and deployment.
  • API     Security Testing: Proactively identifying and rectifying vulnerabilities     in APIs before deployment.
  • Attack     Detection and Protection: Detecting and mitigating attacks targeting APIs     in production environments

Once you've delineated the stage you seek to address, it's imperative tocrystallize your approach from these options:

  • Static     Application Security Testing (SAST) solutions
  • Proactive     testing platforms
  • API     Web Application Firewalls (WAFs)
  • API     Gateways

While each solution addresses distinct issues using various approaches,they intersect within the SDLC framework. Some may even offer multifacetedsolutions. 

Regardless, here are the questions you should be asking the vendor ateach stage: 


Lack of API Inventory:

Most development teams overlook spec-first API design, leavingbrownfield applications devoid of API documentation. This oversight lays thegroundwork for a plethora of API-related security issues.

So, should API Security Solutions offer a comprehensive APIinventory? 


Detecting vulnerabilities without a comprehensive understanding of theirorigins is akin to shooting arrows in the dark.

And any inventory is also not enough. 


The solution must provide an accurate and comprehensive API Inventorycomprising the following: 

- Internal APIs: Facilitating communication among company applications,like microservices APIs.

- External APIs: Internet-facing APIs utilized by web and mobileapplications and developers for integration.

- Third-Party APIs: Integrating external APIs into internal systems.

- Authenticated or Unauthenticated APIs

- APIs handling sensitive data

- Infrequently accessed APIs


This differentiation is crucial as it determines the depth and extent ofAPI inventory a solution provides. When evaluating products, consider thefollowing questions:

- How is the inventory compiled? Is it through code analysis, web serveraccess logs, or runtime traffic observation?

- Does the solution differentiate between staging, production, anddevelopment environments?

- Can it automatically document APIs and generate OpenAPI Specs?

- Does it provide insights into request and response details andauthentication and authorization mechanisms?

These questions are pivotal, as some solutions merely offer a list ofpaths without providing a comprehensive overview of the API inventory. Withoutthis clarity, enforcing best practices and rectifying misconfigurations becomesan exercise in futility.

API Governance:

Once you've established an accurate API inventory, governance becomesimperative.

 It involves enforcing rules and policies governing APIinteractions with their environments.

While some solutions claim to assess OpenAPI Spec adherence, thisapproach is contingent upon developers adopting a spec-first approach. 

But what if they haven't?

Enforcing best practices at rest is feasible post-spec adoption. 

However, enforcing these rules at runtime, uncovering misconfigurations,and addressing server information leaks in response headers pose challenges.

When evaluating governance solutions, consider the following:

- How are rules enforced?

- Which APIs are covered?

- Is the enforcement passive or active?

- How does rule enforcement impact performance?

- Is it applicable across various languages, applications, environments,frameworks, and API gateways?

- Can custom rules and configurations be created?

Pre-Production Testing:

Also known as active testing or API penetration testing, this phaseinvolves continuously testing applications in runtime before going live.Despite its significance, it's often overlooked in API Security evaluations.

To ascertain a product's efficacy in uncovering vulnerabilities,consider the following:

- How are tests generated?

- Are they specific to your application?

- Can authentication and authorization be automated?

- What's the depth and duration of testing?

- Can tests be modified and executed swiftly?

- How are vulnerabilities reported?

Detection & Respond in Production:

In today's landscape, it's not a question of whether your applicationsare being attacked but rather how frequently.

As you evaluate solutions at the production stage, your objective shouldencompass a spectrum of actions, from blocking specific attacks, users, or IPsto implementing additional security protocols or rules within API gateways.

To ensure scalability and minimize additional workload for your team,it's crucial to delve into the following questions:

- How valuable are detection alerts to your team, and how efficientlycan they be assessed to generate meaningful insights?

- What effort is required from your team to conduct thorough assessmentsand derive actionable alerts?

- Is the solution inundating your team with excessive data logging,potentially hindering practical analysis?

When scrutinizing solutions for detecting attacks on APIs in production,direct these inquiries to the vendor:

- What attacks are commonly encountered, and how does the solutionidentify and handle them? 

- Are the detection rules configurable to adapt to evolving threats?s

Another strategy in API security at this juncture involves proactiveprotection. While some vendors boast of seamlessly detecting and thwarting allAPI attacks, this claim may seem overly optimistic. 

The reality is that APIs operate with minimal latency and swift responsetimes, making accurate threat detection and prevention challenging.

Should you consider this protection-centric approach, seek clarity fromvendors by posing the following questions:

- How does the solution precisely block malicious requests whileminimizing false positives?

- What measures are in place to ascertain and mitigate false positivesand negatives?

- Can the solution be tailored to accommodate specific security rulesand configurations per your organization's needs?



API Security is not a one-size-fits-all solution; it requires a nuancedunderstanding of your organization's needs and challenges. 

We hope that you can thoroughly evaluate solutions by asking thesequestions. And as a result, safeguard your digital assets in this increasinglyinterconnected world. 

elliptical light
  • Runtime Agnostic
  • Cloud Agnostic
  • Programming Language Agnostic

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