10 Common API Security Risks You Need to Know About in 2023

In today’s digital world, where hundreds of thousands of new apps are being released every day, and where the average app uses 26 to 50 APIs, API security couldn’t be more important.

However, as cyber threats continue to rise, APIs have become a prime target for hackers to exploit vulnerabilities and gain unauthorized access to sensitive data and systems.

Despite having several API security technologies in place, 94% of organizations reported having an API-related security event in the previous year. 57% of those surveyed had multiple API-related security problems.

Even more troubling, 74% of businesses claimed to have a robust API security program.

While it can be true that many organizations have implemented robust security measures to safeguard their APIs, there are still some commonly overlooked API security risks that can lead to significant risks. In this article, we’ll explore ten of the most common security threats you should be on the lookout for when using APIs.

But before diving in, let’s answer these three fundamental questions:

What is an API?

An API (Application Programming Interface) enables software applications to communicate with one another. It is an essential component of current software paradigms like microservice architectures or API-first architectures.

What is API Security?

API security refers to the practices and systems in place to protect application programming interfaces (APIs) from unauthorized access, modification, or exploitation.

API security is at the crossroads of three main areas of security:

API Security — from API Security in Action by Neil Madden (2020)

API security also deals with security issues like content validation, access control, rate limiting, monitoring and analytics, throttling, data security, and identity-based security.

When sensitive data is transferred through an API, a secure API can ensure the message’s confidentiality by making it available to applications, users, and servers using proper permissions, and by encrypting it during transmission

Similarly, securing APIs ensures content integrity by verifying that the message has not been altered after transmission.

Why Is API Security Important in Data integration?

API security is crucial in data integration because APIs act as a bridge between different software applications. The data exchanged through APIs may contain sensitive information, such as personal details or financial data, making it vital to ensure that this data is protected from unauthorized access.

Without proper security measures, APIs can be vulnerable to cyber-attacks, putting both the data being exchanged and the systems involved at risk.

Malicious users could exploit these vulnerabilities to manipulate or steal sensitive data, disrupting workflows and causing damage to businesses.

A notable example is T-Mobile API Breach. Last year, T-Mobile disclosed a data breach in which a threat actor gained access to the personal information of 37 million existing postpaid and prepaid customer accounts via one of its APIs.

Also, with AI usage being democratized, attackers, with the “help” of AI tools like ChatGPT can build more sophisticated attacks. Some use cases, showed how ChatGPT can do basic PenTesting, identify flaws and exploit them in an “efficient” manner.

Top 10 Security Risks 2023

In response to the escalating API security threats, the Open Web Application Security Project (OWASP) has released an updated Top 10 Security Risks list for 2023. This list helps organizations understand the most important API security problems they face. These are:

1. Broken Object-Level Authorization

Endpoints that handle object identifiers are frequently exposed through APIs. Any function that takes user input and uses it to access a data source could create a Level Access Control issue, making the attack area bigger. You should do object-level authorization checks on all such functions.

2. Broken User Authentication

Attackers often take advantage of authentication systems that are not set up properly. They could steal an authentication token or find a flaw in the way the system works and use that to pose as another user, either temporarily or permanently. According to the findings from Salt Labs, 78% of API endpoint attacks are perpetrated by people who appear to be legitimate but are actually attackers. If the system’s ability to identify the client/user is compromised, the whole API security is jeopardized.

3. Excessive Data Exposure & Mass Assignment

Excessive data exposure happens when sensitive properties are exposed during a read operation, while mass assignment allows attackers to modify properties during a write operation.

These flaws, when combined, allow attackers to access and modify an object’s properties without first verifying permissions. This can lead to information disclosure, loss, or corruption, and under certain circumstances, privilege escalation or partial or full account takeover.

4. Lack of Resources and Rate Limiting

APIs usually don’t limit how many or how big resources a client or user can request. This can lead to operational costs (such as those related to infrastructure), but even worse, it can slow down the API server, which can lead to a Denial of Service (DoS) due to resource starvation and expose authentication flaws that can be used in brute-force attacks.

5. Broken Function-Level Authorization

Authorization issues often happen when access control policies are too complicated or when there isn’t a clear distinction between regular and administrative functions. Attackers can use these holes to get to a user’s resources or perform administrative functions.

6. Security Misconfiguration

Security misconfigurations are often caused by inadequate default settings, ad-hoc or incomplete configurations, misconfigured HTTP headers or inappropriate HTTP methods, insufficiently restrictive Cross-Origin Resource Sharing (CORS), open cloud storage, or error messages that contain sensitive information.

7. Injection

Injection flaws, like SQL injection, NoSQL injection, and command injection, happen when data from an unknown source is sent to an interpreter through a query or command. Attackers can send malicious data to trick the interpreter into running dangerous commands or give the attacker access to data without appropriate authorization.

8. Improper Asset Management

APIs usually have more endpoints than standard web applications, so they need structured, up-to-date documentation. Issues like exposed debug endpoints and old API versions that are no longer supported can make the attack area bigger. This can be prevented by compiling a list of deployed API versions and correctly configuring hosts.

9. Insufficient Logging & Monitoring

It usually takes more than 200 days to find a persistent threat, and breaches are usually found by someone outside the company. This shows how important effective API monitoring is. Because insufficient logging, monitoring, and incident response integration can be used by attackers to persist in a system longer, gain a stronger grip, and steal or destroy more data.

10. Unsafe API Consumption

Because developers trust data from third-party APIs more than user input, they tend to adopt less strict security standards. In order to compromise APIs, attackers target integrated third-party services rather than the target API itself. Successful exploitation may expose sensitive data to unauthorized parties, insert several types of malware, or degrade functionality.

Closing thoughts

API security is more critical than ever in the modern digital landscape, with rising cyber threats and the increasing reliance on APIs. Despite numerous security measures, common API security risks are often overlooked, leading to potential breaches. A proper understanding and mitigation of these risks can protect sensitive data and systems from unauthorized access and exploitation.

Understanding APIs, their security, and their role in data integration is the first step. The most common API security threats in 2023 include broken object-level authorization, broken user authentication, excessive data exposure, lack of resources, broken function-level authorization, security misconfiguration, injection, improper asset management, insufficient logging, and unsafe API consumption.

Therefore, organizations must consistently stay abreast of these threats, regularly update their security practices and technologies, and take into account the constantly evolving nature of cyber threats. Remember, every data breach prevented is a victory against cybercrime.

Thank you for reading! Please follow and clap if you liked this article! Feel free to share your thoughts, comments and feedback! You can also follow me on Twitter and LinkedIn.

If you want to learn more about Data Integration, you can follow this Udemy course or read the Data Integration Guide!