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Which Are the Best Practices For Securing APIs?

APIs play an essential role in the modern enterprise, and their value will continue to grow as new applications, and IoT devices are created. APIs make integrations and connecting ecosystems much easier for developers, which has added benefits for enterprises and their customers. But with a growing number of smaller application “pieces” trying to communicate with each other, APIs (your own and those from third parties) are becoming increasingly challenging to secure.

For that reason, organizations should, use a layered security approach that includes security controls such as authentication, authorization, encryption, denial-of-service protection, and ongoing monitoring. This layered approach combines several methods to protect your APIs. While each individual approach within this multi-layered approach covers a specific focus area, the unified effect increases the chances of stopping API breaches. But before presenting some API security best practices, let us introduce the main API security issues that can put your business assets at a risk. Negligence with API security can cause massive repercussions, especially if the application’s user base is too high.

Top security issues in APIs:

  • Broken Object Level Authorization

APIs tend to expose endpoints that handle object identifiers, creating a wide attack surface Level Access Control issue. Object level authorization checks should be considered in every function that accesses a data source using an input from the user.

  • Broken User Authentication

Attackers often compromise authentication tokens or implementation flaws to assume other user’s identities temporarily or permanently due to incorrect implementation of authentication mechanisms. Compromising a system’s ability to identify the client/user, compromises API security overall.

  • Excessive Data Exposure

Looking forward to generic implementations, developers tend to expose all object properties without considering their individual sensitivity, relying on clients to perform the data filtering before displaying it to the user.

  • Lack of Resources & Rate Limiting

In most cases, APIs do not impose any restrictions on the size or number of resources that can be requested by the client/user. This can impact the API server performance, leading to Denial of Service (DoS), and also leave the door open to authentication flaws such as brute force.

  • Insufficient Logging & Monitoring

Insufficient logging and monitoring, coupled with missing or ineffective integration with incident response, allows attackers to further attack systems, maintain persistence, pivot to more systems to tamper with, extract, or destroy data.

As said above, the most critical API risks are data overexposure, lack of resources, no security configuration, insecure user-level authorization, and broken objects. Clearly, it is essential to ensure the security of the API so that application user data remains safe and the application is secure and trustworthy.

Here are eight best practices to ensure APIs are shielded and do not lead to critical security exposures.

1. Identify vulnerabilities

The only way to effectively secure APIs is to know which parts of the API lifecycle are insecure. Of course, that’s easier said than done, especially as the organization’s use of APIs scales. It is important to consider the whole API lifecycle, since APIs need to be considered software artifacts on their own and, as such, must follow a complete lifecycle, including maintenance and retirement.

2. Use strong Authentication and Authorization

Many publicly available APIs have a major issue of zero or insignificant authentication and authorization. Many APIs are the entrance to the database of the organization, so it is essential to strictly control the authentication and authorization so that the database is not exposed. Poor or non-existent authentication and authorization are major issues with many publicly available APIs. For authentication, developers can use a powerful token-based tool known as OAuth. It is a framework that authorizes the information to be shared with a third party without disclosing the user credentials.

3. Identify vulnerabilities in the API

To make an API effective against security threats, it is essential to know which parts of the API cycle are insecure and vulnerable to security risks. It might be pretty challenging to comprehend this, as a software organization might use thousands of APIs at a time. The best way to identify a vulnerability is by rigorous testing. The vulnerabilities must be identified in the initial development phase so that rectifying them becomes comparatively easy and quick.

4. Don’t expose more data than necessary

Some APIs reveal far too much information, whether it’s the volume of extraneous data that’s returned through the API or information that reveals too much about the API endpoint. This typically occurs when an API leaves the task of filtering data to the user interface instead of the endpoint. Ensure that APIs only return as much information as is necessary to fulfill their function. In addition, enforce data access controls at the API level, monitor data, and obfuscate if the response contains confidential data.

5. Encrypt data

This cannot be stated more strongly or more often: All data, especially personally identifiable data, should be encrypted using a method such as Transport Layer Security (TLS). Developers should also require signatures to ensure that only authorized users are decrypting and modifying data.

6. Use an API gateway

API gateways act as the major point of enforcement for API traffic. A good gateway will allow organizations to authenticate traffic, as well as to control and analyze how APIs are used.

7. Adopt a zero-trust philosophy

In the perimeter security model, what’s “inside” is trusted and what’s “outside” is not trusted. The network is not that simple anymore, which is why a zero-trust model makes sense, especially with remote users. With a ZTM, the security focus shifts from location to specific users, assets, and resources.

8. Use Tokens

Access tokens allow an application to access your API. Once the authentication and authorization process is completed, an access token is provided. Tokens enable you to create trusted identities and assign tokens to those identities to control access to the API.

As mentioned before, APIs have become an integral element in creating modern applications, especially for smartphones and modern IoT devices. Since using an API means pulling the information from the outside source to your application, it poses a significant security risk. Too often, APIs are developed with the functionalities in mind, not the security, that’s why organizations must take API protection more seriously and dedicate effort to ensure end-to-end security.

Why Is Access Control a Key Component of Data Security?

Who should access your company’s data? How do you make sure those who attempt access have actually been granted that access? Under which circumstances do you deny access to a user with access privileges? To effectively protect your data, your organization’s access control policy must address these questions, because security is an important priority for organizations of all sizes and industries

What is access control and how does it work?

The goal of access control is to minimize the security risk of unauthorized access to physical and logical systems. Access control is a fundamental component of security compliance programs that ensures security technology and access control policies are in place to protect confidential information, such as customer data. The definition of an access control system is typically based on three concepts: access control policies, access control models, and access control mechanisms. Access control systems perform identification authentication and authorization of users and entities by evaluating required login credentials that can include passwords, personal identification numbers (PINs), biometric scans, security tokens or other authentication factors. Multifactor authentication (MFA), which requires two or more authentication factors, is often an important part of a layered defense to protect access control systems.

Generally, access control solutions work by identifying a user, verifying that they are who they say they are, authorizing that they actually have access to the resource or location, and then associating their actions with their username or IP address for auditing purposes.

What are the main components of access control?

Authentication

Authentication is the first component of access control. It means determining that a user or system requesting access is who they claim to be. Authentication is typically through user ids and passwords. It’s often supplemented by a second level of authentication, using tokens delivered either to a user’s phone or smart card, or biometrics that validate a user’s physical features such as fingerprints.

Authorization

Once you’ve determined that the person requesting access is who they say they are, authorization controls determine which data and systems the user can access. In information systems, access can be defined as the ability to read, write, or execute certain data and files. This has to be determined by determining both the functions the user needs to perform and the data they need to see. Often more sophisticated rules take into effect such factors as where the user is connecting from, the type of device they are using (desktop computer or mobile phone), and the time of day they are requesting the access.

Assigning access privileges to individual users is difficult to manage and frequently results in too many privileges being granted. Role based access control (RBAC) allows privileges to be more easily managed by grouping the permissions required to perform certain functions. By assigning users the permissions identified as appropriate for their role, they can be given the minimum access required to perform their jobs.

Monitoring Access

Access requires ongoing monitoring. There are two aspects to this. First, the actual access to your networks, systems, and data needs to be reviewed to ensure that there aren’t any attempts at unauthorized access. Second, when users’ responsibilities change, the access rights granted to them need to change as well. Deleting user privileges when an employee leaves the organization is also critical. RBAC makes this review easier, because it makes clear why privileges were granted.

In addition to monitoring the access granted, you should monitor systems for vulnerabilities that allow access even when privileges are not granted. This can be done through manual reviews and automated vulnerability assessments.

What are the benefits of access control?

The benefits of strong and comprehensive access control points within your IT platform are many.

  • Cyber-based protections

The most fundamental provision of strong cybersecurity solutions (including access control) is protection against adware, ransomware, spyware and other malware. It allows you to control who gets in and who has access to what data, and mitigates the overall risk from potential threats that you may not even know about. With global ransomware costs expected to increase to nearly $20 billion in 2021, an access control program that defends your business against these threats is essential.

  • Access Controls Are Central to Zero-Trust Security

Maintaining strict access controls is also essential to the concept of zero-trust security. That’s because the zero-trust model requires users to have authorization and to authenticate themselves before they can access or modify any systems or data — and they must continue to do so to maintain said access. 

Basically, the idea here is that everything is treated as being suspicious — even when it’s something that’s coming from inside your network.

  • Customer confidence

Your customers’ confidence in your systems should be one of your highest priorities. Even the appearance of weakness or vulnerability within your cyber access controls can result in customers backing off your company or brand. Robust access controls also prevent customers from experiencing a cyber breach by proxy (e.g., cyber thieves acquire customer data and can then hack into their financial accounts).

Access control is one component of a strong information security program. PATECCO services offer a comprehensive approach to information security, utilizing firewalls, data loss prevention software, identity and access management and other controls to implement a robust defensive strategy. Contact us to learn more about the best ways to approach protecting your valuable data and systems.

Identity and Access Management – One of the Pillars of Keeping Data Safe in the Cloud

The way companies conduct and manage their business is changing. Nowadays storing data in the cloud is becoming the norm. With cloud computing, consumers and companies can scale up to massive capacities in an instant without having any investment in new infrastructure or they can even shrink to a desktop within a second. As enterprises increasingly store applications and data files that contain personal and confidential information in the cloud, they need to take all measures to secure cloud assets to prevent system breaches and data theft. This is the reason why Identity and Access Management is considered the most effective way to ensure cloud security.

More safety in the cloud with IAM

Managing access control and governance within IAM, to meet today’s business needs in the cloud environment, remains one of the major hurdles for enterprises’ adoption of cloud services. Today’s aggressive adoption of immature cloud computing services by enterprises creates extreme thrust to have a strong cloud-based IAM system which provides support for business needs. It ranges from secure collaborations with global partners to secure access for global employees consuming sensitive information, from any location and using any device at any time.

Cloud Identity and Access Management tools allow security administrators to authorise who can access specific resources at specific times by giving the enterprise administrator full control and visibility to handle their cloud resources. In some cases IAM can offer control for Software as a Service based applications for even more management. With any IAM tool, enterprises could provide a unified view into security policy across the organisation and have built-in auditing to ease compliance processes.

In this article we will discuss several major IAM functions that are essential for successful and effective management of identities in the cloud:

– Identity provisioning/deprovisioning

– Authentication and federation

– Authorisation and user profile management

– Support for compliance

  • Identity provisioning

One of the major challenges for organisations adopting cloud computing services is the secure and timely management of on-boarding (provisioning) and off-boarding (deprovisioning) of users in the cloud. Further, enterprises that have invested in user management processes within an enterprise will seek to extend those processes to cloud services.

Identity provisioning practice within an organisation deals with the provisioning and de-provisioning of various types of user accounts (end-user, application administrator, IT administrator, supervisor, developer, billing administrator) to cloud services. It is very common for cloud services to rely on a registry of users, each representing either an individual or an organisation, maintained by the cloud service provider to support billing, authentication, authorisation, federation, and auditing processes.

  • Authentication

When organisations utilise cloud services, authenticating users in a trustworthy and manageable manner is a vital requirement. Organisations must address authentication-related challenges such as credential management, strong authentication, delegated authentication, and managing trust across all types of cloud services.

Authentication is the process of validating or confirming that access credentials provided by a user (for instance, a user ID and password) are valid. A user in this case could be a person, another application, or a service; all should be required to authenticate.

Many enterprise applications require that users authenticate before allowing access. Authorisation, the process of granting access to requested resources, is pointless without suitable authentication. When organisations begin to utilise applications in the cloud, authenticating users in a trustworthy and manageable manner becomes an additional challenge. Organisations must address authentication-related challenges such as credential management, strong authentication, delegated authentication, and trust across all types of cloud delivery models.

  • Federation

In the cloud computing environment, Federated Identity Management plays a vital role in enabling organisations to authenticate their users of cloud services using the organisation’s chosen identity provider (IdP). In that context, exchanging identity attributes between the service provider (SP) and the IdP securely is also a requirement. Organisations considering federated identity management in the cloud should understand the various challenges and possible solutions to address those challenges with respect to identity lifecycle management, available authentication methods to protect confidentiality, and integrity, while supporting non-repudiation.

  • Compliance

For customers who rely on cloud services, it is important to understand how identity management can enable compliance with internal or regulatory requirements. Well designed identity management can ensure that information about accounts, access grants, and segregation of duty enforcement at cloud providers, can all be pulled together to satisfy an enterprise’s audit and compliance reporting requirements.

By deploying IAM tools and following related best practices, a company can gain a competitive edge. IAM technologies enable the business to give users outside the organisation, like partners, customers, contractors and suppliers, access to its network across mobile applications, on-premise apps, and software-as-a-service apps without compromising security. This allows better collaboration, improved productivity, increased efficiency and reduced operating costs. Privacy is considered a vital issue in the cloud environment protection and can be gained through identity and Access Management, ensuring the highest level of data security.

Best Practices for Role Based Access Control (Part 1)

In organizations that have major divisions, creating a role-based access control system is essential in mitigating data loss. Role-based access control (RBAC) is already a proven concept in IT systems, which is realized by many operating systems to control access to system resources. For the last 25 years, it has become one of the main methods for advanced access control.

Basically, what RBAC does is to restrict network access based on a person’s role within an organization. The roles in RBAC are related to the levels of access that employees have to the network. That means that they are only allowed to access the information needed to effectively execute their job tasks. Access can be based on several factors, such as authority, responsibility, and job competency. As a result, lower-level employees usually do not have access to sensitive data if they do not need it to fulfil their responsibilities. This is especially helpful if you have many employees and use third-parties and contractors that make it difficult to closely monitor network access. Using RBAC will help in securing your company’s sensitive data and important applications.

Why RBAC matters?

For many organizations which are divided into multiple departments and have their own set of dedicated employees with their own computers, the role-based access control system is the best solution for enhanced security. With role-based security, administrators can achieve both optimal data protection and user productivity by granting varying levels of permissions to users based on their role. As a result, only the authorized users can easily access information pertaining to their department and specific function and the access to all other company data remains restricted.

Best practices for implementing RBAC

Managing and auditing network access is crucial to information security. With hundreds or thousands of employees in the enterprise, security is more easily maintained by limiting unnecessary access to sensitive information based on a user’s established role within the company. That is why implementing role-based access control across an entire organization is important, but at the same time could be complex. To successfully implement RBAC, you should follow these best practices:

  • Develop an RBAC Strategy

To create a strategy you should start with an assessment of where you are (data, process, policy, systems). The second step is to define your desired future state (automated provisioning of access through RBAC for a set of apps and systems), and at the end to identify your gaps that must be addressed (data quality, process issues, different authentication/authorization models across systems).

  • Scope your implementation

In case you do not necessarily have to implement RBAC across your entire organization right away, it is better to consider narrowing the scope to systems or applications that store sensitive data first.

  • Role classification

The primary step to provide role-based security is to assign roles. This can be done by distinguishing between the various users within the business and their diverse functions. Usually, these roles are based on the job titles that fall under major divisions such as finance, marketing, human resources, etc. Administrators should also provide a name and a description for each role-based access control policy that they create. For easy categorization and tracking of these policies, you can name them by the job title they apply to, and in the description, you can specify the department as well as other important details about this role.

  • Build policies related to a role

After a policy is named and its description is filled in accordance with a role, the settings can be configured. First, the devices that belong to the more prominent users who have administrative or executive roles can be added into the whitelist. These devices can be granted increased mobility when it comes to accessing various information across their department. Then, for the majority of the other employees, their devices can be given read-only permissions or delegated specific rights to access only the information critical to their job requirements while access to all other data remains restricted.

  • Modify policies and user privileges to stay updated

Since there is always a constant influx of employees, no matter they are new or come from other departments of the organization, their devices should be categorized as trusted or blocked, and their computers should be inserted into a custom group. This best practice also applies if existing users obtain new equipment. This proactive approach ensures that device and file control policies are enforced right from a user’s introduction and through the rest of their career in the company. In this way their activities always remain monitored, and the opportunity for data loss is eliminated.

  • Roll out in stages

A useful practice is to consider rolling out RBAC in stages to reduce workload and disruption to the business. You can begin with a core set of users and coarse-grain controls before increasing granularity. Then proceed collecting feedback from internal users and monitor your business metrics before implementing additional roles.