Nowadays we are living in the era of digital business, and companies all across the world compete with one another to make the most of digital technology. Small companies also strive for being part of this trend, since it’s the need of the hour. In this context, every single aspect of digital security or cybersecurity is of critical importance for any business organization. In this article we will discuss one of the very relevant aspects of digital security, namely API security.

What is API?

Simply explained, API (Application Programming Interface) is connected with the development and deploying of applications. As a matter of fact, API works as an intermediary or a digital gateway that enables systems as well as applications to communicate and share data in a simple and easy manner. This is why APIs are central to the development and deployment of applications. But then, in the cyber world, everything that we use – every device, every application, every technology – would come its share of security risks. This applies to APIs, as well.

APIs are rich targets for security breach because they are not intended for direct access by users, but often granted access to all data within the application environment. Access is then controlled by granting specific permissions to the users making the initial requests that are translated into API calls, and having the API inherit only those permissions. This works fine until an attacker manages to bypass the user authentication process and access the downstream app directly via the API. Since the API has unrestricted access, the attacker gets visibility into everything. Just like a web application, APIs are subject to application vulnerability exploits to gain unauthorised access, steal sensitive data and launch damaging attacks.

Why API Security Must Be a Top Priority

APIs are critical to enterprises, empowering internal applications, integrating disparate systems, and providing data whenever needed. Without API, the digital economy would collapse. Business leaders must do more to protect API and the data communicated through them.API development has drastically increased in the past few years, fuelled by digital transformation and the central role APIs play in both mobile apps and IoT. This growth makes API security a top concern. In its How to Build an Effective API Security Strategy report, Gartner predicts that “by 2022, API abuses will be the most-frequent attack vector resulting in data breaches for enterprise web applications.” To protect yourself against API attacks, Gartner recommends adopting “a continuous approach to API security across the API development and delivery cycle, designing security into APIs.”

Given the critical role they play in digital transformation—and the access to sensitive data and systems they provide—APIs warrant a dedicated approach to security and compliance. APIs are the connective tissue linking ecosystems of technologies and organizations. They also allow businesses to monetize data, form profitable partnerships, and open pathways of innovation.  Additionally, APIs are hard to defend because they are highly exposed to the outside world. The amount of data that passes through the application layer makes it attractive to malicious actors. Furthermore, API hacking does not require advanced technical capabilities. Even relatively inexperienced attackers can use basic tools to discover and exploit API traffic to perform credential stuffing attacks, exfiltrate databases, change account values, or conduct denial of service attacks on critical applications.

Machine Learning and API Management tools

As discussed above, to tackle these intelligent cyber-attacks, there must be a comprehensive security solution which not only requires security capabilities, but also anomaly detection ability. Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning are excellent tools for the development of such comprehensive and intelligent capabilities and can be used to manage challenging and emerging security threats. With the self-learning cognitive capabilities of AI and ML, security models can be developed for identifying and flagging anomalous behavior and malicious data trends. It will lead to a blocking of API attacks and abnormal behavioral patterns under various environments and circumstances. Thus, it adds continuous learning capability to APIs and anomalous behavior is flagged without prior knowledge of attacks and written policy.

With API management tools in-place, an API consumer’s behavior and resource utilization data are easily available. Organizations must understand real-time consumer behavior from existing information such as platform logging. There are machine learning capabilities which help us to classify positive against negative patterns. We must have proper tools and services in place to have these machine learning models. These models need to be trained on multiple APIs across different service providers.

Whether on your corporate network or in the cloud, securing your APIs is critical to your organisation’s overall security posture in a digitally transformed world. APIs are incredibly powerful tools that can help an organization advance its business goals and better integrate with customers, vendors and business partners. However, these tools also open up the organization’s technology infrastructure, requiring careful security measures to protect sensitive information and systems. Organizations using APIs should carefully assess the state of their API security controls and implement an ongoing API security program.

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