What is API Security and Why is It Important?

5 min readNov 4, 2022


Application Programming Interface (API) plays a key role in web and mobile application development with enterprises now relying heavily on them to build their products and services. It is not a surprise since APIs allow developers to integrate with any modern technology, which provides the features that customers need.

The RapidAPI survey revealed that API adoption is increased and companies across all industries are prioritizing their participation in the API economy –

“During the pandemic, many companies rapidly accelerated their digital transformation journeys. So, it makes sense that their investment in software development and particularly in the API economy continues to rise,” said Iddo Gino, CEO, RapidAPI.

This floodgate opened a wider attack surface and increased the risk of API attacks — making API Security a topmost priority. So, what is API security and why do we need API protection?

What is API Security?

API security involves the implementation of strategies and procedures to mitigate the vulnerabilities and security threats of the API (Application Programming Interface).

It lies at the intersection of three broad security areas:

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

With sensitive data getting transferred via API, a secure API can guarantee the confidentiality of the message it processes by making it available to the applications, users, and servers who have proper permissions to consume it. Similarly, it also guarantees content integrity by ensuring that message has not been altered after transmission.

How Important is API Security?

As cybercriminals continue to take advantage of vulnerable technology, processes, and people, they’re now shifting their attacks beyond “traditional” targets. With APIs expanding to microservices and cloud on top of the external apps, IoT, and mobile apps, adversaries are now focusing their operations on APIs. APIs have become the new attack frontier and these statistics highlight the same:

By design, the Application Programming Interface is not insecure, however, the immense volume of API deployed has created challenges for the security team. Further, the insufficient skills in API development and failure to incorporate the web and cloud API security rules may lead to vulnerable APIs.

API vulnerabilities can be observed across various areas like data exposures, denial of service, authorization flaws, security misconfigurations, endpoints (virtual environment, devices, servers, etc., and more.

Vulnerable APIs trigger major breaches. They can easily be exploited and offer hackers access to sensitive medical, financial, and personal data. We have seen various breaches at several high-profile companies due to the exposure to insecure APIs. Salesforce, T-Mobile, SolarWinds, Peloton, and USPS to name a few.

Likewise, there are various other techniques that attackers can use to abuse APIs. Here are some of the attacks that can occur if an API is not secured properly:

1. Man-in-the-Middle Attack (MITM)

APIs are susceptible to a Man-in-the-middle attack when the message transmission is not signed or encrypted or when there is an issue in the secure session setup. If an API doesn’t use SSL/TLS, all message transmissions between the API and client can be compromised. Attackers can alter confidential data, such as session identifiers, personally identifiable information, etc. Even the APIs that use SSL/TLS encryption are at risk if they are improperly configured or if the client is not validating the secure sessions. If the attacker captures session tokens, they can obtain access to the user’s account containing a ton of personal and sensitive information.

2. Injection Attack

API injection attacks can happen when the API developer does not carefully limit the inputs to anticipated types. In this attack, hackers send the script to the application server through an API request to gain access to the software.

3. Stolen Authentication Attack

Like injection attacks, enterprises should also be concerned about the loopholes which allow attackers direct access to their customer records and data. API configured with an improper authentication mechanism is vulnerable to this attack and enables hackers to hijack the identity of the user and access controls of an API. Hackers can also attempt brute force attacks to break weak authentication processes.

4. DDoS (Distributed Denial of Service) Attack

API endpoints are the new attack vectors for DDoS. The attackers point a bot at the API and make a series of high-frequency requests at an endpoint for a certain duration. The tolerance of requests exceeds the capacity of the target to respond, which makes it unavailable to legitimate users.

Edge protection and Web Application Firewall with WAAP (Web application and API protection) are the right choices of API protection against DDoS attacks.

Advanced API Security with AppTrana WAAP

API protection is currently a challenge for enterprises that need better resources and tools to discover API vulnerabilities and perform security scanning than what traditional technologies offer. They also need to accumulate the right talent to detect API security risks before the attackers do.

Indusface Apptrana, a risk-based WAAP uses signature recognition, security-centric monitoring, SSL and TLS certificates, and other security methodologies to block the attempt of API abuses.

The Closure

There are many forms of API attacks including reverse engineering, session replays, and spoofing. The API abuse is not limited to these API attacks, there are more, and attackers can discover even more attacks in the future.

No matter where your enterprise is on its way to API adoption, your goal should be to create solid API security strategies and manage them properly!

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Originally published at https://www.indusface.com on November 18, 2021.




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