Cybercrime is on the rise, and the scary part is that threat actors are improving in sophistication and efficiency. Although cyber attackers will use every tool at their disposal to break into IT systems, their preferred method of gaining unauthorized access is an API attack. The problem – for business owners – is that APIs are everywhere.

Why APIs are the Backbone of Digital Infrastructure

The modern digital infrastructure simply wouldn’t exist without APIs. For the uninitiated, an API – short for application programming interface – serves as an interface between two or more software products. In simpler terms, an API facilitates connections between various software programs to improve the user experience.

One popular example is PayPal. Suppose you want to enable financial transactions on your website to accept payments from clients. Embedding PayPal into your website will require an API integration to work. The world of e-commerce would come tumbling down without APIs. The same can be said for just about any online service that you provide.

Unfortunately, the convenience, scalability, and speed that APIs provide come with a huge liability. To work the way they do, APIs require access to critical data and services. This puts the entire organization at risk. In some cases, an API makes up about 90% of a website’s attack surface.

A poorly designed API can be used to access sensitive data and execute various malicious actions. Although there are several ways of exploiting ‘bad’ API, the gist of the attack is that attacks inject malicious code into the software, like XSS and SQLi, to breach the software.

6 Common Types of API Attacks

Below is a round-up of the most common types of API attacks.

Broken User Authentication

Broken user authentication is a critical API threat that occurs when an attacker takes over one or more accounts by compromising passwords, keys, session tokens, and other credentials. This information allows the attacker to pose as a legitimate user and make API requests. Broken user authentication leverages two weaknesses: credential management and session management.

One example of session hijacking is URL rewriting. In this example, a ‘user’s session ID becomes visible in the URL of a website. This would then allow the attacker to gain access to the website.

The best way to prevent an API attack is to adopt a Zero Trust approach – a philosophy assuming there are attackers inside and outside the network. Implementing multi-factor authentication can prevent broken user authentication attacks by preventing credential stuffing and stolen credential reuse attacks.

Improper Asset management

Emperor asset management is a vulnerability that occurs when developers do not correctly manage their APIs. This allows attackers to find non-productive versions of the API, such as beta versions that do not have security implementations, and use them to launch their attacks.

This usually occurs when developers try to provide backward compatibility that forces them to leave old APIs running. Improperly managed APIs are a popular target for cyber incidents because it is easier to exploit them to access sensitive data. The worst part is that they often go undetected because they are no longer being actively managed.

The solution is to keep an up-to-date inventory of all APIs – both new and old ones – and review them regularly. Businesses should also implement additional external controls such as API firewalls. In some cases, it may be better to simply retire old versions of APIs to fix the vulnerability once and for all.

Man in the Middle Attack

A man-in-the-middle attack occurs when a threat actor intercepts private information between two parties. Attackers insert themselves as proxies in an ongoing data transfer and exploit the data transfers or conversations taking place. It can also be used to gain access to secured networks.

In simpler terms, a MITM is the equivalent of a mailman opening your bank statements, noting down the details, and delivering the letter to you as if nothing happened. Most MITM attacks go undetected.

The best way to prevent an API attack is to use secure communication protocols, such as HTTPS and TLS, to minimize spoofing attacks. HTTPS and TLS can encrypt transmitted data, rendering it unusable for an unauthorized third party

SQL Injection Attacks

An SQL injection attack, also known as SQLI, is a type of injection attack that uses malicious SQL statements. This allows the attacker to gain unauthorized access to a web application database, allowing them to view or modify the database. Once a malicious user completes an SQL injection attack, they can retrieve sensitive data, compromise user privacy, and compromise the integrity of your data.

The best way to prevent an SQL attack is to simply install the latest software and security patches as and when they become available. Businesses should also restrict using shared accounts so that attackers can’t gain further access to the network if one account gets breached.

Unencrypted Communications

Many organizations are using their APIs without TLS protocols. This provides attackers with free reign over the API and any sensitive information that passes through it. The easiest solution is to encrypt any data sent between the client and server using TLS.

DDoS Attacks

DDoS or Denial of Service (or distributed denial of service) attacks occur when a malicious actor attempts to make a network unavailable to legitimate users. This is done by sending an excessive number of packets that exceeds the ‘server’s capacity.

DDoS attacks can be prevented by using firewalls and intrusion detection systems. In addition to this, you can also try to filter out connections from known malicious users

Wrapping Up

API attacks are more common than you think (and more effective). One example of a popular business that has been targeted by API attacks is Meta, when Instagram and Facebook were breached. So what’s the solution?

Start by decommissioning older versions of APIs (even if it comes at the cost of backward compatibility), and utilize encryption and multi-factor authentication. Don’t forget to apply updates to the software as and when they become available.

Want to protect your business from API attacks? It’s time you prioritized API security by identifying vulnerable endpoints in your digital attack surface. Hire a managed IT service provider for your business!

Get in touch with us today!

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