Cyberattacks and data breaches which target inadequately protected Application Programming Interfaces (APIs) are on the rise. Targets for these attacks have included everyone from small startups to giants like Instagram, PayPal, Facebook, and Amazon. It’s no wonder, either. According to a poll of 250 professionals working in IT, 69 percent of organizations are exposing APIs to the general public and partners, while the average organization is juggling 363 different APIs. In other words, there’s a lot to go wrong — and, unfortunately, hackers are all too willing to take advantage, knowing that a successful breach of your system could reveal prized sensitive data and more.
It is therefore imperative that you are both prepared and, as a result, as protected as possible from some of the most common attacks. These can include everything from DoS or DDoS (denial of service or distributed denial of service) attacks to application and data attacks, such as so-called “man-in-the-middle” attacks.
What’s the plan of attack?
There are plenty of ways that malicious actors might exploit APIs to attack systems in search of data. The following examples are some of the most common, although plenty of others exist, too.
In a distributed denial of service (DDoS) attack, multiple compromised computer systems are used to target a server, website or network and cause it to deny service to users. It does this by flooding it with messages and connection requests, intended to bring it to a screeching halt. These attacks not only hurt the intended target, but can also degrade the service of those infected computers used as part of the attack, called “zombies” or “bots.”
Another exceedingly common attack is something called an injection attack. These attacks seek to inject malicious code or commands into vulnerable software. That might, for example, mean inserting an SQL command which deletes tables from a database.
Yet another form of potential hack involves a “man-in-the-middle” attack. In this approach, attackers are able to intercept and alter communications in order to gain sensitive data. That might mean obtaining a user’s session token — thereby gaining access to login details or even credit card information. This can lead to behavior including identity theft, illegally transferring money or changing passwords without permission.
Unfortunately, all of these attacks take advantage of possible vulnerabilities that exist within API frameworks. The transparency of APIs, intended to make them easy to use for clients, can help hackers to learn exactly how they operate — and abuse that knowledge. For years, devs dreamed of getting their applications to be able to communicate and share data with one another. APIs have made that dream a reality. However, this comes with inherent risk.
Implementing a fix to the problem
In this article, we’ve detailed just a handful of the types of API attacks you might face from malicious actors. Unfortunately, new approaches are being created all the time. These attacks can take place at both the application layer and the network layer, and target user from the point of login through the end of their sessions.
The most important thing is to make sure that you’re protected as best as possible. While that’s easier said than done, you’re better off trying to close vulnerabilities now — and not once you’ve been the target of a massive data breach, exposing the personal data of your users or clients to the world. This can not only lead to eroded trust on the part of customers, but also massive negative publicity, increased numbers of attempted hacks, and even fines for not safeguarding your data correctly.
While there are multiple methods of attack, there are precautions that will help block some of the most frequent offenders. For instance, validating all incoming data against a “whitelist” that explains what you expect to see can help ward off attackers. Similarly, threat detection setups which can blacklist potentially troublesome content, like SQL statements and SCRIPT tags, is a sensible security precaution.
When it comes to DDoS attacks, defenses involving variable rate limits on APIs can help stop systems from being overloaded in the case of a malicious attack. The use of shared resources in your applications should also make sure that it takes advantage of signed URLs, which can provide features like automatic expirations and rate limiting.
Get the right help
While it’s useful to have an understanding of potential vulnerabilities, your best bet is to choose a respected third-party mitigation system that promises complete security. A good company should secure APIs by protecting the platform used by the developers as well as the infrastructure that the platform sits upon. It should offer web application firewalls (WAFs) to protect against DDoS attacks, and provide you with customizable security rules for you to fine-tune to your exact requirements. APIs are, in essence, windows into applications. In your case, they are windows which lead to a house that’s full of potentially invaluable information. Unfortunately, just as houses are always going to be a target for thieves, so are troves of personal data — and APIs offer a potential way in. Fortunately, with the right steps, you can safeguard against misfortune.