Are APIs Becoming 2023’s New Cybersecurity Battleground?

Isla Sibanda
by Isla Sibanda on April 11, 2023 8 min read

APIs continue to experience high rates of adoption due to impressive speeds when it comes to exchanging data. Organizations have turned towards digitization and more flexible solutions to aid recovery following the global pandemic; however, the deployment of new technology also increases the attack surface of a business.

In this article, we will consider whether APIs are becoming 2023’s new cybersecurity battleground, the challenges organizations face, and whether these risks may be mitigated.

What Are APIs?

APIs (application programming interfaces) are a set of protocols and definitions that assist when building and integrating software applications. The main function of an API is to help new products better communicate with other products and online services without needing to understand their architecture or how they are implemented. This helps to streamline the app development process, making it quicker and more cost-effective.

Whether a developer is creating a new product or managing existing software, APIs provide more flexibility for improved design, innovation, and better administration. They work on a contractual basis, with documentation provided when an agreement is made between two different parties to integrate their services.

The Benefits of APIs

APIs help organizations across many industries become more innovative and digitally oriented, giving them an edge over competitors. Many business owners consider APIs to be a crucial element in their overall growth strategy, helping them to:

  • Improve customer experiences
  • Streamline operations for a more agile approach
  • Create simple and faster ‘go-to-market’ strategies
  • Develop new revenue streams by targeting new markets and channels

APIs and their Cybersecurity Risks

Managing, identifying, categorizing, and securing API inventories can prove a challenge for many businesses. This task is also made more difficult by reliance on operational frameworks that lack proper governance and standardization.

This presents an opportunity for threat actors who target APIs to commit a range of fraudulent activity and to obtain sensitive data, such as operational information of the business and personally identifiable information (PII) relating to clients. In particular, the strong growth of APIs has seen a rise in cybercriminals compromising customer or business-critical data.

To mitigate these risks, organizations are turning towards SecOps teams to help partner with DevOps and implement the necessary cybersecurity measures.

What Is SecOps?

Security Operations (SecOps) is the link between IT security and operations teams, integrating a range of tools, processes, and tech to minimize security risks across all areas of the business. Without this link, efforts across the organization can become splintered, with teams using an array of different software and tools that can result in inefficiency and a lack of visibility and control.

SecOps enables better collaboration between security and IT operations, sharing accountability in terms of maintaining an organization’s digital environment and boosting productivity. This proactive approach and regular sharing of information make it much easier to identify security risks across the organization so they can be resolved as soon as possible without any significant impact on IT’s functionality.

API Security Predictions 2023

In recent years many organizations have placed greater importance on using APIs to deliver more flexibility and stimulate growth over implementing sufficient security. However, 2023 will likely be a year when organizations significantly increase their efforts to reduce these risks.

Key issues that organizations have encountered in recent years are a lack of automation to discover new vulnerabilities and less than sufficient inventory management, validation, and security. In some cases, organizations are unaware of the number of APIs in use, leaving them open to attack.

Hackers are actively targeting APIs as their main entry point into an organization’s network, allowing them to access and steal data, allowing them to commit a range of frauds, such as selling financial details on the dark web.

Now that we’re a quarter already into the new year, here are 6 predictions of how API security is expected to change during the rest of 2023.

A Major API Security Breach will result in New Regulations

A lack of enterprise API management poses a significant threat as the API market grows at a rapid rate. Incidents such as security breaches are already happening with regularity, and as a result, regulators are considering what actions need to be taken.

A prime example of this was a zero-day vulnerability within LinkedIn’s official API, a successful exploit then resulted in data being scraped from around 700 million users.

Regulatory changes struggle to keep pace with advancements in technology, and API is one such market that is in desperate need of added security. Therefore, it is likely that another major incident involving an API, such as an attack on a financial or public body, could force regulatory action to be taken this year.

Organizations will downsize the amount of data they store

The low costs of data storage in recent years have resulted in many organizations storing too historical, unmanaged data that do not receive adequate protection. Some organizations are storing petabytes of unneeded data which could be targeted by cybercriminals.

Even with security measures in place, such as transmission control protocol (TCP), historical data is still at risk and requires strict governance. The obvious solution to this would be to purge any data that is deemed unnecessary, preventing it from being accessed via an unsecured API.

The medical sector is one such industry that needs a drastic revamp in terms of the way it stores data. Hospitals and medical clinics that use patient communication tools to directly communicate with patients need to ensure that certain security standards are met, including the use of analytics to monitor user activity.

APIs will receive more attention from business leaders

In 2023, business leaders are expected to scrutinize API security even more as the importance of data and customer protection becomes a hot topic.

DevOps teams in large organizations create a wide number of APIs, and many of these never see the light of day, sometimes referred to as Zombie APIs. However, a lack of management means some of these discarded APIs are not removed from the system and become a vulnerability.

The implementation of API security platforms will no doubt accelerate over the coming year as a lack of API management and efficient processes can be damaging to business operations, as well as presenting security risks.

API Security will result in new innovations

API security will present new opportunities to implement new innovations, allowing Chief Information Security Officers (CISOs) to bring in the best frameworks, the latest tools, and the most effective processes to improve the operations of a business. These solutions can include real-time attack detection, automated AI and machine learning discovery, better API management, and more.

Financial Services will be at the forefront of API security

Financial services are expected to lead the way when it comes to implementing new API security regulations, with bodies such as the Federal Financial Institutions Examination Council (FFIEC) already issuing guidance on better security.

It is predicted that more regulatory bodies in the banking, fintech, and financial services sectors will place greater importance on API security to ensure extremely valuable customer data is fully protected from criminal activity. Such sectors have been a prime target for hackers, and this is unlikely to change in the coming years unless significant action is taken.

Open banking is one area that requires additional focus, as third-party access to financial data is powered by APIs. A lack of security in this area has resulted in 1 in 10 adults being the victim of cybersecurity-related financial fraud.

API Security will dictate Marketplace Decision Making

Many organizations will factor in cybersecurity when deciding what third parties they want to do business with. Many data leaks are the result of a third-party issue, and organizations will want to ensure any businesses they work with have the necessary security practices in place, including API security.

Third-party APIs make up around 30% of all APIs that connect an organization’s app to a data source. This means that a third party that has the relevant security measures in place is much more likely to be selected than a competitor that is lacking in this area.

In the End

The deployment of APIs is growing at a staggering pace and this means SecOps need to work very hard to implement the necessary security management and processes to prevent data leaks. Furthermore, regulatory bodies must also increase efforts to protect consumers and issue actionable guidelines.

Unsecured APIs are a prime target for cybercriminals, particularly in the financial services sector, and this has resulted in business leaders reassessing their cybersecurity for both in-house and third-party APIs. Failing to do so, could put entire organizations and their customer base at risk.

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