Five steps to improve your API security posture

Five steps to improve your API security posture

Based on consulting large enterprise companies and real-world examples

APIs are foundational for many of the new capabilities that companies are building — but, in most cases, the security of APIs is either not considered early enough in the planning process or not able to keep up with the rapid deployment of new technology.

At Akamai, we take the security posture of our customers seriously and want to help them protect their APIs from attacks, which are continuously growing in both size and volume, according to the latest Akamai State of the Internet report: Lurking in the Shadows - Attack Trends Shine Light on API Threats.

If you are interested in reading the latest case studies, data and analytics, most seen types of API attacks etc., I highly recommend taking a look at the full report which you can find here.

The takeaway from this report is that API attacks are prevalent and applying a repeatable strategy to combat API threats is critical for, well any type of developer out there.

But how do you go about building an effective security strategy? Working day-to-day with our customers gives an in-depth look on approaches that work and that is what I will be sharing here today in a five-step plan on improving your API security posture.

  1. Shining a light on the shadows.
    The saying "You can't protect what you can't see" is very true when it comes to today's APIs. Many businesses are surprised to find out that there are hidden endpoints operating in their system when they start looking more closely at what their APIs are doing. Security teams are relieved when they find these hidden or rogue APIs because it means they can fix them and make things safer. The first step to making sure APIs are secure is to find these hidden ones and either shut them down or make sure they're properly documented and controlled. This helps to immediately reduce the risk of problems like misuse or attacks. When we start using tools to make APIs more secure, we often get a lot of warnings at first. But over time, we learn more about where the gaps in our security are, especially as more hidden or unauthorized APIs pop up.

  2. Getting organized

    After dealing with hidden APIs, there's still more to do to sort out and organize the list of approved APIs. This involves putting them into groups like development, testing, and production, and setting up structures to make sure that security alerts make sense and help the team understand the risks of each API. The next step is to write down details about each API to make them easier to understand. This helps security teams respond faster to alerts because they can see how the APIs fit into the overall picture of the company's apps and processes. It's tough to spot unusual activities until you have a good idea of what normal activity looks like.

  3. Hardening the API posture

    When a company gets a bunch of alerts about its APIs, it usually means they need to make some important changes. For instance, the security teams will check the most common alert types and figure out what they need to do to lower the risk. They'll fix any mistakes in the API code, sort out any setup problems, and put in new ways to stop similar issues from happening again. This might mean putting more focus on testing plans and telling the bosses about the right ways to write code to avoid problems later on.

  4. Sharpening threat detection and response

    After the first three steps, we usually notice a decrease in the number of API security alerts over time. However, there are occasional increases in alerts as the year goes on. These increases can happen because of changes within the company, like big shifts in how the business works, getting new abilities, or adding new parts to the API system that might have issues or bad systems. Increases in alerts can also happen because of outside things, like attacks from hackers. The best companies are ready for these increases and have clear plans to deal with them. They work to bring the number of alerts back down to normal levels and respond quickly to threats. They also try to get faster at responding to, investigating, containing, and recovering from API problems. This might mean learning new skills related to the API system.

  5. Developing a stronger offense

    Once companies make their API security better at defending against attacks, the next step is to also look for threats actively. This means setting up a system to regularly search for potential dangers in the API system, aiming to catch them early before they cause big problems. Doing this can be hard because it needs experts and time set aside from other tasks. So, some companies hire outside experts like Akamai to do this job since it's really important.

Let's delve deeper into the benefits of implementing the outlined API security strategy. These are collected from conversations with developers and security engineers working at Akamai's partners and customers.

Let's dive into why our API security strategy is crucial, drawing insights from conversations with developers and security engineers at Akamai's partners and customers.

For the CISO team, focusing on APIs has major benefits:

  1. Spotting Hidden Risks: Identifying hidden or rogue APIs allows us to fix issues before they escalate. It's like turning on a light in a dark room - it helps us spot problems early, reducing the chance of security breaches.

  2. Building Stronger Defenses: By tweaking code and settings, we can make our APIs harder to breach. It's like adding extra locks to our doors, making it tougher for cyber attackers to get in. This protects our customers' data and our company's assets.

For the DevSecOps teams, managing APIs better leads to smarter work:

  1. Understanding Our Systems: Organizing and documenting our APIs is like mapping out a building. It helps everyone work together smoothly and respond faster to issues. This means we can identify and fix problems quicker, keeping our systems running smoothly.

  2. Using Resources Wisely: Streamlining our processes saves time and money. It's like using tools to make a job easier - we can focus on crucial tasks like security monitoring and fixing issues promptly. This boosts productivity and ensures our systems stay safe.

For the SOCC team and developers, managing risks effectively gives us an advantage:

  1. Preventing Problems Early: Addressing threats and weaknesses upfront is like fixing a leaky pipe before it bursts. It helps us stay ahead of trouble and protect our systems and data.

  2. Continuous Improvement: By staying vigilant, we can learn and improve. It's like practicing a sport - we get better over time. This ensures we can stay ahead of new threats and maintain our systems' security.

For the financial teams, investing in security saves money:

  1. Avoiding Costly Mistakes: Preventing security issues saves us money in the long run. It's like maintaining a house to avoid expensive repairs. This protects our company's reputation and saves us from fines or other expenses.

  2. Smart Spending: Investing in security now saves us from bigger expenses later. It's like buying insurance - it may cost upfront, but it saves us a lot in case of emergencies. This safeguards our finances and keeps our business running smoothly.

For the legal teams, compliance and security go hand in hand:

  1. Staying Compliant: Following rules and regulations keeps us out of legal trouble. It's like obeying traffic laws to avoid tickets. This preserves our company's reputation and earns our customers' trust.

  2. Cost Savings: Staying compliant saves us money on fines and legal fees. It's like not needing a lawyer if we follow the rules. This protects our finances and ensures we focus on ethical business practices.

For our customers, security and trust are paramount:

  1. Feeling Safe: Demonstrating our commitment to security assures customers their data is safe. It's like having strong locks on your house for peace of mind. This builds confidence in our services and ensures customer loyalty.

  2. Building Trust: Prioritizing security earns customers' trust. It's like relying on a dependable friend - it feels good to do business with them. This fosters long-term relationships and keeps our customers happy.

With most cybersecurity strategies, it is important to protect first versus remedy later. Akamai offers API security solutions that can help with this five step strategy. I recommend taking a look at the Akamai API Security solution brief for more insights in how Akamai can help you.

Regardless of how you go about implementing your API security strategy, key is that it is important to implement with the growth and importance of API microservices. And for the latest and greatest of threat intelligence, please take a look at the latest Akamai State of the Internet report: Lurking in the Shadows - Attack Trends Shine Light on API Threats.

As usual, if you are in need of any help with your API security strategy, I am here to help!