Home Did you know ? Why Traditional AppSec Tools are Ineffective on API Security

Why Traditional AppSec Tools are Ineffective on API Security

by Mic Johnson
Sherlock hack tool

API-oriented cyberattacks have wreaked havoc on the corporate world, making every organization concerned about API security.

A recent study suggests that roughly 95% of organizations have suffered an API security incident in the past 12 months. In addition, more than 50% of them have to postpone new app releases due to API security issues.

Alongside the prevalence of API security risks, organizations also face trouble ensuring adequate API security measures.

According to a 2021 study, organizations spend around $3 million annually on their web app and API security tools. That’s because the existing appsec tools can cause more inconvenience for the security teams .

But why is that? What makes these AppSec tools ineffective for API security? How can organizations address these cybersecurity gaps? Let’s discuss this in further detail.

Why Is API Security a Critical Problem?

When organizations have a thorough understanding of why they need to focus specifically on API security , they can alleviate most API cyber risks to a greater extent.

Some reasons for making API security an ever-evolving issue to address include,

  • Evolving landscape: As organizations include more applications and software in their IT structure, they can unwittingly integrate different APIs, too – all of which are different and, often, unique. Hence, a generalized security approach cannot adequately protect such diversified APIs.
  • Unique cyberattacks: Since every API is unique, it also exhibits unique vulnerabilities that attackers find lucrative to exploit. Unlike the conventional cross-site scripting and SQL injection attacks, API vulnerabilities are more of business logic gaps, exploiting which affects the integrity of an organization’s data.
  • Delayed vulnerability detection: The traditional application testing protocols such as DAST scanning techniques often utilized in the later stages of development. However, such delayed scans leave a lesser margin for prompt vulnerability detection when it comes to APIs. Also, conventional security tools may produce more false positives when used at the end of the development. Thus, either developers ignore the issues, or the app roll-out gets delayed due to fixing critical API flaws.

Why AppSec Tools can fail when Securing APIs

1. APIs Are Different from Web Apps

The prime reason behind the failure of most traditional AppSec tools’ efficiency is the naïve security approach from the IT teams. Organizations first need to realize (and recognize) that APIs – though a part of their infrastructure as web apps – are not mere web applications. They are different. They have different security vulnerabilities, which need a dedicated protection strategy.

For instance, Broken Object Level Authorization (BOLA) is among the top 10 OWASP API security issues. It exists when APIs leave endpoints handling object identifiers exposed to authenticated but unauthorized users. Consequently, a threat actor may be able to exploit this vulnerability and access data by compromising auth tokens.

BOLA is a severe vulnerability that traditional web app security tools cannot adequately address because of the complicated involvement of microservices. (It’s no more a one request-to-one server case.) However, organizations continue dealing with such vulnerabilities via DAST tools .Their inherent limitations and, as such, may falsely perceive a sense of security  leaves their critical APIs vulnerable.

2. AppSec Tools Are Never Meant to Protect APIs

The main reason why most AppSec tools fail at protecting APIs is their inherent technological limitations.

For instance, a white box assessment approach for app vulnerabilities – Static Application Security Testing (SAST) – cannot work for APIs. Because SAST mainly relies on source code examination and data flow modeling to determine how an exploit can occur.

SAST scanners cannot apply the same approach to APIs due to their complex use of third-party frameworks and libraries. Hence, when run on APIs, these tools generate too many false negatives leaving the actual vulnerabilities undetected.

3. Delayed API Security Testing During Development

As mentioned above, using application security tools for checking app security often comes later in the Software Development Lifecycle (SDLC).Because the tools require working apps to perform testing.

However, this approach shouldn’t be applied to API security. Thanks to the microservice-based API-centric architecture, developers can test individual APIs for vulnerabilities during the development process. Such prompt scans allow organizations to deploy a much safer API to their infrastructure, minimizing future risks. This proactive approach also gives security teams more space to detect and fix other sophisticated issues.

Improving API Security Tools Is the Only Way Forward

The inherent API security limitations do not render conventional application security tools useless. Tools like web app firewalls (WAFs), SAST, and DAST are still needed for a well-rounded security strategy.

However, when it comes to protecting APIs, organizations should plan ahead and adopt a more advanced approach with modern technologies, such as artificial intelligence, machine learning, and behavior analysis, to detect API attacks.

In addition, adopt a deterministic security approach with fully managed API protection tools like AppTrana. – It promptly detects novel zero-days without relying on past inputs, and ensures inclusive protection of unique APIs.

Developers must ensure their APIs are free from vulnerabilities in the early stages of development through a “shift-left” approach . It helps to minimize the ratio of undetected and unpatched vulnerabilities in functional APIs.

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