Last year the category of underprotected APIs cracked the OWASP Top 10 list for the first time. The breach trends since then are starting to prove that inclusion was pretty prescient. Just in 2018 alone we've seen at least half a dozen high-profile data breaches and security exposures caused by poor API security. And that doesn’t even include incidents last year at T-Mobile, Instagram, and McDonalds that all together exposed sensitive data about millions of their users.
This week the latest API security incident to make waves struck Salesforce, which reported to customers that a bug in an API in its Marketing Cloud service potentially exposed customer data. The flaw could have caused API calls to retrieve or write data from one customer's account to another's, the company stated.
This is a different verse of the same song we continue to hear about the growing trend of API insecurity. Just last month, for example, researchers announced that mobile payment app Venmo has been exposing details about hundreds of millions of transactions through a poorly secured API. And this spring an egregiously insecure Panera Bread API exposed details about mobile users in a major way. In that case, as many as 37 million records, including customer names, email addresses, physical addresses, birthdays, and the last four digits of credit cards — all in plain text — were exposed through a searchable API that required no authentication to access.
This is an issue that cuts across all company sizes and industries. Last month, for example, HIMSS released a report showing that exploitation of API flaws has become a major concern for healthcare organizations. And a study earlier this year by Imperva showed that more than two-thirds of organizations expose APIs to the public in order to enable partners and external developers to tap into their software platforms and app ecosystems. Unfortunately, more than three in four organizations report they treat API security differently than Web app security — indicating that API security readiness lags behind other aspects of application security.
That Imperva study also shows how prevalent API use is becoming within most organizations: The typical organization now manages an average of 363 APIs. This can be chalked up to a growing trend in the development world toward microservices, where most modern applications are no longer monolithic pieces of software but are instead composed of smaller components that can be reused, mixed, and matched across an entire application portfolio.
In addition, whole application ecosystems depend on open connectivity to share data and make users' lives easier through better integrations. APIs are what's used to help all of these components play nicely together and to get applications seamlessly sharing data among themselves. Indeed, 61% of organizations say API integration is critical to their business strategy.
"In 2018, it is expected that you need APIs to do business in this digital age," writes Kin Lane, who's known as the API evangelist at Cloud Elements. "The companies, organizations, institutions, and government agencies who are just beginning to invest in their API infrastructure are quickly realizing how far behind they are when it comes to the efficient delivery of data and content to Web and mobile applications, as well as the ability to work with Internet-connected devices, and take advantage of the benefits of machine learning and artificial intelligence."
But as businesses jump on the API development trend, they'll need to keep in mind that the more APIs grow in importance to them, the more they will grow in importance t attackers. According to Gartner, by 2022 API abuses will be the attack vector most responsible for data breaches within enterprise Web applications.