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The Imperative of Context in an Era of Expanding API Risks

Only 38% of organizations understand API context, a huge security gap underscoring the need for deeper, context-aware security strategies.

December 11, 2023

4 Min Read
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By Richard Bird, Chief Security Officer, Traceable AI

In the digital ecosystem, where APIs are as ubiquitous as the air you breathe, the security of APIs is a subject of critical importance. A startling statistic from the "2023 State of API Security Report" raises a concerning oversight: only 38% of organizations feel equipped to understand the context within which their APIs operate. This is not just a minor gap; it's a gaping hole in the armor protecting digital assets.

An API's context encompasses not just the code and the immediate data it handles but also its interactions with other systems, its usage patterns, and its users' behavior. Without a deep understanding of this context, you cannot hope to secure APIs effectively.

This is where traditional, legacy tools, such as web application firewalls (WAFs) and web application and API protection (WAAP), show their age and limitations. A significant 57% of organizations acknowledge that these legacy solutions are falling short, unable to keep up with the sophisticated demands of modern API security. They are, in essence, bringing a knife to a gunfight.

In addition, the illusion of security is often more dangerous than its absence, and this is particularly true for legacy or first-generation API security technologies that profess to offer contextual insights simply because they possess a data lake. However, the mere collection of data does not equate to understanding it.

Legacy Tools Leave the Fortress Unprotected

These tools, many of which focus predominantly on edge APIs, miss the intricate web of API communications that are crucial for true contextual awareness. By neglecting the rich interactions that occur beyond the periphery, they operate similarly to traditional WAFs — adequate for surface-level defense but ill-equipped for the analytical depth required for today's complex API infrastructures. In the dynamic theater of API security, where the battleground is not just at the gates but also within the walls, relying on such solutions is akin to holding a sentry's telescope while the fortress doors stand ajar.

The repercussions of this shortfall are not merely theoretical. They have tangible, material consequences, with 52% of organizations reporting financial losses and intellectual property theft stemming from recent API-related data breaches. These are not just numbers on a balance sheet; they represent a loss of trust, a tarnishing of reputation, and a direct hit to the bottom line. And the horizon does not promise calm seas; over 60% of respondents expect API risks to increase or significantly increase over the next 24 months. The threat landscape is not static; it is as dynamic as the technology you deploy and the adversaries you face.

One of the most pervasive challenges, identified by 58% of respondents, is the expanding attack surface due to APIs. As organizations build more applications and integrate more services, each API adds another door that must be locked, another window that must be sealed. But how can you secure a door if you do not understand the room it protects or the hallways it connects?

A Data Lake Alone Is Not Enough

This is the crux of the matter: the role of data lakes in API security. The presence of a data lake is often touted as a panacea, a catch-all solution for security woes. And they're becoming more popular. However, possessing a data lake does not automatically endow an organization with the ability to perform deep contextual analysis. A data lake is a repository, a store of raw data. Without the right analytical tools — machine learning algorithms, real-time analytics, behavioral analysis, data processing capabilities, and threat intelligence — this data is like an unmined diamond, valuable but unrefined.

Moreover, integrating these tools into a seamless, responsive system is what transforms this potential into kinetic action. Customizable analytics are necessary to tailor security to each organization's unique environment. Expertise and knowledge are required to interpret the data and understand the subtleties and nuances that a machine might overlook. And do not forget the importance of compliance and regulatory understanding, ensuring that security measures meet the stringent standards demanded by law and by your conscience.

Context Is Key

As you navigate the treacherous waters of API security, do not be lulled into a false sense of security by the mere presence of a data lake or by legacy solutions built for a simpler time.

The future of API security lies in context — understanding it, analyzing it, and protecting it. It is only by embracing this reality that you can hope to defend against the increasing risks you face, securing not just your APIs, but the very future of your digital lives.

About the Author

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Richard Bird serves as the chief security officer at Traceable. With vast experience as a C-level executive in both corporate and start-up spheres, Richard is globally renowned for his expertise in cybersecurity, data privacy, identity, and zero trust. A prolific keynote speaker, he excels in aligning cybersecurity realities with business imperatives. As a Senior Fellow at the CyberTheory Zero Trust Institute and a Forbes Tech Council member, Richard's insights are often featured in top media, including the Wall Street Journal, CNBC, and CNN.

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