API Security Monitoring
Whether you are a security practitioner, software developer, or business stakeholder, understanding why and how to protect your API endpoints can be crucial for the success of your business and the integrity of your application. Organizations tend to expose personal information, organizational information, and other forms of data that can be highly enticing for attackers to get a hold of. A poorly secured API can lead to a compromise of authentication tokens, customer PII data, organizational secrets, and much more. This is indicated clearly by various statistics that show a concerning rising trend in the number of API attacks:
These breaches can be extremely costly for an organization. There is a heavy cost involved in conducting investigations and forensics, in addition to any fines or settlements resulting from the breach.
Aside from the financial impact, losing the trust of customers can be immeasurably costly for an organization. In 2021, T-Mobile experienced a breach of over 37 million customers’ PII data as a result of a misconfigured API endpoint. While this is likely the most high-profile example of API exploitation, it shows how a simple misconfiguration can change the trust that customers have in a company, resulting in long-lasting effects.
In this article, we cover the best API security monitoring practices to ensure that your APIs are monitored and secure at all times. We also cover some recommendations to get you started with API security monitoring.
Summary of API security monitoring best practices
Seven API monitoring best practices
In the following sections, we will cover seven API security monitoring best practices in detail and explain how they contribute to a safer API environment.
Define security goals and baseline your API activity
Intimately understanding your business logic and how data flows through your API endpoints is crucial for properly protecting the data. You also need a benchmark of what your normal API activity looks like over an extended period of time so that your monitoring tool is able to detect when something anomalous happens.
For one application, 10,000 requests per second may be normal; for another, it may mean the API is undergoing a DOS attack. Documenting details about the way your API works can be crucial for all stakeholders to understand what behavior is normal and what isn’t. It can also help you identify which API endpoints may be more sensitive than others. Many advanced API security tools offer a feature that will scan your CI/CD pipelines, logs, and API traffic to automatically document API details.
Integrate with your IR / security operations team
The average time to detect a breach is around 200 days, which is a considerable length of time for an attacker to have access to your data. Giving your incident response (IR) team the ability to monitor and respond in your API security solution can help speed up the time to detection. Beyond the mean time to detect the compromise, it takes, on average, an extra 100 days to contain the breach. Taken together, this equates to nearly a year of data in your organization being compromised. As the number of API attacks increases year over year, it’s becoming increasingly necessary to address them quickly.
Many vendors offer runtime protection capabilities, which allow users to become aware of potential attacks as soon as they are happening. Providing your IR team with access to these alerts and reports will allow them to quickly trigger the incident response process to contain any malicious activity.
Centralize logging from all your APIs
When investigating the behavior associated with more than one of your APIs, it helps to be able to quickly correlate activity across many logs spanning multiple systems, e.g., API monitoring solutions, web servers, firewalls, etc. If all these logs require you to log into separate systems and find the right log to correlate with the others, you are spending extra time unnecessarily. Having to pivot between multiple tools may not provide you with full visibility or the ability to respond quickly; centralizing logging can help speed up time to detection and response time.
Integrate with your CI/CD pipeline
A buzzword that has become increasingly popular among sales, marketing, and IT folks is “shift left.” In the context of API security, this means implementing security testing earlier in the software development lifecycle. Some of the best practices for implementing the shift left can be found here.
Useful tools integrate with CI/CD pipelines early on to identify bugs and misconfigurations before they ship to production. Finding and fixing a vulnerability is always a plus, but having a tool that easily identifies the vulnerable code can speed up remediation immensely. This emphasizes the need to pick a tool that integrates with your CI/CD pipeline and finds vulnerabilities before release.
Use monitoring to discover shadow/zombie APIs
Discovering and either monitoring or eliminating shadow APIs can determine whether an organization suffers a data breach. A specific API endpoint that was deprecated may accidentally pop back up in an unintentional code change. Without shadow API monitoring, that endpoint could go unmonitored and end up being exploited without any sort of logging to detect it. Find a solution that offers a security posture management feature that analyzes code to find these endpoints before they are exposed.
Keep your API updated
Keeping your API up to date is not only important for introducing new features to your application but also for keeping your API secure. Patching vulnerabilities that have been discovered by your monitoring tool allows you to decrease the number of avenues an attacker can take to exploit the endpoint. Widely used libraries, such as log4j, can introduce easily exploitable vulnerabilities, so keeping them up to date is essential.
Monitor third-party integrations
Another difficulty in protecting your API is that you can take all of the above steps to prevent an exploit, but if you integrate with a compromised third party, you can end up being impacted as well. Vulnerabilities in the third-party application can become vulnerabilities in your API integration, leading to exploitation or data exposure. If you are sending sensitive data to the third party and a threat attacker has access to their system, your data is also compromised as a result. Monitoring abnormal behavior, such as unauthorized access attempts or previously unseen activity from the third party, can be a key determiner of whether or not a third party is compromised.
Before you go through the evaluation process to decide on a security tool, consider some key features that will aid you with keeping your APIs secure.
These tools can be great when you are just starting out as a small business, but as your organization grows, there can be a number of pain points that arise from relying on an open-source solution. The main difficulty arises from the lack of vendor support. If something goes wrong with the deployment of your monitoring tool or a specific functionality doesn’t work, there’s likely no one to call to get quick help. In addition, open-source tools tend to lack some of the more advanced functionalities, such as AI capabilities, that make modern tools powerful. With that in mind, it might be worth considering more advanced tools.
Know what you need
Different API use cases may require different types of protections. A feature that may be crucial to protecting your specific API may not be as useful for another customer’s API. Don’t base your product decision solely on the recommendation of others: Make sure you fully understand the endpoint you are protecting, including the different HTTP methods allowed and what devices/locations users should be connecting from. This will help you consider relevant features and pick the most optimal solutions. Having the ability to customize the features that you want can lead to more comprehensive protection for your API.
While a certain solution may suit your current workload, also take into consideration how your applications will grow. You may only have a handful of endpoints now, but your application will likely grow more complex and robust. How will the solution you are using to monitor these endpoints scale along with your application? Will it be able to handle the number of endpoints or amount of volume that you are forecasting for your application? Will investigating alerts and sifting through potential false positives still be optimal when your traffic volume doubles over the next year or two? Future-proofing and preparing for growth is a crucial piece of the success pie.
In addition to all of the above, training your internal users on vendor solutions can be a huge step toward implementing API security monitoring tools. Many vendors tend to create a nice and simple demo environment where everything works perfectly to showcase all of the tool’s features. This is a great way to see the product, but the deployment is not always as smooth sailing and easy. Selecting a vendor that will help you with the implementation and train other users on how to properly configure, tune, and respond with the solution can help set you up for long-term security and success.
While several factors go into most companies’ decisions when selecting an API security tool, there are also many red flags they should look out for. When it’s time, you should ideally evaluate and decide on a robust solution that guards your API with comprehensive security features. There is no one-size-fits-all solution, so understanding your APIs and following best practices will set you up for a successful implementation.
Guide To API Security Best Practices
Learn how to protect customer data and improve security posture with 8 essential API security best practices.
API Pentesting Methodology
Learn how to scope an API, address the top five attacks, and report and retest vulnerabilities during API penetration testing.
Learn how API attacks, such as Broken Object Level Authorization, can lead to unauthorized access to confidential data and how to protect against them.
API Security Monitoring
Understand the best practices for monitoring your API, as well as some key features to look for when evaluating an API monitoring solution.