Features To Look For in API Security Tools

April 30, 2024

As organizations increasingly rely on Application Programming Interfaces (APIs) to facilitate seamless communication between different software components, APIs have emerged as a prime target for cybercriminals who exploit vulnerabilities to gain unauthorized access to sensitive data, disrupt operations, or inject malicious code. In recent years, high-profile data breaches like the Equifax data breach have highlighted the importance of API security.

According to a 2023 report by the Ponemon Institute, API attacks increased by a staggering 50% in 2022, with financial institutions, healthcare organizations, and retail companies bearing the brunt of these incidents. The economic impact of API attacks is also substantial, with businesses in the United States suffering losses exceeding $23 billion in the same year due to API-related breaches, and the average cost per incident reaching $1.7 million in 2023.

Recognizing the need for a comprehensive approach to API security, many organizations are turning to API security tools. While standalone security tools are useful, they often fail to address the dynamic and interconnected nature of modern APIs. API security platforms, which combine the features of multiple API security tools into a single integrated solution, help address this problem.

This article will explore the must-have features that organizations should consider when choosing an API security platform and why investing in such a platform is essential for safeguarding against the increasing risks associated with API usage.

Summary of key API security tools features

This table summarizes six must-have features to consider when evaluating API security tools and platforms, and the following sections will explore each in more detail.

Feature Description
Automated API discovery Identify and catalog APIs automatically, regardless of whether they are shadow or zombie APIs.
API security posture management Gain a comprehensive view of your API security risks and prioritize remediation efforts based on potential impact.
API runtime protection Actively monitor and shield your APIs from attacks like injection and brute-force attempts during runtime.
Inline enforcement Seamlessly integrate security policies directly into your APIs, automatically blocking unauthorized access and suspicious activities.
Real-time vulnerability monitoring Continuously scan your APIs for known and emerging vulnerabilities, ensuring you stay ahead of potential threats.
API specification review Proactively identify security flaws and compliance issues within your API specifications before they are deployed.

Six must-have features in API security tools and platforms

The complexity of API ecosystems nowadays demands a more integrated and centralized solution, which brings us to the question: Why are API security platforms gaining prominence over traditional standalone security tools for testing or firewall enforcement for web applications or more?

The answer lies in the multifaceted challenges posed by API security. Standalone API security tools are designed to address specific aspects of API security, such as access control, authentication, encryption, testing, and traffic monitoring. They often focus on a particular security concern.

However, API security platforms are comprehensive solutions integrating multiple capabilities to provide a holistic approach to API security. As you embark on the journey of selecting an API security platform, it’s crucial to consider these six must-have features.

#1 Automated API discovery

The sheer volume and dynamic nature of APIs make it difficult for organizations to identify and catalog every API within their ecosystem manually. The rapid pace of API introduction, changes, and deprecation in an environment further exacerbates the challenge.

A manual approach often results in an incomplete and outdated inventory in a dynamic environment where APIs continually evolve. The lack of real-time visibility into the API landscape exposes organizations to potential security gaps, leaving them vulnerable to cyber threats.

By leveraging an API security platform with an automated API Discovery feature, organizations can systematically scan their network, applications, and infrastructure to identify APIs in real time. Findings typically include shadow or zombie API endpoints, their classification based on the data sensitivity they provide, business criticality, and API ownership.

Impart’s API Discovery feature. (Source)

For example, Impart Security’s integrated automated API Discovery feature helps an organization build a complete snapshot of all APIs in use, easily detecting non-conforming, outdated, or deprecated APIs. This reduces the attack surface and is essential for effectively monitoring and securing your API landscape.


#2 API security posture management

An organization’s API security posture refers to the overall security status. It encompasses various elements, such as authentication mechanisms, authorization protocols, data encryption, and adherence to security best practices. The significance of API security posture management lies in its ability to reduce the attack surface of APIs, identify and mitigate potential security threats, and ensure the security of sensitive data transferred through APIs.

For example, by identifying where sensitive data needs the most robust protections, API security posture management can help organizations preemptively improve their security posture and reduce the likelihood of a data breach. Additionally, an API security posture management feature provides visibility into the security state of a collection of APIs, enabling organizations to detect and prevent malicious requests and ensure the security of their software.

Impart Security API Security Posture Management feature. (Source)

Choosing an API security platform that combines API Discovery with sensitive data identification, vulnerability detection, and configuration assessment is vital to improving overall security posture and reducing the likelihood of a security event such as a data breach.

#3 API runtime protection

While static API security tools like API Gateways and Web Application Firewalls (WAFs) are still default API security essentials for many, dynamic threats during runtime require something more effective. API runtime protection refers to actively protecting APIs during their runtime or when they are actively processing requests and responding to clients.

API runtime protection features actively monitor API transactions, looking for anomalies and potential security breaches. Additionally, advanced API runtime protection employs machine learning, artificial intelligence, and other advanced analytics to identify abnormal behavior and prevent sophisticated attacks in real time. This real-time protection safeguards APIs against a wide range of potential threats, including:

  • Malicious API requests: Detect and block suspicious requests that deviate from standard API usage patterns, preventing attacks like data exfiltration, unauthorized access, and denial-of-service (DoS) attacks.
  • API abuse: Identify and prevent API misuse, ensuring that sensitive data is not accessed or manipulated beyond authorized limits.
  • Unauthorized API deployments: Monitor API deployments and identify unauthorized or suspicious deployments, preventing the introduction of insecure APIs into production environments.

In a comprehensive API security platform, API runtime protection is implemented as an integrated API Firewall that analyzes requests and responses at runtime, identifies malicious API requests, and responds to threats with a suite of mitigation actions, such as alerting, blocking, or behavioral rate limiting. All this analysis is presented in a real-time dashboard, together with what actions were taken on the API traffic and why, making it easy to justify mitigation activity to business stakeholders.


#4 Inline enforcement

Inline enforcement allows real-time monitoring and enforcement of security measures within the API infrastructure during data transactions. Unlike external enforcement mechanisms that act as an additional layer of security, inline enforcement operates within the core of the API infrastructure, actively intercepting and evaluating every API request and response.

Inline enforcement provides real-time protection by blocking or rerouting suspicious requests, thereby reducing the reaction time. It acts as a proactive defense mechanism against potential security breaches by actively validating and sanitizing inputs and ensuring secure data transmission to prevent common API security vulnerabilities like injection attacks and unauthorized access.

How inline enforcement works. (Source)

For example, inline enforcement can detect and prevent malicious requests, data leakage, tampering, and policy violations, reducing the risk of unauthorized access and data breaches. By integrating inline enforcement with runtime protection, organizations can establish a comprehensive security posture that safeguards against the evolving threat landscape.

#5 Real-time vulnerability monitoring

API security hinges on promptly identifying and addressing potential vulnerabilities to prevent exploitation by malicious actors. Delays in detecting and addressing vulnerabilities can have severe consequences because hackers often exploit vulnerabilities swiftly, leading to data breaches, service disruptions, and reputational damage.

Real-time vulnerability monitoring is a critical feature of API security platforms that enables the continuous identification and remediation of vulnerabilities. This feature provides several advantages over traditional security tools, including improved accuracy, reduced risk of human error, and increased efficiency. Traditional vulnerability assessments conducted at scheduled intervals may not suffice in the dynamic digital landscape. Real-time vulnerability monitoring ensures that security teams can identify and address vulnerabilities as soon as they emerge, reducing the exposure window.

The ideal API security platform with a real-time vulnerability monitoring feature leverages cutting-edge machine learning and behavioral analysis and goes beyond traditional tools to:

  • Proactively uncover weaknesses: Pinpoint configuration flaws and known vulnerabilities in dependencies.
  • Streamline remediation: Seamlessly integrate with your IT stack, enabling automatic or manual issue resolution based on predefined policies.
  • Stay ahead of evolving risks: Continuously monitor API activity for suspicious behavior, mitigating emerging threats in real time.

#6 API specification review

API specification review is a fundamental feature of API security platforms, offering organizations the ability to ensure adherence to security standards, mitigate vulnerabilities, achieve regulatory compliance, and foster a culture of security throughout the SDLC.

This process involves analyzing the APIs' design and documentation to identify potential vulnerabilities, compliance issues, and best practices adherence. It also involves automated validation of API specifications, continuous monitoring for compliance with the defined standards, and integration with the API development lifecycle to enforce security and quality requirements from design to runtime.

By deploying an API security platform with an API specification review feature, organizations can reap several benefits, including:

  • Improved security posture: API specification review ensures that APIs are developed and maintained following industry best practices and security standards, leading to a more robust security posture.
  • Early identification of vulnerabilities: Organizations that identify vulnerabilities early in the development process have more time for effective remediation.
  • Integration with the development lifecycle: An effective API security platform seamlessly integrates API specification review into the SDLC. This promotes a security-first mindset among developers and facilitates the implementation of security controls from the outset, reducing the need for costly and time-consuming security retrofits later in the development lifecycle.



Securing APIs in today's dynamic digital landscape demands a multifaceted approach, and API security tools play a pivotal role in fortifying organizations against evolving threats. A comprehensive API security platform that combines the features of multiple API security tools helps organizations address API security challenges holistically. Each feature contributes to a comprehensive and robust security posture, from automated API discovery to API runtime protection.

As organizations navigate the complexities of modern software ecosystems, adopting the right API security tools is imperative to ensure their digital assets' integrity, confidentiality, and availability. Embracing a proactive approach in API security is not just a sound strategy; it's necessary to safeguard against the ever-evolving threat landscape. Organizations that prioritize and invest in comprehensive API security strategies are better positioned to thrive in the digital age, where security is a cornerstone of success.

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