Third-party APIs are being used everywhere. However, as an increasing number of enterprises adopt and utilize third-party APIs, how do they ensure API security?
Today, software and web development teams and enterprises are increasingly becoming somewhat dependent on some type of open source code, outsourced development, commercial-off-the-shelf (COTS) software, or some other form of outsourced development resources. And third party APIs, extensions, and applications are no different.
According to experts, at least 55% of global companies utilize third-party APIs to boost their organizational revenue. However, where using such third-party APIs can offer many benefits and features, it can also pose a myriad of security challenges for the development teams and organizations. Continue reading the article as we take a deep dive into the subject.
What Are Third-Party APIs?
Third-party APIs, extensions, and applications are special pieces of software, codes, or protocols provided by a third-party company to you for a specific purpose. Third-party APIs or applications work by providing a specific service or a set of features and functionalities that you do not have the resources to develop.
You can integrate pre-developed third-party APIs and extensions offered by different companies into your specific organizational infrastructure. For example, you can use Google’s Map API to integrate map features into your business website. Similarly, web and software developers can also use various pre-built third-party APIs to speed up the development process.
What is API Security?
Third-party web APIs can access sensitive data/information which can increase security risks such as data breaches. Malicious web APIs can be malware-infected and can corrupt a whole web project and can cause other far-reaching complications. API security means taking necessary steps and deploying specific security evaluation criteria to determine if a third-party API poses any security risks to a development project or organizational assets.
Why is Third Party API Security important?
Third-party API cybersecurity risks pose a serious threat to the very existence of businesses and development projects. A single malicious third-party API can infiltrate the organizational security parameters and can bring down the whole organization’s infrastructure. Similarly, a fraudulent third-party API can also abuse its access and privileges and can secretly steal and misuse sensitive information or can even do worse.
Cybercriminals are also evolving with time and technology continues to progress. Today’s modern cybercriminals can also exploit a security vulnerability that may exist in a third-party application or API being used by your organization. Adversaries can use a vulnerable API as an entry point to execute a large-scale attack. Experts have reported that 51% of organizations have experienced a data breach caused by malicious third-party APIs and applications. The consequences of a breach caused by such APIs can include but are not limited to the following:
- Data breach.
- Process/services/operations corruptions.
- Network downtimes.
- Malware infections.
- Revenue loss.
- Compliance issues.
- Project failures.
- Asset damage.
- Legal complications and more.
In addition to the above-mentioned, there can be other delayed complications accompanying a security incident caused by fraudulent third-party apps, APIs, and extensions. So how do you ensure third-party API cybersecurity? Continue reading as we share with you the top 5 ways you can evaluate third-party APIs to ensure security.
1- Making inventory and testing the APIs
How do you reduce the security risks of third-party APIs? You test them! Conducting beta testing of multiple third-party APIs can enable you to determine how a certain API performs in comparison to the others and can allow you to make informed decisions.
One of the most efficient ways to approach this is by making an inventory or a list. Make a list of all reputed third-party vendors and service providers that you can find online. Next, start by classifying them according to their impact level. Impact levels represent the level of access and control an API requires in order to perform. The more an API requires access to your organizational assets, the more level of impact/threat it poses.
The level of impact can be classified into; High, Medium, and Low. Determine what level of risk your organization is willing to accept and choose an API according to your acceptance criteria.
2- Assigning responsibilities and patching vulnerabilities
Who is responsible for patching the security vulnerabilities in third-party API? Does your organization have a dedicated IT or security team? You must never partner up with a third-party vendor if they do not provide regular security updates for their APIs or web extensions.
Assign appropriate team members to investigate and validate a particular third-party API is being maintained by the vendor appropriately. The assigned team should also evaluate the level of data and other assets accessed by the API and how the organization should react if the data accessed by the third-party API is misused. Developing a third-party incident response plan can help your organization deal with unexpected situations caused by malicious third-party APIs.
3- Investigate the API and the Vendor
Before partnering up with a third-party API vendor or before using a free API, it is always a best practice to ask specific questions from the vendor to get specific information and answers. It is imperative to investigate how a third-party API collects information, where it is stored, how it is being used by the vendor, and what specific security measures have been taken by the partnered vendor to secure the collected data and information.
Asking such questions can help you gather actionable information and make informed decisions to determine whether a third-party vendor has reliable security parameters in place to handle your organizational data/information or not.
4- Establish Zero-Trust cybersecurity policies
When it comes to organizational security, trust no one. That includes third-party API vendors and your organizational employees. 95% of security breaches are caused by negligent employees and human mistakes. Therefore, develop strict zero-trust cybersecurity policies that include compact cybersecurity rules and procedures for both your third-party vendors and your employees cooperating with them.
In order to ensure a cybersecurity culture in your organization, you must develop cybersecurity policies that do not just address third-party security procedures, but also educate and motivate your employees to develop a cybersecurity-conscious mindset. This will help your employees to develop a security-first mindset and will potentially lower the risks of employees making mistakes or implementing poor security practices.
5- Limit access and privileges
Consider deploying a privileged access management solution to make sure that only legitimate users can access your company’s sensitive information. Secure your critical assets with two-factor authentication (2FA) to make it harder to compromise your organizational network even if someone’s credentials are stolen. One-time passwords and manual access approval also can help you prevent attackers from entering your network.
How to choose a secure API and a secure API Vendor for your organization?
How can you choose a secure third-party API for your organization? What elements should you look for while choosing a third-party API? The key metrics on which you may want to evaluate the security and functionality of a specific API may differ from business to business depending on a company’s security requirements and the end goals. However, in order to maximize your chances of choosing a secure third party API compare and evaluate a third party API against the following aspects:
Reputation: If a third-party API has no verifiable vendor details or a competitive digital footprint, then it is better to choose another API that is offered by a reputed vendor such as Google, Amazon, or Microsoft.
Security: Does an API have appropriate security controls? Run a security check by using third-party security testing tools or refer to the API documentation to verify the API security capabilities. If an API offers encryption capabilities, go for it!
Compliance: Integration of a third-party API or extension can cause compliance issues and may require you to produce additional documentation. Do not use a third-party API that comes with a compliance void warning.
Updates and patches: Always choose a third-party API that is regularly updated and patched by the vendor. APIs that are updated regularly perform well and are less vulnerable to security threats.
Review the documentation: Third-party API vendors may reveal gruesome details in the API documentation that may otherwise not be visible on their official websites. Always review an API’s documentation to ensure that everything mentioned in the documentation is digestible and does not raise any red flags and alarms.
Compare third-party APIs against international security standards: There are several international standards and commonly used cybersecurity frameworks that can serve as a basis for outlining your third-party risk management strategy. Examples include:
- National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) Cybersecurity Framework
- NIST Special Publication 800-53
- ISO/IEC 27000:2018
- ISO/IEC 27001
- ISO/IEC 27002:2013
Consider Third-party vendor risk management: Third-party risk management (TPRM) can help you mitigate potential cybersecurity threats and manage third-party risks. TPRM solutions offer efficient detection, containment, and mitigation of potential third-party security risks while also boosting the performance and productivity of your overall organization.
As developers and businesses continue to rely on various third-party APIs, applications, and extensions, it is imperative that the legitimacy and security of the APIs be ensured in order to minimize potential security risks and unwanted situations. Careful evaluation of the third-party APIs and the third-party vendors is the key to making informed decisions.