Why the Shadow API Is More Dangerous Than You Think

Shadow APIs are a growing risk for organizations of all sizes because they can mask malicious behavior and cause substantial data loss. For those unfamiliar with the term, a shadow API is a type of application programming interface (API) that is not officially documented or supported.

Contrary to popular belief, it’s unfortunately all too common to have an API in production that no one on your operations or security team knows about. The enterprise manages thousands of APIs, many of which are not routed through proxies such as API gateways or web application firewalls. This means they are unmonitored, rarely audited, and most vulnerable.

Because they are invisible to security teams, shadow APIs provide hackers with a no-defense path to exploit vulnerabilities. These APIs have the potential to be manipulated by bad actors to gain access to a wide range of sensitive information, from customer addresses to company financial records. Given the potential for substantial data leaks and serious compliance breaches, preventing unauthorized access through shadow APIs is critical.

To get you started, I’ll explore how APIs get hidden and cover how shadow APIs can be used for nefarious purposes. You’ll also learn the importance of monitoring API usage and traffic, and how to identify shadow APIs and mitigate risks with tailor-made security controls.

How the API becomes hidden

A number of factors can lead to a lack of API visibility, including poor API management, lack of governance, and inadequate documentation. Without adequate governance, organizations run the risk of having an excessive number of APIs that are not being used effectively.

Most of the shadow APIs are due to downsizing. Frankly, developers don’t share all the tribal knowledge when they jump into new opportunities. And with the hot developer job market, it’s easy to see how this could happen. Especially when you consider how many projects they are currently working on. Even employees with the best of intentions have something to lose in handing over.

There are also APIs inherited as a result of mergers or acquisitions which are often overlooked. Inventory loss may occur during system integration, which is a difficult and complex operation, or there may be no inventory at all. Large companies acquiring several small businesses are especially risky because small companies are more likely to have APIs that are not well documented.

Another cause is APIs with poor security or known vulnerabilities that are still in use. Sometimes an older software version may have to run alongside a newer one temporarily during an upgrade. Then unfortunately, the person in charge ended up disabling the API, either leaving, being given a new task, or forgetting to remove the previous version.

Do you know how many APIs you have? Better yet, do you know if your API is exposing sensitive data? If you are struggling with shadow APIs in your environment you should download The Definitive Guide to API Discovery from Noname Security. Learn how to find and fix all your APIs – regardless of type.

How hackers take advantage of shadow APIs

The Shadow API is a powerful tool for bad actors, allowing them to bypass security measures and gain access to sensitive data or disrupt operations. Hackers can use shadow APIs to carry out various attacks such as data exfiltration, account hijacking and privilege escalation. They can also be used for reconnaissance purposes, gathering information about a target’s critical systems and networks.

As if that weren’t dangerous enough, hackers can bypass authentication and authorization controls via shadow APIs to access privileged accounts that can be used to launch more sophisticated attacks. All without the knowledge of the organization’s security team. For example, API attacks are also starting to appear in Automotive industryputting the driver and passengers at extreme risk.

By exploiting the API, cybercriminals can extract sensitive customer data, such as their address, credit card info from sales offers, and VIN numbers—information with clear implications for identity theft. These exploited API vulnerabilities could also expose vehicle locations or allow hackers to compromise remote management systems. Meaning cyber criminals will have the ability to unlock vehicles, start the engine, or even disable the starter altogether.

As organizations rely more and more on cloud-based services, it becomes more and more important for them to disclose shadow APIs to protect their data and systems from bad actors.

How to identify and mitigate shadow API risks

Identifying shadow APIs is an important part of API security. This involves finding all the APIs running in your environment, understanding their purpose, and ensuring they are secure. This can be done through API discovery a tool that scans all the APIs running in the environment and provides detailed information about them.

Using these tools, organizations can identify any shadow APIs that may be present in their environment and take steps to secure them before they become greater security risks. This can include monitoring network traffic for suspicious activity, performing regular vulnerability scans, and ensuring that all API requests are authenticated.

Once identified, organizations must implement steps to mitigate the risks associated with these APIs such as enforcing data encryption, limiting access rights, and enforcing security policies. In addition, organizations should also ensure that they have adequate logging systems in place so that any unauthorized access attempts can be quickly identified and dealt with.

Find and eliminate shadow APIs with Noname Security

Now that you’ve made it to the end, let’s sum it up so you fully understand the task set in front of you. The point is, the shadow API presents unique challenges for organizations like yours. They give hackers a way to hide their activity because they are often difficult to detect and track. At the very least they are a threat to data security and privacy.

Thus, Noname Security can help you accurately track all your APIs, especially shadow APIs. They provide a single pane of glass that gives you complete insight into all data sources, both on-premises and in the cloud.

Their API Security Platform can monitor load balancers, API gateways, and web application firewalls, enabling you to discover and catalog every type of API, including HTTP, RESTful, GraphQL, SOAP, XML-RPC, JSON-RPC, and gRPC. Believe it or not, their customers usually find 40% more APIs in their environment than they previously expected.

To learn more about API discovery and how Noname Security can help you understand your shadow API, I encourage you to download the new one The Definitive Guide to API Discovery.

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