Is Your API Leaking Sensitive Data?

It’s no secret that data leakage has become a major concern for citizens and institutions around the world. They can cause serious damage to an organization’s reputation, incur substantial financial losses, and even have serious legal repercussions. From the infamous Cambridge Analytica scandal to the Equifax data breach, there have been several high-profile leaks that have had dire consequences for the world’s biggest brands.

Breach can also have a large impact on individuals – ultimately leading to loss of personal information, such as passwords or credit card details, which could be used by criminals for malicious purposes. Especially victims are left vulnerable to identity theft or financial fraud.

When you think about these many leaks, one would imagine that the world would stop and focus on the attack vectors being exploited. The unfortunate reality is that the world doesn’t stop. To make it even more interesting, the most prominent attack vectors are likely not what you or others think they are. Believe it or not, application programming interfaces (APIs) are a major cause of exposure and compromise.

True, hackers are increasingly exploiting APIs to gain access and extract sensitive data. In 2022 alone, 76% of cybersecurity professionals say they have API security related incidents. If that wasn’t attention-grabbing enough, US businesses lost up to $23 billion API related violations during the same time period. And sadly, many organizations are just starting to take notice.

Therefore, in this article, we will explore the potential consequences of data leaks, the role and impact that APIs have, and how organizations can protect themselves from these risks.

Protects data traversing your API

If you work in IT, it’s obvious how important security controls are to prevent sensitive data from being exposed or leaked. Thus, organizations must take extra steps to protect their data from unauthorized access. Companies must invest in the latest security measures and ensure that all employees are aware of the importance of protecting sensitive information. If you haven’t gotten the picture by now, this exercise definitely includes investing in API security.

Surprisingly for many tech professionals, API traffic now representing over 80% of internet traffic today, with API calls growing at twice the rate of HTML traffic. When you unpack these statistics, it quickly becomes clear that the API interacts with all kinds of data – including sensitive data like credit card information, health records, social security numbers, etc. However, not much attention is paid to securing such APIs. network, perimeter, and application security. Honestly, many organizations struggle to even know how many APIs they actually have.

Pretty worrying, right? As the old saying goes, you can’t protect what you can’t see. And without an accurate API inventory and insight into sensitive data traffic, you cannot adequately address potential vulnerabilities and data leaks.

API gateways and web application firewalls (WAF) provide only limited visibility into your real API, as they only reveal the API traffic routed through them. Also remember that API inventory is more than just a number. You need to know how many APIs you have, including shadow and zombie APIs, and what kind of data they use. Which is another downside about WAFs and gateways – they don’t provide any visibility into the sensitive types of data traversing your API. Without it, there will be dire consequences if sensitive data is exposed.

Comply with compliance regulations

When you consider the increasing amount of data being collected and stored, meeting data compliance regulations is just as important for securing sensitive data. That may sound a bit odd considering how interdependent the two practices are, but data compliance covers a wide range of topics, including privacy policies, data security measures and customer rights.

To address variables such as industry, geography, and data type, regulators around the world are continuously imposing and expanding requirements on how organizations handle sensitive information, such as GDPR, HIPAA, PCI DSS, CCPA, and so on.

Complying with these regulations can help protect customer privacy, prevent data breaches, and ensure that data collected is safe and protected from unauthorized access or misuse. This means identifying where data is located, where it is transferred, and where data is accessed from is critical to ensuring compliance and avoiding costly fines.

Again, this is where the API plays a major role. The API is the network of connections between your application and your device. Whether you realize it or not, your organization’s sensitive data crosses APIs. Unfortunately, the idea of ​​maintaining compliance within an organization is still considered an exercise involving only legacy infrastructure. Business and IT leaders need to pivot fast as compliance takes on a whole new dimension with the advent of APIs. API visibility should be paramount as sensitive data leaks can lead to some serious compliance violations.

How to secure your API and sensitive data

Traditional application security solutions have become the foundation of the cybersecurity stack. However, despite their track record of success, APIs present unique security challenges that these solutions cannot overcome. As we created earlier, API and WAF gateways only provide visibility into the API traffic that passes through them.

In terms of having the right tools, you need to invest in API security controls throughout the software development lifecycle to ensure your API is protected from code to production. This is really the only real strategy if you are serious about protecting your sensitive data and staying within data privacy regulations. The four pillars that comprise the purpose-built API security platform are API discovery, posture management, runtime protection, and API security testing. Let’s take a quick look at each and how they can help you protect your sensitive data:

  • API discovery: API Discovery allows you to identify and inventory all of your APIs across all data sources and environments.
  • Posture Management: Posture management provides a comprehensive view of traffic, code, and configuration for assessing an organization’s API security posture. also identify all forms of sensitive data moving through the API.
  • Runtime Protection: Powered by AI and ML-based monitoring, runtime tools detect anomalies and potential threats in your API traffic, and facilitate repairs based on your pre-selected incident response policies.
  • API Security Testing: API security testing seeks to eliminate vulnerabilities before production, reduce risk and thereby strengthen your compliance program.

As you can see, a comprehensive API security platform is required to gain full control over your sensitive data. However, it can also be a bit overwhelming. Because of this, a good place to start is to familiarize yourself with posture management. Given that this is where personally identifiable information (PII) is classified and regulated, it may be best to start here. You can download a free copy from The Definitive Guide to the Posture Management API to start.

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