What is API Compliance? The Intersection of Compliance & API Security

April 19, 2023 | by Tony Bailey

API Compliance

API compliance is defined as how an organization ensures that their APIs support the security and governance protocols defined by industry-specific requirements or regulations including PCI-DSS, HIPAA, GDPR, and SOX. An integral element in API security initiatives for API compliance is meant to ensure that the critical risk factors used to secure and control API access to sensitive data including personally identifiable information (PII) are addressed.

Why are API Compliance Standards Important?

Organizations are witnessing the proliferation of APIs across their physical and cloud environments (single, hybrid and multi-cloud). This sprawling API footprint across organizations presents a significant security challenge. There is a very clear and present danger of data exposure through non-compliant APIs. The prevalence of APIs across diverse locations makes it difficult to inventory them, manage them and finally secure them. Insecure APIs are vulnerable to cyberattacks. Every API is a potential attack vector with over 95% of organizations experiencing API-related security incidents. The vulnerability of your network, your APIs and associated endpoints is directly proportional to the number of APIs spread across your organization. Securing them is critical for ensuring data safety; for that to happen, you must mitigate identified API vulnerabilities.

Failure to protect your APIs, securing who can access them and the data used by the APIs can result in non-compliance with industry regulations with financial penalties, loss of customer trust and reputation. Couple this with API non-performance and mismanagement, and you have a scenario that calls out in the loudest terms for achieving API compliance.

Balancing API Security & Regulatory Compliance

It is essential to understand that while API security and compliance are two different practices, the lines have blurred considerably and are now interconnected. The regulations recognize this interconnectivity, and they have certain specific requirements that put the spotlight on security. For example, one of the critical requirements of PCI-DSS is that software should be developed securely. Focus on software/system security during development minimizes vulnerabilities and reduces exploitation opportunities by criminals. This essentially means APIs must be secured as well.

Therefore, organizations must be aware of API risks that can interfere with their governance and compliance objectives. Some of these are defined by the OWASP API top 10 list including:

  • Broken Object Level Authorization
  • Broken User Authentication
  • Excessive Data Exposure
  • Lack of Resources and Rate Limiting
  • Broken Function Level Authorization
  • Security Misconfiguration

Key Factors to Consider

First and foremost, decision-makers must not think of a compliant API in a silo because it must be an integral part of the larger enterprise API security strategy. API compliance is an essential subset of the API strategy and begins with understanding the requirements of a particular compliance and its demands from an API. The core focus should be on fostering a collaborative environment between developers and security teams to identify coding errors and potential vulnerabilities early in the development cycles to plug the security gaps and thus ensure compliance. Unfortunately, security can be the weakest link in an organization’s march towards compliance. Even something as basic as coding errors can leak sensitive information or provide unauthorized access to back-end resources.

How to Achieve API Compliance?

One of the bulwarks of your API strategy is the API protection lifecycle that encompasses compliance. The aim is to improve API discovery and tracking, detect risk, defend against sophisticated threats and, at the same time, minimize data loss, and fraud, reduce overall security costs, and leverage API security as a critical driver of business growth.

A survey conducted by Cequence threw light on a harsh reality. 45% of organizations believed their security tools were inadequate to deliver end-to-end API security. Unfortunately, this means that most organizations are unprepared for API attacks and not entirely in control of their API compliance.

With Cequence, you benefit from end-to-end API protection delivered by its Unified API Protection Solution that helps you address different aspects of API security to maintain compliance:

  • Before you take steps to secure your APIs, get a comprehensive idea about the attack surface by putting yourself in the attackers’ shoes to see what they see and thus prioritize problem areas based on the severity of risks.
  • Create an inventory of all the managed and unmanaged APIs spread across the organization environment to identify those that might be exposing sensitive data and not adhering to compliance best practices.
  • Ensure that your APIs are continuously following security and governance best practices and meeting the highest standard of compliance with compliance assessment and by comprehensively remediating issues that are interfering with compliance goals.
  • Fix identified vulnerabilities early in the development lifecycle by leveraging pre-defined API-specific tests based on the OWASP list of crucial security risks faced by APIs.
  • Leverage a massive and continuously updated threat intelligence database to detect automated attacks and exploits efficiently.
  • Benefit from real-time response options to threats without the need for signaling external security devices.

API compliance and API security are related objectives. Organizations focusing on API compliance and meeting the demanding requirements of industry-specific regulatory frameworks cannot depend on a manual approach. Instead, they must deploy a platform wherein API compliance is baked into its security services feature set. This will help your organization achieve its compliance goals. The inability to do so is not an option.

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Tony Bailey


Tony Bailey

Senior Director of Product Marketing

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