What is API Threat Detection?

March 19, 2024 | by Jeff Harrell

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API threat detection is one of the critical aspects of API security and is the process of identifying API threats intended to exploit API vulnerabilities. As API usage becomes more prevalent across organizations, they have also become a primary target of attackers, who employ widely varied and advanced techniques to exploit API vulnerabilities. Insufficient protection against such API threats can lead to data breaches that expose sensitive data, fraud, and other abuse that can cause business disruption, not to mention increased infrastructure and personnel costs.

API Threat Detection Should be a Core Security Competency

Throughout the growth of the internet, organizations have improved their ability to detect application threats and attacks. Those threats have not diminished, and in fact they continue to evolve, and application threat detection and defense must necessarily evolve in response. But as organizations’ internet presence has grown, so has the attack surface, in no small part due to the proliferation of APIs that connect applications together, the front end to the back end, organizations to partners, and more.

APIs are now core to organizations’ network strategy and should be core to the security strategy as well. The fact is that many of the most common attacks either can be focused on the API as well as the application or are designed specifically for APIs, but most solutions designed to protect the applications don’t adequately protect the APIs. Automated account takeovers (ATO), fake account creation, gift and loyalty card fraud – these can all be a threat to APIs and must be identified, prioritized, and mitigated.

How Can Organizations Choose the Right API Threat Detection Solution?

There are a few important things to look for when choosing the right API threat detection solution. Organizations should also consider factors such as additional available services, support, and ease of deployment, but for the purposes of this article we’ll focus on criteria specific to API threat detection.

API Discovery and Inventory

A common problem faced by today’s organizations is “API sprawl,” which can occur when separate teams develop products with different standards, for example. In order to adequately protect APIs and detect threats accurately, organizations must have an up-to-date inventory of their APIs, including production, third-party, and even so-called shadow APIs. Shadow APIs are APIs that aren’t documented or supported and therefore usually not monitored or audited, making them more likely to be vulnerable. Organizations should look for a solution that includes API discovery and inventory, enabling them to reduce or eliminate APIs not under IT control.

Intelligent API Detection

An effective API threat detection solution is capable of identifying threats based on their behavior, not an easily spoofed identifier such as IP address. This criterion immediately separates the effective from the legacy solutions, greatly simplifying the buying decision. Additionally, while it’s important to support standardized frameworks like OWASP, the solution should also go further and identify other commonly known threats as well as unknown threats. The ability to identify threats by behavior greatly improves a solution’s ability to identify threats never seen before.

Built in Mitigation and Blocking

Most API security solutions are merely detection mechanisms, much like early vulnerability management solutions that produced pages and pages of problems to solve but left the actual problem solving to the buyer. The best API threat detection and defense solutions today offer various mitigation options including native blocking. While web application firewalls (WAFs) and similar products have their place in the security strategy, handling mitigation and blocking for the entire application and API infrastructure is not what they were designed for. We’ve expanded on this idea in a recent blog, Why do I Need API Security if I Have a WAF and API Gateway? The ideal solution has mitigation options such as logging, blocking, rate limiting, geo-fencing and deception, a technique that misleads attackers into believing that their attacks have been successful.

Cequence Unified API Protection

The Cequence Unified API Protection UAP platform meets all these criteria in a single platform. Based on three core pillars, discovery, compliance, and protection, the UAP platform provides a comprehensive solution for API threat detection and defense. If you’d like to learn more, Cequence offers a free API security assessment with no obligation that gives you an attacker’s view into your APIs and the next step in your API security journey.

Jeff Harrell


Jeff Harrell

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