Most security teams now realize that APIs are one of their biggest security blind spots. Many have responded by zeroing in on their most obvious area of API risk: the business-to-consumer (B2C) APIs that external-facing mobile and web applications rely on.

This makes perfect sense. After all, the fact that B2C APIs serve the outside world makes them particularly vulnerable to attack using bots and other automated methods. So in response, many organizations have deployed specialized bot mitigation tools or use first-generation API products or web application firewalls (WAFs) to tightly manage how these APIs are accessed.

But while these are sound practices, B2C APIs only represent the tip of the iceberg when it comes to overall API risk. A much greater set of API risks often remain hidden below the surface in an organization’s business-to-business APIs.


The building blocks of digital transformation are B2B APIs

While B2C API security is now relatively well understood, many security teams overlook the central role that business-to-business (B2B) APIs now play in their organization–and the potentially devastating risks that they expose. Digital transformation is now a must for any organization that wants to stay competitive in today’s marketplace. But while business partners integrate their key operational functions through APIs, it creates a complex web of interconnectivity.

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Many of these API-based connection points provide direct visibility and access to core business functions. This may be perfectly fine when this functionality and data is limited to intended usage by trusted partners. But in the hands of a rogue partner or external threat actor, this level of API access can be exploited in ways that could have devastating business impact.

Frequently overlooked attack vector is your API to API traffic.

Security of B2B APIs is often overlooked for several reasons. First, B2B APIs are often written and maintained - and sometimes even managed - by different teams within an organization from those in charge of the B2C APIs. For example, the B2B APIs for resellers, suppliers, and other business partners are owned by either the business unit or the IT department. And quite often methodologies and processes differ greatly between departments.

Second, B2B APIs are generally viewed as more trustworthy because they are authenticated as known partners from established companies. This familiarity from well known partners as API consumers often adds to that willingness to turn a blind eye or ignore API security best practices. But in reality, people work in companies, and people make mistakes. They misplace API keys and can be compromised, socially engineered, or otherwise turn into malicious insiders.

Third, because B2B APIs are authenticated, and typically serve a smaller number of API consumers compared with B2C APIs, it is easy for API and security teams to be lulled into a false sense of security. Many organizations fail to anticipate how B2B APIs can be abused in unintended ways – and underestimate the impact on the business.

For example, an authenticated partner using your API may gain an unfair advantage – or move into competition against your business – by abusing the access they have to your data and business functions. Or worse, a trusted partner could be breached, giving a threat actor free rein to your sensitive resources and time to probe for additional damaging API abuse vectors.

And even when these risks are understood, they can’t be mitigated with bot mitigation tools, WAFs, or first-generation API-security products. One big reason for this is that most organizations don’t have a complete inventory of the B2B APIs their organization is exposing.

Another key challenge is the fact that typically B2B APIs aren’t subjected to predictable attack patterns or traffic volume spikes suggesting bot activity. More often, they are attacked with forms of API abuse that blend in seamlessly with legitimate usage. Even if the security team has a complete B2B API inventory that they are monitoring actively, they are unlikely to detect these forms of API abuse using traditional attack signatures. There are no signatures that catch unique or “zero” day API abuse.

Broad visibility and behavioral analytics are the keys to effective B2B API security

So how can businesses take greater control over their B2B API security? The two most important steps they can take are:

  1. Implement broad and continuous API discovery and visibility capabilities
  2. Apply behavioral analytics technology to differentiate abuse from legitimate activity
Continuous API discovery and visibility

While most organizations strive to implement well-structured processes and governance for their APIs, rogue and shadow APIs are a fact of life nearly everywhere. Often, they aren’t generally created with malicious intent. The simple reality is that most businesses have many teams and moving parts, all of which are evolving quickly. Throw in the occasional merger or acquisition and suddenly even the most proactive organization will likely find itself in the dark when it comes to seeing the APIs it is exposing.

The only answer is monitoring all environments for API activity continuously. This can be accomplished by capturing and analyzing API activity traffic and logs from all available sources, including:

  • Packet brokers
  • Traffic mirroring
  • API gateways
  • Content delivery networks
  • Cloud provider logs
  • Log management systems
  • Orchestration tools

Once you understand the full scope of your organization’s API activity – and have a plan to maintain it as change occurs over time – you can then move on to B2B API protection.

API behavioral analytics is essential

The key to closing risk mitigation gaps for B2B APIs is to augment or replace the tools and techniques you’re using to protect B2C APIs with an approach based on behavioral analytics. Why? Just as many security teams discovered with XDR for enterprise security, behavioral analytics makes it possible to baseline legitimate or expected behavior and spot anomalies that would be impossible to anticipate in advance. The same concepts can be applied to application security. It starts with profiling the users and business processes represented in your API data. Once you do that, you can more easily spot anomalies that signal your B2B APIs are being abused or, at the very least, used in unexpected ways.

See the complete picture of your API security posture

Embracing API behavioral analytics to gain a greater understanding of API usage – and abuse – doesn’t need to be complicated. You don’t need complex and costly on-premises security infrastructure. With Neosec, you can gain your first insights in minutes and scale seamlessly to understand and protect your entire API footprint through our 100 percent cloud-based approach.

Take the first step by requesting a free trial today at neosec.com.

 

 

 

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