Why it Pays to Have a Comprehensive API Security Strategy

June 17, 2024

In an era dominated by digital connectivity and rapid technological advancements, application programming interfaces (APIs) play a pivotal role in facilitating seamless communication and data exchange between diverse software applications. As API usage continues to grow, so does the need for robust API security measures. In this blog post, we delve into the critical aspects highlighted in our report, The State of API Security in 2024. We’ll focus on the different security options available and make a case for a comprehensive API security strategy.



Specialized API Security Solutions

Specialized API security vendors offer targeted solutions designed to identify and implement specific security measures against API attacks. While these solutions can be effective, solely relying on API-specific defenses might leave organizations vulnerable to broader threats. A more resilient approach involves integrating API security with a comprehensive set of application security solutions such as a web application firewall (WAF), advanced bot protection and distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) protection. By adopting an integrated strategy, organizations strengthen their ability to identify and thwart complex, multi-vector attacks, including reconnaissance attacks and injection attacks. A critical aspect of this approach is disrupting attackers’ progress at the reconnaissance stage, preventing them from exploiting APIs and compromising sensitive data.


The key takeaway is the importance of adopting a holistic application security strategy. Combining API-specific measures with broader defenses creates a more robust shield against evolving cybersecurity threats.



API Gateways: A Double-Edged Sword

API gateways empower businesses to deploy APIs rapidly and act as a centralized control point for routing API calls efficiently. Moreover, they provide a platform for implementing business logic use cases, such as metering API consumption rates for monetization or management purposes. However, while API gateways are indispensable for managing and optimizing API traffic, they lack the ability to actively inspect payloads to detect anomalies that could indicate an attack.


Organizations using API gateways benefit from additional protection through a web applications and API protection (WAAP) solution. This ensures the full spectrum of API endpoints is secured against potential threats. Combining an API gateway and WAAP solution effectively manages API traffic and helps actively identify and prevent security vulnerabilities at the API layer.



Web Application Firewalls (WAFs)

API threats are increasingly sophisticated, often transcending traditional application vulnerabilities. As a result, relying solely on conventional web application firewalls (WAFs) is no longer sufficient to address the complex nature of API vulnerabilities. While a good WAF incorporating DDoS protection will detect and block known signature attacks such as SQL injection attacks, remote code execution and DDoS attacks targeting the application layer, modern web attacks are finding ways to bypass traditional WAFs. For example, a basic WAF cannot distinguish between malicious API calls and legitimate API traffic, rendering defenses ineffective when it comes to mitigating API logic vulnerabilities or automated attacks targeting the API’s business logic. A more effective solution involves the integration of security technology stacks, encompassing API Security, WAF, bot protection and DDoS protection.



Comprehensive API Security Protection

The rationale behind this approach is to create a holistic strategy for detecting and remediating threats targeting exposed APIs. The multifaceted nature of API risks necessitates a comprehensive defense strategy. API Security focuses on the unique threats associated with APIs, while WAF provides a broader protection layer against various web application attacks that could lead to an API attack. Bot protection becomes essential in safeguarding against automated attacks, and DDoS protection ensures the availability of APIs under volumetric attack scenarios.


By integrating these security measures, organizations can establish a resilient security posture that effectively mitigates the evolving threats facing APIs. This comprehensive approach not only safeguards against known vulnerabilities but also provides a proactive defense mechanism against emerging and future threats.



The Imperative of Holistic Security

In conclusion, the landscape of API security demands a strategic and comprehensive approach. Specialized API security solutions offer a targeted defense, but they would offer better protection if integrated into a broader security framework to ensure maximum protection. API gateways, while invaluable for managing API traffic, benefit from being combined with a WAAP to address security anomalies at the API layer.


The evolving threat landscape is driving a shift in how organizations approach API security, and as the digital ecosystem continues to advance, having a comprehensive API security strategy isn’t just a proactive measure, it’s a strategic investment in safeguarding the integrity, availability, and confidentiality of critical data and services. Organizations that prioritize a comprehensive API security strategy today will undoubtedly reap the rewards of a secure and resilient digital future.

Grainner McKeever
Senior Security Product Marketing Manager for Application Security | Imperva
Grainner McKeever is a senior security product marketing manager for application security at Imperva, specializing in API Security and DDoS protection. With over 20 years in communications and marketing, McKeever has worked internationally across several industries, including banking, regulatory compliance, international exchange services and transport and logistics.

Optiv Security: Secure greatness.®

Optiv is the cyber advisory and solutions leader, delivering strategic and technical expertise to nearly 6,000 companies across every major industry. We partner with organizations to advise, deploy and operate complete cybersecurity programs from strategy and managed security services to risk, integration and technology solutions. With clients at the center of our unmatched ecosystem of people, products, partners and programs, we accelerate business progress like no other company can. At Optiv, we manage cyber risk so you can secure your full potential. For more information, visit www.optiv.com.