API Testing

The Hidden Risks of API Monitoring That Leave APIs More Vulnerable

April 10, 2022
5 minutes

The USPS API leaked 60 million records of private customer data less than a month after their API was tested and cleared of potential vulnerabilities—so how did it happen?

It happened because the cause of the data breach was a logic flaw, which is incredibly difficult for API monitoring platforms, or even manual pen testers, to identify.

API monitoring tools create a false sense of security for companies trying to keep their users safe – until they fall victim to yet another data breach.

Keep reading to learn how relying on API monitoring too much leaves your APIs ripe for the picking.

TLDR Key Takeaways

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API Monitoring does very little to actually protect your APIs proactively, especially against business logic vulnerabilities.

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API Monitoring tools often raise too many false positives, leading to real issues being ignored.

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Specialized, continuous API security testing tools find vulnerabilities before they are a problem.

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API Monitoring: A Quick Refresher

API monitoring is the process of checking your API's endpoints and data exchanges to make sure they're functional, available, and performing as expected. This allows developers to identify and fix API issues before they impact the end-user.

Additionally, you get visibility into how well each function within the API operates by viewing metrics such as the number of API function calls, the time it takes to respond to those calls, and the amount of data returned.

In today's world, monitoring is essential to ensure your APIs are sustainable, the applications that depend on them receive the services/data they need while the  end-user has a streamlined experience.

Some companies think that API monitoring is enough to cover all of their API security needs. Here are 5 reasons why API monitoring alone is not sufficient to ensure API security. 

5 Risks of API Monitoring That No One Wants to Tell You About

While API monitoring gives you insight into certain information, there are some areas that slip through the cracks.

We've put together a list of the most important vulnerabilities your API monitoring tools are missing.

1. Monitoring Tools Cannot Identify Business Logic Vulnerabilities

Business logic can't be parsed using API monitoring tools, which means you won't discover an entire cluster of potential security risks that exist in your API governance 

Business logic vulnerabilities are either weaknesses or bugs in the design or legitimate functionalities of an application. Because business logic is unique to every application, business logic vulnerabilities typically go overlooked until your data has already been compromised. 

In late 2021 a security researcher ran vulnerability research on a group of financial services and FinTech companies. Every single API tested contained business logic flaws which created  Broken Authentication vulnerabilities that allowed the researcher to perform API requests on other bank customer accounts without authenticating.

That's what makes these vulnerabilities so dangerous.

The fact that these vulnerabilities are often exploited without the need for special tools or techniques makes them widely cited as the number one API security threat.

Since these vulnerabilities are rooted in your API's governance, you'll need to have a deep understanding of every process, rule, and workflow that directly or indirectly informed the setup of your API.

2. False Positives and Negatives Cause Teams to Miss Auditable Events

API monitoring tools have a tendency to produce a fair amount of false positives while simultaneously missing other potential auditable events.

An auditable event occurs when a user performs a certain action that may affect the security of your API or correlates to a security breach, such as:

  • Changing or deleting policies, permissions, and data
  • Making large transactions
  • Failed login attempts
  • Altering system functions

Since many API monitoring tools run on pass/fail alerts that are based on your API’s governance, many IT departments find themselves overwhelmed with the number of false positives they need to investigate, especially if the ticket doesn't include enough information.

It's like having a doorbell camera that alerts you every time a car goes by; eventually, you stop looking at the notifications and miss an important event.

Similarly, IT teams either deprioritize their investigations or become less confident in their monitoring tool—IT teams reported that 44% of their alerts go unexplored, exposing them to potential attacks.

When teams fail to investigate false positives promptly, they run the risk of missing an actual threat to the system.

This is one of the main reasons why insufficient API logging and monitoring are listed as one of OWASP's Top Ten API Security threats.

3. Synthetic API Monitoring Tools Fail to Simulate Real-world Events

Synthetic monitoring, sometimes called synthetic testing, was developed as a proactive way to test your API, but it does little more than conduct basic acceptance tests to check your API's performance.

Synthetic monitoring involves a monitoring client actively sending a previously-made client request to your API, meaning that they aren't monitoring what your users are currently doing.

While using these predefined requests helps you assess your API's performance, it only accounts for what you anticipate or what some users have done in the past. Additionally, these tests only occur on single endpoints, severely limiting their ability to detect functional errors.

Synthetic monitoring tools don't unify work silos, they create more. This means the teams with the deepest knowledge of creating real-world tests specific to your API won't be involved in their creation.

4. API Monitoring Cannot Continuously, and Proactively Test API Vulnerabilities

While you can set up a monitoring routine that runs at regularly scheduled intervals throughout the SDLC lifecycle, you'll find that API monitoring is nowhere near enough to ensure continuous API security testing.

Continuous testing is the process of integrating automated testing into SDLC pipelines so that businesses can identify and resolve risks quickly and efficiently. This is done by applying shift-left testing methodologies, which only work if your testing doesn’t slow down your dev team.

While API monitoring tools complement continuous testing methods by adding another layer of screening on their own, they aren't enough to ensure security and can’t keep up with new cybersecurity threats.

5. Monitoring Can't Match Specialized API Security Testing Solutions

API monitoring tools claim to analyze your entire API, but they only return certain metrics without providing your details to the underlying cause of a vulnerability—or miss it altogether. 

On the other hand, specialized API testing solutions, like APIsec, are designed to dissect every endpoint, variable, method, and input parameter to uncover hidden API security threats, including business logic flaws.

APIsec has the perfect plan to keep your API safe and secure. Check out this quick demo to see how the platform works:

Our engine creates thousands of automated attack playbooks, which are designed for testing every corner of your system so that you can be confident no vulnerability is left uncovered. Here’s how it’s done:

  • We learn your API architecture: With just a list of endpoints and methods, our platform can integrate directly with your API platform, OpenAPI spec, Postman collection, Swagger, or other interface. 
  • We generate custom API test cases: We offer a comprehensive API security testing platform that automatically creates and executes thousands of test cases tailored to your unique architecture.
  • We run our tests in multiple environments: With the ability to run our tailored tests throughout the SDCL, we ensure every corner of your API is tested for any potential vulnerabilities.
  • We find what everyone else misses:  Since our test cases are tailored to the unique architecture of a given API, the platform uncovers hidden layers of vulnerabilities that are impossible to catch with pen testing or vuln scanning.

Want to learn more? Find out how APIsec helps companies take their API security testing to the next level here or schedule a demo.

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