Some of the past decade’s most significant data breaches have resulted from an API attack. T-Mobile, Equifax, and Twitter have all fallen afoul of such attacks. Cyber attacks are rising – 94% of companies experienced API security problems in production APIs within the past year. With that, so too is the need for tools and technologies to protect them. According to OWASP, API tools fall into one of three categories: security posture, runtime security, and security testing. This article will explore one tool from each of those categories.
Security Posture: OWASP ZAP
OWASP ZAP (Zed Attack Proxy) is a widely used open-source tool for finding security vulnerabilities in web applications, including APIs. It helps organizations assess the security posture of their APIs by simulating real-world attacks and identifying potential weaknesses that malicious actors could exploit. Here’s how OWASP ZAP tests an organization’s API security posture:
- Dynamic Analysis (Black Box Testing): OWASP ZAP performs dynamic analysis by acting as a “man-in-the-middle” between the client (your testing environment) and the API server. It intercepts and analyzes the requests and responses exchanged between the two.
- Discovering API Endpoints: ZAP starts by crawling through your API, automatically identifying API endpoints and the associated parameters. This process helps ensure that all parts of the API are tested.
- API Fuzzing and Attack Simulation: ZAP injects various payloads and attack vectors into API requests to test for vulnerabilities. These attacks can include SQL injection, cross-site scripting (XSS), parameter manipulation, and more.
- Parameter Manipulation: ZAP modifies API parameters to check for injection vulnerabilities, improper handling of input, and unexpected behavior caused by manipulated inputs.
- Authentication and Authorization Testing: ZAP simulates different authentication and authorization scenarios to identify potential bypasses or weaknesses in access controls.
- Session Management Testing: ZAP tests the security of session tokens, cookies, and other session management mechanisms to ensure they cannot be easily compromised.
- Sensitive Data Exposure: The tool looks for sensitive data potentially exposed in API responses, such as passwords, tokens, or personal information.
- Error Handling and Information Leakage: ZAP checks how the API handles errors and incorrect inputs. Improper error handling can provide attackers with valuable information about the system’s internal workings.
- Security Headers Analysis: The tool assesses the presence and correctness of security-related HTTP headers, such as Content Security Policy (CSP) and HTTP Strict Transport Security (HSTS).
- Reporting: After completing the testing process, ZAP generates a detailed report highlighting vulnerabilities, their severity, and suggested remediation steps. This report helps organizations understand their API security gaps.
- Manual Testing and Configuration: While ZAP can perform automated testing, organizations should supplement this with manual testing to explore complex attack scenarios and validate the findings.
- Customization and Extensibility: ZAP is highly customizable and extensible. It allows you to create custom scripts, rules, and plugins to test specific aspects of your API that default scans might not cover.
API-specific runtime security platforms provide security for APIs at runtime by monitoring and protecting against a wide range of threats and attacks. These tools operate within the application’s runtime environment and mainly focus on safeguarding APIs and the interactions they handle. Unlike traditional security tools that work at the network perimeter, API security tools can detect and mitigate attacks that target application vulnerabilities from within the application itself. Here’s an overview of API-specific runtime protection platforms:
Key Features and Functions:
- Real-time Threat Detection and Prevention: These platforms actively monitor real-time API calls and traffic. They can detect anomalies, suspicious behavior, and attacks targeting the API, such as SQL injection, cross-site scripting (XSS), and more. Upon detecting a threat, they can take action to prevent the attack from succeeding.
- Automated Defense Mechanisms: These tools can automatically respond to threats without manual intervention; this includes blocking malicious requests, terminating suspicious sessions, and adapting security policies on the fly.
- Vulnerability Mitigation: API security tools can identify and mitigate known vulnerabilities in APIs. Some may temporarily apply virtual patches to fix vulnerabilities until the actual code is updated.
- API Behavior Profiling: These tools build a profile of normal API behavior over time, enabling them to identify deviations from the norm that might indicate a security breach or attack.
- Security Monitoring and Reporting: API-specific runtime protection tools provide detailed insights into API traffic, security events, and attack attempts. This information helps security teams assess the overall security posture and respond to incidents effectively.
- Low False Positives: These tools minimize false positive alerts by having a deep understanding of the application’s behavior; this helps prevent legitimate API requests from being blocked.
- Support for Multiple APIs and Languages: Many API runtime security tools support a wide range of programming languages and frameworks, making them adaptable to different API environments.
- Integration with DevOps Practices: API-specific protection tools can be integrated into continuous integration/continuous deployment (CI/CD) pipelines, ensuring security throughout the development lifecycle.
Security Testing: Burp Scanner
Burp Scanner, a component of Burp Suite, is designed to dynamically evaluate the security of a running API by interacting with it and identifying vulnerabilities. Here’s a step-by-step overview of how Burp Scanner performs this process:
- Configuration and Target Setup: You configure Burp Scanner by specifying the target API’s URL, authentication details, and any specific settings required for the API interaction.
- Crawling and Discovery: Burp Scanner starts by crawling the API to identify all accessible endpoints, parameters, and request paths; this helps it build a map of the API’s structure and paths.
- Automated Scanning: Burp Scanner begins automated scanning using the information gathered during the crawling phase. It sends HTTP requests to each endpoint, including different HTTP methods like GET, POST, PUT, and DELETE.
- Parameter Fuzzing and Payload Injection: Burp Scanner injects a wide range of payloads into the request parameters to test for vulnerabilities. These payloads include attack vectors like SQL injection, cross-site scripting (XSS), command injection, and more.
- Attack Simulation: The tool simulates real-world attack scenarios by injecting payloads and observing how the API responds. It’s particularly effective in identifying vulnerabilities and security weaknesses that attackers might exploit.
- Response Analysis: As the API responds to the injected payloads, Burp Scanner analyzes the responses, headers, and other attributes to detect signs of successful attacks or indicators of vulnerabilities.
- Session Handling and Context Preservation: Burp Scanner maintains the context of interactions by handling sessions, cookies, and tokens; this ensures that interactions accurately represent user behavior.
- Dynamic Analysis: During the scanning process, Burp Scanner monitors the API’s behavior, looking for unexpected responses, error messages, and other signs of security issues.
- Vulnerability Detection: Burp Scanner identifies potential vulnerabilities such as SQL injection, XSS, CSRF, security misconfigurations, and more based on the responses received and analysis conducted.
- Severity Assessment and Reporting: BurpScanner assesses detected vulnerabilities for severity and impact and generates detailed reports that outline the identified vulnerabilities, their potential impact, and recommended remediation steps.
- Manual Testing Integration: While Burp Scanner performs automated testing, Burp Suite also provides a manual testing platform, allowing security testers to verify findings, conduct deeper analysis, and explore complex attack vectors.
- Customization and Extensibility: Burp Scanner is customizable with specific payloads, attack vectors, and testing scenarios. Burp Suite’s extensible architecture allows you to develop custom plugins to expand its functionality.
It’s important to note that while Burp Scanner is a powerful tool, it should be used in conjunction with manual security testing and understanding of the application’s context. Automated tools can identify potential vulnerabilities, but human expertise is needed to validate findings, interpret results, and assess the overall risk to the application.