An API attack is a hostile attempt to change the details, steal information, or threaten the authorities. The API attackers use the loopholes available in the system to get the desired information, and sometimes, they change the entire result coming out of data processing. Some people find API attacks hard to understand, while others associate them with hacking.
Some claim that API attacks should be legalized in the region, while others are extremely against the liberal idea. Basically, an API attack is an unauthorized access, or you can also say, illegitimate access to the data in order to temper results, steal relevant information, and attack for espionage purposes. Come with me to understand API attacks in detail, their purposes, possible risks, and the prevention method.
If you are still unable to understand the Application Programming Interface and attacks, then I will tell you with a very simple example. Let’s say you are sitting in a restaurant, and a waiter comes to take an order from you. You tell him the eatables, he notes them, and he comes back with your order after 10 minutes.
Now, the waiter is working as an API, building a connection between you and the kitchen. Similarly, the API is an intermediary that requests information from one software application to another hub of information, also known as the database and returns back with the desired information, just like the ordered food in the restaurant.
There is no system without loopholes or weaknesses in the world; for example, the high-security databases of Google, YouTube, Facebook, or WhatsApp also have loopholes. The API attackers try to exploit these loopholes and then get access to the main database, where they can temper the data or steal the information, which is called an API attack.
Types Of API Attacks
It seems very simple, but if you try attacking a system, it will take days and nights. Actually, finding these loopholes and trying to exploit them requires skills and patience, so one may need days to steal information from a database. However, there are several kinds of API attacks; some are severe, while others require hours to recover.
A very common type of attack is an injection attack in which the attacker maliciously sneaks a code in order to steal sensitive information. Let’s make it more simple to understand, when you open a website and provide the initial information to get access to the platform, such as username or password. The attacker, on the other hand, slips a malicious code that tricks the system, and if security does not double-check, the code shows all the conversations between your device and the database.
Now, the source used for attacking the system is called SQL, a language used for accessing, manipulating, and managing the relational database. In 2017, the attack on Equifax was supported by SQL. The loophole allowed attackers to take more than 147 million people’s information from the database.
Sometimes, the purpose is not to steal the information but to create an inconvenience that can cause financial or reputational damage. Denial of Service or DoS is used to block the entire system in order to create disruption by bombarding a platform with endless requests that it cannot accept and goes down. Similarly, the Distributed Denial of Service or DDoS involves multiple sources that block people’s traffic by bombarding the server with limitless requests, and as a result, the server goes down.
You may find it very illogical that one only wants to shut down the system for a period instead of stealing data. Actually, blocking the system can cause more damage than stealing individuals’ secret information. For example, the attack on GitHub 2018, which caused the loss of millions of dollars, was an attempt to disrupt the platform for a period, so the developers stopped communicating with each other, and it led to financial damage.
Another commonly occurring API attack is called Authentication Hijacking, in which the attacker steals the personal information of the user very smartly and gains access to the platform. In simple words, every website or application offers you an account or cookies, which is a pass to get access to the website. Now, these attackers hijack the cookie or steal the pass information such as password and email, then take this information to pretend to be the user in order to access the platform from your account.
The task is not as simple as it seems because one requires a list of tools and highly polished skills to use coding. However, people use multiple ways to access users’ personal information. For example, there were Twitter hacks in 2020, Facebook account hijackings in 2018, and eBay API attacks in 2014.
Other Types of API Attacks
- Data Exposure: It is a consideration when sensitive data such as passwords, bank account numbers, emails, or personal details of the clients are mistakenly exposed to irrelevant bodies, which can take advantage of the information negatively.
- Man In The Middle: It is a type of hacking in which attackers place themselves between two communication mediums in order to gather information about people using the platform. For example, a third part is seeing your text messages with your friends.
- Parameter Tampering: Sometimes, the purpose is not to create disturbance or steal information but to trick the clients. In Parameter Tapering, an attacker exploits the protocols used for exchanging information between the user and the server so the user gets different results.
- Unencrypted Communications: Encryption is a process to encode the data, whether it is communication or personal information. If the data is unencrypted, an attacker can access and use it for negative advantages.
- Application Abuse: In this type of API attack, the hacker alters the application’s features in order to use them more, even if the feature is not designed for it. For example, prolonging the trial-free durations in paid applications.
- Broken Access Control: It happens when the attacker accesses the parts of the application that are not allowed for the general public without the consent of the user. For example, Facebook’s Photo API’s Vulnerability 2018 incident, in which the system allowed attackers to gain access to the user’s private pictures.
What Are The Best Defenses Against API Attacks?
Once you understand how attackers can steal your personal information from websites and applications, the fear of an API attack may keep you awake the entire night. However, there are ways you can strengthen the security of your application, website, and server to prevent attacks. These methods are not only reliable but also easy to apply for laymen.
Authentication & Authorization
An API key is like a password or the code that allows you to take information from a specific part of the server. So, if you strengthen the authentication method, such as turning on Two-Step Authentication, which carefully verifies the key holder, you can prevent attacks. Additionally, you can get assistance from Granular Authorization, which limits access to other applications in order to enhance security.
Input Validation & Data Sanitization
Input Validation is another security step that can prevent hackers from accessing your information. You can use programming language or tools to strengthen your security system so it double-checks every entry and then allows the user to gain information. Furthermore, you can clean the data from harmful things, tricky codes, and other stuff, which is called Data Sanitization.
I have mentioned the DoS and DDoS attacks, which are triggered by bombarding too many requests at the same time. It blocks the chain of information, and the system is hijacked, just like a traffic jam in which neither left-side cars go to the right nor right-side vehicles go to the left because of immense critical conditions. But what if you limit the number of requests according to the time frame?
For example, you limit the server access to 5 times an hour for 200 requests, and the rest of the requests are denied. It will not only keep your server or website safe from excess information but also prevent the burden upon the server so the server can function effortlessly.
Today, we are living in a digital world where people are more interested to know the personal details of the next individual rather than showing their own data. Simply put, it is a kind of politics and a game where you try to trick, manipulate, and sometimes attempt to defeat your opponent with the help of API attacks. However, the attack is not successful if the system perfectly encrypts the data.
As I have mentioned above, encryption is a process of encoding data, but now we are going to understand it with further details. When you encrypt the data, it changes the data’s shape; it shows that you are reading or accessing something different, and sometimes, the encryption changes the type of file so no one can access it. For example, you receive a highly confidential data file that is not opening in the VLC player, but it seems like the file is an audio or video message; instead, it is an EPUB list of characters.
Anyhow, you can effortlessly encrypt a file with the help of the applications or platforms that are widely available. Similarly, you can use HTTPS to secure the information between the client and the server. You need certain certificates and server configurations to implement encryption.
The Growing Threat of API Attacks
There are several reasons that the threat of API attacks is growing day by day. Watch cyber news that shows attackers stealing information from a well-known website, destroying a platform, and malfunctioning the applications, such as building MOD versions of games on a daily basis. All these kinds of activities are increasing because our digital world relies upon APIs, and we do not have any better model that can save our data.
Moreover, the security measures are expensive for laymen, so they cannot afford complicated tools. On the other hand, giant organizations try their best to prevent API attacks, but there are malicious hackers who steal data in order to sell it on multiple illegal platforms. So, the system has become very complicated, and we cannot get out of these threats until we find a way to minimize the use of APIs.
Are API Attacks Legal?
No, API attacks have never been legal and appreciated as they violate the rules of privacy and copyrights. Basically, if someone tries to access the information, he is stealing the data related to your bank accounts, email, social media platform passwords, and confidential details. So, it has never been encouraged to support such behavior by attackers involved in unethical hacking and stealing information.
What does an API attack look like?
An API attack has multiple forms, such as an injection attack, parameter tampering, or hijacking the authentication methodology of the platform. The purpose may be to steal data, cause financial loss, or damage reputation.
How can an attacker take advantage of your APIs?
An attacker can use your APIs to slip a code that stops the entire system’s authentication and show him the communication between the client and server.
How do you stop API abuse?
You can take a list of measures such as strengthening the security, enhancing authorization, and improving the encryption process.
How secure is an API?
API keys are weak as compared to the authentication tokens. One can effortlessly fail the entire system of API keys to get the data.
An API attack can ruin your entire career, cause a major financial loss, and leave negative marks on your social media life, so you should beware of sharing personal information with people and always double-check the data sources. You should use all the security measures, such as two-step verification, HTTPS security, rate-limiting requests, and improved authentication methods. Anyhow, I have explained everything related to the API attacks, their causes, their solutions, and how to prevent them. I hope the guide will help you in the future.