Firms struggle to pinpoint, manage security risks of APIs 

APIs, a technology that underpins today’s most used sites and apps, are being leveraged by businesses more than ever—ultimately opening the door to more online threats than seen before, according to a report from Cloudflare.

The findings in the report are based on traffic patterns observed by Cloudflare’s global network between October 1, 2022 and August 31, 2023. 

The report underscores the gap between organisations’ use of APIs and their ability to safeguard the data those APIs touch. 

APIs power the digital world—our phones, smartwatches, banking systems and shopping sites all rely on APIs to communicate. They can help e-commerce sites accept payments, enable healthcare systems to securely share patient data, and even give taxis and public transportation access to real-time traffic data. 

Nearly every business today now uses them to build and provide better sites, apps and services to consumers. 

However, if unmanaged or unsecured, APIs present a goldmine for threat actors to exfiltrate potentially sensitive information. 

“APIs are central to how applications and websites work, which makes them a rich, and relatively new, target for hackers, ” said Matthew Prince, CEO and co-founder at Cloudflare. “It’s vital that companies identify and protect all their APIs to prevent data breaches and secure their businesses.”

Findings show that even unlikely industries see high spikes of API traffic. The seamless integrations that APIs allow for have driven organisations across industries to increasingly leverage them – some more quickly than others. 

The IoT, rail, bus and taxi, legal services, multimedia and games, and logistics and supply chain industries saw the highest share of API traffic in 2023.

Also, APIs dominate dynamic internet traffic around the globe (57%), with each region seeing an increase in usage over the past year. 

The top regions that explosively adopted APIs and witnessed the highest traffic share in 2023 were Africa and Asia.

In addition, APIs face an array of frequent and increasing threats. The rise in popularity of APIs has also caused a rise in attack volume, with HTTP Anomaly, Injection attacks and file inclusion being the top three most commonly used attack types mitigated by Cloudflare.

Further,  shadow APIs provide a defenseless path for threat actors as organisations struggle to protect what they cannot see. 

Nearly 31% more API REST endpoints (when an API connects with the software program) were discovered through machine learning versus customer-provided identifiers – that is, organisations lack a full inventory of their APIs.

The report also found that DDoS mitigation solutions are one of the most effective tools to protect APIs. Regardless if an organisation has full visibility of all their APIs, DDoS mitigation solutions can help block potential threats. 

One-third (33%) of all mitigations applied to API threats were blocked by DDoS protections already in place.