Malicious API traffic doubled over the past 12 months

Published: Thursday, 04 August 2022 07:09

Salt Security has released the Salt Labs State of API Security Report, Q3 2022. In its latest edition, the bi-annual report found that 94 percent of survey respondents experienced security problems in production APIs in the past year, with 20 percent stating their organizations suffered a data breach as a result of security gaps in APIs. In addition, the report found that API attack traffic has doubled in the past 12 months. Together, the findings highlight that existing solutions and API security tactics focused on shift-left strategies are failing to adequately protect APIs.  

The State of API Security Report pulls from a combination of survey responses and empirical data from the Salt Security Cloud Service. The Q3 2022 report finds that Salt customers experienced a 117 percent increase in API attack traffic while their overall API traffic grew 168 percent, highlighting the continued explosion of enterprise API usage. With malicious API traffic accounting for 2.1 percent of overall traffic, API attack attempts moved from an average of 12.22M malicious calls per month a year ago to an average of 26.46M calls this past June. Among Salt customers, 44 percent are suffering an average of 11 to 100 attack attempts every month, and 34% are enduring more than 100 attempts each month, with 8 percent suffering more than 1000. 

"The backbone of our modern economy, digitalization has made organizations increasingly reliant on APIs to deliver new services and better compete. This focus on digital innovation, however, has also put a target on these organizations, as this research makes clear,” said Roey Eliyahu, co-founder and CEO, Salt Security. "With API attacks accelerating year over year, it’s no wonder our survey shows security as the top concern about API strategies. The report findings also show the need for a more robust API security strategy – starting with development but especially focused on runtime – to better protect this expanding attack surface and companies’ most valuable assets.” 

Developing a vigorous API security strategy is critical, as 61 percent of survey respondents now manage more than 100 APIs. With key enterprise initiatives so closely tied to API usage, companies have no tolerance for deployment delays or rollbacks. But more than half of survey respondents reported delaying new application rollouts because of API security concerns.

The ability to stop attacks is cited as the most valuable API security capability, while applying ‘shift-left’ practices rated the lowest

When asked which of six attributes of API security platforms are ‘highly important’, the ability to stop attacks took the top position, with 41 percent of respondents citing it. The ability to identify which APIs expose PII or sensitive data took the second spot, with 40 percent of respondents indicating that feature as highly important. Meeting compliance or regulatory needs took the third spot, with 39 percent of respondents. Applying shift-left practices came in at the bottom of the list, with only 22 percent of respondents choosing it as highly important.

An overreliance on shift left practices continues to fail the enterprise

Shift left strategies alone continue to leave organizations and their APIs exposed. Shift Left testing means testing as early as possible in the software development process.

While 53 percent of respondents focused on fixing gaps during development, and 59 percent looked for API issues in testing, 94 percent still suffered API security incidents, reflecting a need for increased runtime protection. In this latest report, just 30 percent of respondents say they identify and remediate API security gaps in runtime. Yet to fully protect what’s already running within their environments, organizations require runtime protection capabilities.

Security concerns delay new application action rollouts for majority of respondents

More than half of respondents (54 percent) indicated they've had to slow the rollout of new applications because of API security concerns. Poor API design and security practices are often at the root of sensitive PII data leaks, and survey responses reinforce this challenge – nearly a third of respondents admit they've experienced sensitive data exposure or a privacy incident within their API production over the past year, a sharp increase compared to last year's 19 percent. Within the Salt customer base, 91 percent of APIs have exposed some PII or sensitive data, making it imperative for organizations to know how and where data is transmitted so they can best protect those APIs with extra diligence.

Security concerns and ‘zombie’ APIs create the biggest worries 

Survey respondents reported that not investing enough in pre-production security (20 percent) and not adequately addressing runtime security (18 percent) were their top concerns about their API strategy. When asked about the most concerning API security risks, 42 percent said outdated or zombie APIs. Zombie APIs have been the #1 concern in the past four surveys from Salt, likely the result of increasingly fast-paced development as organizations seek to maximize the business value associated with APIs. Account takeover and the accidental exposure of sensitive information were tied as second-highest concerns, at 15 percent each, followed by worries over ‘shadow’ or unknown APIs, which rose from 5 percent to 11 percent in the past six months. 

WAFs and API gateways continue to miss API attacks

As in previous surveys, respondents said they primarily rely on traditional tools to manage APIs and protect against application attacks. Most respondents rely on API gateways (54 percent) and WAFs (44 percent) to identify attacks. The gaps of these traditional tools are made clear by the finding that 82 percent don't believe their existing tools are very effective at preventing API attacks and 94 percent endured an API security incident.

Multiple (solvable) obstacles are preventing strong API security strategies

A significant majority of respondents (61 percent) admitted they lack any or have only a basic API security strategy in place, a concern given the high reliance on APIs for achieving critical business outcomes. Despite all survey respondents having APIs running in production, a shockingly small percentage (9 percent) stated they have an advanced API strategy that includes dedicated API testing and protection. The top reasons for a lack of a robust API strategy included budget (24 percent), expertise (20 percent), resources (19 percent), and time (11 percent).

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