Managing Shadow APIs: The Growing Risk to Organizations and How to Prevent It
Shadow APIs are becoming an increasingly pressing concern for organizations of all sizes. As opposed to official APIs, which are documented and supported, shadow APIs are undocumented and unmonitored. This makes them a prime target for hackers, who can use them to mask malicious behavior and induce substantial data loss.
It's not uncommon for APIs to be in production without the knowledge of an organization's operations or security teams. Enterprises manage thousands of APIs, many of which are not routed through a proxy such as an API gateway or web application firewall. As a result, they aren't monitored, are rarely audited, and are highly vulnerable. Without proper governance and management, an organization risks having an excessive number of APIs that aren't being utilized effectively.
One of the biggest culprits of shadow APIs is employee attrition. Developers don't always share all of their knowledge when they depart for new opportunities, and with the hot developer job market, it's easy to see how this can happen. Additionally, APIs passed on as a result of a merger or acquisition are often forgotten about. Inventory loss can occur during system integration, or no inventory existed at all. Larger corporations that acquire multiple smaller businesses are particularly at risk since smaller companies are more likely to have inadequately documented APIs.
Hackers can use shadow APIs to perform various attacks such as data exfiltration, account hijacking, and privilege escalation. They can also be used for reconnaissance purposes, gathering information about a target's critical systems and networks. Hackers can avert authentication and authorization controls via shadow APIs to access privileged accounts that could be used to launch more sophisticated attacks. This is particularly dangerous as it all happens without the knowledge of the organization's security team.
To mitigate the risks associated with shadow APIs, organizations should identify and secure them through API discovery tools. These tools scan for all the APIs running in an environment and provide detailed information about them. By using these tools, organizations can identify any shadow APIs that may exist in their environment and take steps to secure them before they become a bigger security risk.
In addition to API discovery tools, organizations can also monitor network traffic for suspicious activities, conduct regular vulnerability scans, and ensure that all API requests are authenticated. Implementing data encryption, restricting access privileges, and enforcing security policies are also crucial. Adequate logging systems should also be in place so that any unauthorized access attempts can be quickly identified and addressed. Noname Security's API Security Platform can help organizations accurately keep track of all their APIs, including shadow APIs. Their platform monitors load balancers, API gateways, and web application firewalls, enabling organizations to find and catalog every type of API, including HTTP, RESTful, GraphQL, SOAP, XML-RPC, JSON-RPC, and gRPC. By doing so, their customers typically find 40% more APIs in their environment than they had previously thought. This is an important step in protecting an organization's data and systems from malicious actors.
Shadow APIs pose a unique challenge for organizations, but with proper governance, management, and security controls, they can be managed and secured effectively. By using API discovery tools, monitoring network traffic, implementing security measures, and using purpose-built security controls such as Noname Security's API Security Platform, organizations can protect their data and systems from shadow API-related attacks.