Shadow APIs are a growing risk for organizations of all sizes as they can mask malicious behavior and induce substantial data loss. For those that aren't familiar with the term, shadow APIs are a type of application programming interface (API) that isn't officially documented or supported.

Contrary to popular belief, it's unfortunately all too common to have APIs in production that no one on your operations or security teams knows about. Enterprises manage thousands of APIs, many of which are not routed through a proxy such as an API gateway or web application firewall. This means they aren't monitored, are rarely audited, and are most vulnerable.

Since they aren't visible to security teams, shadow APIs provide hackers with a defenseless path to exploit vulnerabilities. These APIs can potentially be manipulated by malicious actors to gain access to a range of sensitive information, from customer addresses to company financial records. Considering the potential for substantial data leakage and hefty compliance violations, preventing unauthorized access through shadow APIs has become mission-critical.

To help you get started, I'll explore how APIs become hidden and discuss how shadow APIs can be used for malicious purposes. You'll also learn the importance of monitoring API usage and traffic, as well as how to identify shadow APIs and mitigate risks with purpose-built security controls.

How APIs become hidden

A number of factors can contribute to the lack of API visibility, including poor API management, a lack of governance, and inadequate documentation. Without sufficient governance, organizations risk having an excessive number of APIs that aren't being utilized effectively.

A significant portion of shadow APIs are caused by employee attrition. Quite frankly, developers don't share all of the tribal knowledge when they depart to new opportunities. And with the developer job market as hot as it is, it's easy to see how this can happen. Especially when you consider how many projects they're working on. Even employees with the best of intentions will miss something while handing off.

There are also APIs that were passed on as a result of a merger or acquisition which are often forgotten about. Inventory loss can occur during system integration, which is a difficult and complicated operation, or it's possible that 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.

Another culprit are APIs with poor security or a known vulnerability is still in use. Sometimes an older version of software may have to run alongside a newer one for a while during upgrades. Then unfortunately, the person in charge of ultimately deactivating the API, either leaves, is given a new task, or forgets to delete the prior version.

Do you know how many APIs you have? Better yet, do you know if your APIs are exposing sensitive data? If you're struggling with shadow APIs in your environment, you should download the Definitive Guide to API Discovery from Noname Security. Learn how to find and fix all your APIs - no matter the type.

How hackers utilize shadow APIs

Shadow APIs are a powerful tool for malicious actors, allowing them to bypass security measures and gain access to sensitive data or disrupt operations. 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.

As if that wasn't dangerous enough, hackers can avert authentication and authorization controls via shadow APIs to access privileged accounts that could be used to launch more sophisticated attacks. All without the knowledge of the organization's security team. For example, API attacks have also started to surface in the automotive industry, putting drivers and their passengers at extreme risk.

By exploiting APIs, cybercriminals could retrieve sensitive customer data, such as their address, credit card info from sales quotes and VIN numbers—information with obvious implications for identity theft. These exploited API vulnerabilities could also expose vehicle location or enable hackers to compromise remote management systems. Meaning cybercriminals would have the ability to unlock vehicles, start engines or even disable starters altogether.

As organizations become increasingly reliant on cloud-based services, it is becoming increasingly important for them to uncover shadow APIs in order to protect their data and systems from malicious actors.

How to identify and mitigate shadow API risks

Identifying shadow APIs is an important part of API security. It involves discovering all the APIs that are running in your environment, understanding their purpose, and ensuring they are secure. This can be done through API discovery tools which 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. This can include monitoring network traffic for suspicious activities, conducting regular vulnerability scans, and ensuring that all API requests are authenticated.

Once identified, organizations should put measures in place to mitigate the risks associated with these APIs such as implementing data encryption, restricting access privileges, and enforcing security policies. Additionally, organizations should also ensure that they have adequate logging systems in place so that any unauthorized access attempts can be quickly identified and addressed.

Find and eliminate shadow APIs with Noname Security

Now that you've made it to the end, let's sum things up so you truly understand the task ahead of you. The bottom line is, shadow APIs present a unique challenge for organizations just like yours. They provide hackers with a way of hiding their activities as they are often difficult to detect and trace. At the very least they are a threat to data security and privacy.

With that said, Noname Security can help you to accurately keep track of all your APIs, especially shadow APIs. They provide a single pane of glass that gives you complete insight into all data sources, whether on-premise and in the cloud.

Their API Security Platform can monitor load balancers, API gateways, and web application firewalls, enabling you to find and catalog every type of API, including HTTP, RESTful, GraphQL, SOAP, XML-RPC, JSON-RPC, and gRPC. Believe it or not, their customers typically find 40% more APIs in their environment than they had previously thought.

To learn more about API discovery and how Noname Security can help you get a grip on your shadow APIs, I encourage you to download their new Definitive Guide to API Discovery.

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