Application Security vs. API Security

Digital transformation has taken the business world by storm, with more and more companies opting for high-tech, digital systems and services. But, this also brings new security challenges, such as the need to secure Application Programming Interfaces (API), as well as the applications themselves.

Application Security (AppSec), as well as API security, are essential components within a company’s overall security strategy. Businesses need to provide security that protects from threats such as malicious attacks to be able to protect their data.

Are AppSec and APIs one and the same? No, but more on their differences a little later. What is the best approach to securing company data and processes, you ask? Well, for starters, it’s self-defeating to only introduce security strategies that protect apps without considering API traffic. So, let’s discuss API security and AppSec, and why modern businesses benefit most when implementing both.

What Is AppSec?

application security vs. api security

Application security is just one factor in any business’s comprehensive cybersecurity strategy. Its goal is to protect company data from breaches, being stolen, and misused while complying with all industry rules. By implementing AppSec, companies can reduce security costs generated by incidents, as AppSec includes using proactive measures to limit threats of hacking and malicious attacks; this level of protection results in improved customer-ability to trust a company or brand.

When determining and applying security strategy, there are five principal factors, as identified by the International Systems Audit and Control Association-ISACAt. These are:

1. Security by Design

When apps are designed, security should be an integral part of an app’s architecture and design from day one, before a source code has even been written.

2. Secure Code Testing

Testing should be secure and constant to identify security issues and concerns.

3. Software Bill of Materials

Composition analysis results in an SBOM – an inventory of an app’s code base capabilities.

4. Security Awareness and Training

Developers need to be trained in security considerations and receive updated security intelligence.

5. API and WAF Security Gateways

These are protective layers that protect against vulnerabilities and define which command, data and connection can interact using an API.

Is AppSec the Same as API Security?

is appsec the same as api security

In short, although they are sometimes used interchangeably, they are quite different. AppSec will concentrate on protecting an application completely, whereas API security concentrates on protecting APIs that exchange data and connect applications. APIs are not simply an extension of AppSec; these security components will affect users differently. Software applications use APIs, and humans use software applications. This means that both security processes are necessary and will require different controls to be effective.

AppSec includes security development, and testing features within an app to contrast vulnerabilities (also known as the security precautions featured in an app to prevent theft of codes or data). Its goal is to enhance the security of an application.

APIs, by contrast, are the vehicles used by apps to interact with each other and access data, such as those used by ONVIF IP cameras or access control. API security concentrates on protecting the APIs from being attacked, such as when unauthorized access, cross-site scripting, or SQL attacks take place. API security is an integral part of AppSec strategies used, enabling companies to protect their apps from threats and risks. API security needs to be included in the development, testing, and production of any app, so that API vulnerabilities are detected from the beginning.

API Security Threats

Apps and APIs also face differing threats, so let’s delve into this further.

Typical threats that are connected to APIS include:

  • BOLAs or Broken Object Level Authorizations: These broken controls permit access to sensitive data.
  • BFLA Broken Function Level Authorization: When left open, specific resources or functions that usually demand privileged authorizations are compromised.
  • Inadequate Logging and Monitoring: API vulnerabilities can be entirely missed due to poor monitoring or logging, which are essential to identifying abnormal use of APIs.
  • Excessive Exposure to Data: If an API provides more data than requested or needed, sensitive data access can lead to identity theft, data theft, and financial fraud.

AppSec Threats

typical application security threats

Typical application security threats include:

  • Injection Attacks: Unauthorized database access can happen through attacks such as SQL injection, Email Header Injection, or Cross-site scripting.
  • Misconfigurations: Apps become vulnerable due to unchanged configurations or default settings.
  • Buffer Overflow: A hacker may attempt to feed in more data than a buffer can handle, to the point that it overflows and crashes the system.
  • Broken Authentication: Cybercriminals steal a user’s identity and exploit the user’s privileges.
  • Broken Access Control: Hackers masquerade as legitimate users and gain access to controls.

API security measures, such as web application firewalls or API gateways, are not designed or developed to protect APIs from attacks. They also present a unique challenge when attempting to develop protection. Whereas attacks on apps can take place across several applications, API attacks are unique, with no two being the same, because every API is itself entirely unique.

Final Thoughts

AppSec and API security present ongoing concerns for businesses and organizations. Both need constant monitoring to prevent and detect attacks. Regular app security techniques cannot protect APIs because the attacks launched against them are disguised as normal traffic. To ensure security, AppSec, and API security need to be essential parts of any security strategy.

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