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Navigating the Maze: Top 5 Pitfalls in API Security Testing

Any organization running software has APIs (Application programming interfaces) on their network. They serve as the connective tissue between different software applications, enabling them to seamlessly communicate and exchange data. This functionality is essential for creating integrated, feature-rich digital experiences that have become expected by users. APIs empower developers to rapidly build complex, innovative applications by facilitating efficient data sharing and functionality. They also enhance user experience by providing access to a wide range of services and information, all while supporting the automation of tasks and contributing to the scalability of digital ecosystems.

Organizations need to test their APIs to keep this functionality running securely and reliably. This involves verifying that APIs meet functionality, reliability, performance, and security expectations. The testing can identify and mitigate vulnerabilities, protect sensitive data from unauthorized access and potential breaches, as well as maintain compliance with various data security regulations. However, creating effective API tests can be challenging, with poor testing leaving your organization exposed. 

We’re here to guide you through the five common hiccups during API security testing.

Why is API Security Testing Important?

One of the most important reasons businesses test APIs is to improve security and compliance. API security testing detects security flaws or weaknesses that attackers could exploit to compromise systems. This includes everything from broken authentication to injection flaws and misconfigured security. By rigorously testing APIs, organizations can proactively identify and rectify these vulnerabilities before they are exploited, which is particularly important considering the sensitive nature of the data that APIs often handle. 

API testing goes beyond security to help maintain the overall system integrity. Testing ensures that APIs remain reliable and perform at their peak, which is crucial for ensuring seamless functionality of interconnected systems. Better performance helps to build trust among users and stakeholders, assuring them of the application’s reliability and security. 

API Security Testing Pitfalls

Testing can be challenging to do correctly, but by understanding the potential pitfalls of API testing and the importance of properly testing APIs, security teams can help ensure the security of their applications.

Pitfall 1: Neglecting Fundamental Security Practices

One of the most common API pitfalls for security testing starts with the basics. Failing to test basic security practices such as secure call authentication, data encryption, and input validation creates a rocky foundation for building your APIs. Without validating, these applications can be vulnerable to many OWASP top 10 vulnerabilities, such as Man-in-the-Middle (MitM), replay attacks, and SQL injections. 

Comprehensive testing needs to validate that secure authentication is in place to ensure that only authorized entities can access the APIs. In testing, data encryption must also be checked to ensure it is functional to prevent snooping and tampering with data. Finally, one of the most critical pieces is validating inputs to ensure data is sanitized to avoid injection-based attacks. 

Pitfall 2: Overlooking Variations in API Request Combinations

As part of their design, APIs often support various request combinations. Many testing programs evaluate them individually to ensure they each work as expected. Unfortunately, this overlooks the risk when they are requested in combination. Malicious actors exploit these to exploit these combinations to create unexpected behaviors or security vulnerabilities. They might combine seemingly safe requests in ways that trigger bugs or security loopholes, leading to unauthorized data access or system compromise. This complexity in request combinations can be a blind spot in API testing, where the focus is often on individual request validity rather than the interaction between multiple requests. 

To overcome this pitfall, API testing must include scenarios that simulate real-world, complex request combinations. Advanced testing software has the capabilities to go beyond simple validation testing to intelligently assess combinations in search of unexpected results. By incorporating this with advanced fuzzing, which also gets unexpected inputs, testing suites can better identify potential vulnerabilities outside of the planned functionality of APIs. 

Pitfall 3: Inadequate Error Handling and Logging

Part of making APIs user-friendly is incorporating error messaging to help with troubleshooting and operations. When the API is called incorrectly or performs unexpectedly, a clear error message should be presented that does not overexpose too much information. Many organizations mistake the existence of any error message or logging as sufficient without considering the implications of providing too much information back to the user or in the logs. In these cases, attackers can turn this information into a targeted roadmap for attack. 

Testing should validate the existence of error messages and logging and the contents provided to combat this pitfall. It should validate that error messages only require the minimum necessary information to prevent sensitive data leaks. They should also check that logging goes back to a centralized location rather than dumping to a user-visible output where messages could be used to guide attacks.

Pitfall 4: Failing to Integrate Security Testing into the SDLC

Many companies believe that security testing should be done after software is developed to prevent slowing the development process. Unfortunately, this makes security an afterthought, preventing easily resolved fixes from being identified and resolved earlier in the process. This leads to vulnerabilities taking more time to resolve and sometimes omitting testing altogether because it is not part of the Software Development Life Cycle (SDLC). 

Organizations can eliminate this pitfall by maturing their SDLC to include testing as a fixed component, allowing them to detect and resolve vulnerabilities before production. The most mature organizations will consist of multiple rounds of testing and validation throughout the SDLC to detect issues early on in the development process, allowing teams to resolve problems while the recent changes are still fresh in their heads. 

Pitfall 5: Sole Dependence on Automated Testing

Organizations often assume that just because they have automated testing, this is sufficient to catch every single bug and vulnerability. Static analysis and automated testing, such as fuzzing, are absolutely crucial for detecting many common security vulnerabilities; they can sometimes miss logical flaws and security bugs that manual testing tools can uncover. While time-consuming, manual tools in the right hands, such as those of a skilled pen tester, can often uncover novel vulnerabilities that may be missed by automated tooling. 

Overcoming this pitfall requires organizations to take a balanced approach to their software testing. Automated testing should form the foundation to deliver rapid, scalable testing and detection of many common bugs and vulnerabilities. They can then balance this by integrating manual techniques such as code reviews and analysis guided by a skilled practitioner. Using this combined approach, organizations gain all of the speed benefits of automated tooling with the capabilities of detecting the most complex issues. 

Level Up Your Testing

Probely offers a comprehensive solution for organizations looking to enhance their software testing capabilities. Probely addresses the complex challenges in Application Security testing by integrating asset discovery and high-quality security testing into a single platform. This includes managing sprawling APIs and web applications and bridging gaps in cybersecurity tech stacks. With features like real-time attack surface management and deep API testing, Probely can help organizations identify and rectify vulnerabilities efficiently, ensure compliance, and reduce the risk of data breaches or other security incidents.

Schedule a demo today to see how Probely can help your organization overcome its testing pitfalls.