Cybersecurity Maturity and Why Your API Security is Lagging Behind

In today's ever-evolving threat landscape, it’s more important than ever to have an optimized approach to cybersecurity. You need to ensure that your people, processes, and technology are aligned to create a culture of continuous improvement where policies, practices, and controls are documented, comprehensively implemented, and subject to ongoing review. A cybersecurity maturity model (CMM) provides an effective framework for working toward this type of approach. However, when it comes to API security, even sophisticated organizations will find that they still have a lot of work to do.

Cybersecurity Maturity and Why Your API Security is Lagging Behind

Understanding Cybersecurity Maturity Models (CMM)

Cybersecurity maturity models offer valuable guidance for organizations seeking to enhance their security posture. While the Cybersecurity Maturity Model Certification (CMMC) version 1.0, originally created by the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD), has been widely adopted, it's important to note that there are various cybersecurity maturity models available. These models include CMMC version 2.0, the NIST Cybersecurity Framework, ISO 27000 series, the CIS 20 Critical Security Controls, and the Cybersecurity Capability Maturity Model (C2M2).

Each of these models provides a structured approach to cybersecurity maturity and can be tailored to address specific organizational needs. It's crucial to understand that no single model is universally applicable, as organizations vary in their requirements, industry sectors, and regulatory compliance obligations. Therefore, organizations should evaluate the available maturity models and select the one that aligns best with their goals and objectives.

It’s important to remember that all of these models all have limitations too.

Firstly, frameworks may not perfectly align with the real-world challenges that organizations face in building robust security programs today. Consequently, it becomes difficult to measure the maturity of specific cybersecurity elements, such as API security.

Moreover, a maturity framework with defined levels may give the impression that achieving all levels means the completion of an organization's security work. Unfortunately, cybersecurity threats are ever-evolving, with adversaries constantly devising new attack techniques. Therefore, organizations mustn't become complacent even after meeting the baseline criteria of their chosen framework.

Even the most sophisticated organizations still find themselves lagging behind when it comes to novel or emerging threats and this is particularly true when it comes to API security.

API Security Lag - Reasons & Challenges

The rapid rise of APIs as a fundamental component of modern, microservice-based architectures has created a significant gap between the developers responsible for deploying APIs and the security teams tasked with protecting your organization’s data.

Regardless of an organization's position on a CMM framework, the lag in API security remains a persistent issue. Most companies are still in the building blocks phase, irrespective of their claimed security level. Several reasons contribute to this:

  1. Lack of awareness and understanding of API vulnerabilities: Many organizations fail to recognize the potential risks and vulnerabilities associated with APIs, leading to insufficient security measures.
  2. Limited resources dedicated to API security: Organizations may allocate insufficient resources, both in terms of personnel and budget, to address API security adequately.
  3. Rapid growth and adoption of APIs without proper security considerations: The demand for APIs has grown exponentially, often resulting in their hasty implementation without thorough security considerations.
  4. Complexity in managing and securing diverse APIs: Organizations often struggle to manage and secure diverse APIs effectively, leading to potential vulnerabilities and security gaps.

To achieve API security maturity, you need to work through the stages or levels of your CMM with a specific focus on API security as it relates to your people, processes and technology. 

Key Features of a Comprehensive API Security Solution

But what does an effective approach to API security look like? What should your organization strive for as you apply your CMM to API security?

Based on more than a decade of data from API breaches, it has become apparent that many of the existing solutions for API security are not fit for purpose. Traditional cloud and network security practices just don’t cut it. You need a dedicated API security solution that offers:

  • In-line, real-time inspection of API calls at the application layer: enables you to scrutinize every API call in real-time, safeguarding your organization from potential threats.
  • Preventative controls to block malicious API calls: equips you with proactive controls to stop malicious API calls in their tracks, preventing potential breaches and protecting your digital kingdom.
  • Centralized audit with application-layer visibility: provides a centralized audit trail, allowing you to monitor and analyze API activities in real-time, ensuring compliance and effective incident response.
  • Detection & Response (D&R) built on both app and network logs: advanced analytics and monitoring capabilities provide you with the visibility to detect API-specific threats and respond swiftly, minimizing the impact of security incidents.

Applying a Cybersecurity Maturity Model to API Security

Now, let's connect the dots between your CMM and API security. Here is an example of how you might evaluate your overall position on a CMM when it comes to API security. 

  • Level 1 - Discovery of APIs: Uncover all the APIs within your organization, both internal and external, gaining a complete understanding of your API landscape.
  • Level 2 - Centralized Logging: Establish a centralized logging mechanism to track API activities, providing visibility into interactions and facilitating proactive monitoring.
  • Level 3 - API Security Posture Management: Strengthen your API security posture by defining and enforcing robust security policies, conducting vulnerability assessments, and ensuring compliance with industry standards.
  • Level 4 - Visibility & Detection at the Application Layer: Enhance your security by gaining deep visibility into API-specific threats and anomalous behaviors at the application layer, enabling effective detection and response.
  • Level 5 - Active Blocking of Malicious Calls: Reach the pinnacle of API security by actively blocking malicious API calls, leveraging real-time inspection and proactive controls to fortify your defenses.

Now more than ever, API security is a critical component of your overall cybersecurity maturity. Allowing APIs to lag behind poses significant risks. By design, APIs offer a way to access and exfiltrate large amounts of data. Failure to secure your APIs can be catastrophic.

A framework like a CMM is very useful in developing a comprehensive cybersecurity approach but only when it is applied systematically to each new emerging threat. Cybersecurity maturity is not something an organization achieves and then they are done. You can’t get comfortable. New threats, like API security, emerge all of the time and it’s important to work through the various levels of cybersecurity maturity for each new significant threat vector.

More API Security with FireTail 

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