API Security Testing: Challenges and Best Practices

API Security Testing: Best Practices & Challenges for API Testing

Safety comes first. This phrase becomes pertinent in every sense and scenario across domains. When it comes to the digital space, security becomes one of the most important facets that needs to be taken into consideration. With API, or Application Programming Interface, in picture, the task at hand becomes enhanced due to the increased risks and vulnerabilities that come along.

Thus, API security testing becomes a to-do in this scenario for eliminating vulnerabilities and mitigating the challenges that are attached to it. The subtleties that play a role within API security testing, including its types and standards, authentication, challenges and best practices, need to be looked at closely.

Types and Standards of API Security Testing

For end-to-end API security testing, understanding its nuances is important. As an independent entity, APIs comprise different types which include:

  • Public APIs: These essentially have an open access on the web by anyone with minimal requirement of authentication.
  • Private APIs: These are restricted via intranet and can be accessed by a limited set of individuals with access tokens or keys, i.e., an organisation or company.
  • Partner APIs: An amalgamation of public and private APIs, this type can be seen in the developing stage, accessible to developers, but can be released to the public with restrictions.

As per the standards, APIs can be divided into REST, i.e., representational state transfer, or SOAP, i.e., simple object access protocol, etc., which essentially define their architectures and protocols.

However, accessing APIs requires one to be an authenticated user- this essentially means possessing certain sessions and tokens such as the OAuth token, SSO or Single Sign-On token (credentials to identify a user which is then passed on for signing in), bearer authentication, basic tokens, etc. These provide a gateway for users to validate their identity and access the said API.

Challenges Faced while API Security Testing

While security testing services become significant for APIs, there are a number of roadblocks that are faced within, due to APIs’ unique nuances. These essentially are:

  • Limited material/content available on APIs- It is extremely difficult to find relevant and comprehensive information on APIs as it is an extremely niche area. Within the OWASP Top Ten list of security vulnerabilities, API is a very recent inclusion that came into being in 2019. Thus, this poses as a challenge as there is restricted information available regarding APIs on the web. This also presents the challenge of continuously revamped checklists that need to be monitored regularly and taken into consideration every time while testing.

  • Not all kinds of tools support API testing- API security testing can be supported by a specific set of tools, be it open-source or commercial tools. Thus, a major challenge that QA teams face is the selection of viable tools that support API testing. To name a few- SoapUI, Postman, Apigee, etc., are popular tools for end-to-end API testing.

  • Attack surface is small- As API testing is an evolving niche, the number of API endpoints are limited, thus making the requests to test limited as well. Since there are less vulnerabilities to test on, unlike web application testing wherein the parameters to test on are more, the overall attack surface is small. Thus, with API security testing the attack surface becomes constrained due to fewer parameters, business logic and vulnerabilities.

  • Awareness is constrained- API security testing requires a very coherent process that should be conducted in a streamlined manner. However, a major challenge that is witnessed is in regard to the myths that surround it. To cite a few:

    • a misconception which generally exists is that private APIs do not require security testing- however, this is false – for any type of API, robust API security testing services are needed
    • encryption over the internet for APIs is secure- this isn’t true as well. Thus, there are many misconceptions which constrains proper awareness about the need to conduct API security testing.

  • Communication– This, at times, serves as a major challenge between developers and testers. There is often a gap in communication between teams that can cause a hurdle while performing API security testing. This can be in terms of updating or releasing a new version of an API without closing the previous one, making it more susceptible for an attack as a hacker might tap into the previous parameters and get access to the API, putting all the sensitive information at risk.

These challenges cannot be deemed as exhaustive. They might differ according to organisations’ requirements and needs. However, these provide an overall understanding of the roadblocks that may present themselves while conducting API security testing.


Also Read: Top 6 Upcoming Software Security Testing Trends To Follow


Best Practices for a Wholesome API Security Testing Effort

Certain best practices that can be followed and implemented by organisations in their API security testing effort are:

  • Perform API security testing with front-end: API serves as an independent entity, just like the web. However, when both are tested together, misconfiguration can occur causing a disruption while testing. Thus, API security testing with the front-end needs to be conducted meticulously beforehand to attain seamless results.

  • Interaction with developers: Communication as a challenge, needs to be converted into a solution. An open channel of interaction between the developers and testers can be the way forward to minimize the defects and make the process of API security testing easier and time-saving.

  • Combined testing effort: While running automated scans on APIs to detect vulnerabilities and security risks, it is important to remember that these can also produce false positives. Thus, test automation, however economical and feasible it may be, needs to be integrated with a functional testing approach for validating and authenticating the bugs found by automation tools.

Thus, API security testing as a niche needs to be given due importance as it plays a vital role in mitigating the attacks against a product. To ensure that all vulnerabilities are accounted for thoroughly, a close understanding of how API actually functions based on the business logic is important.

Thus, a deeper understanding of the nuances within API security testing and the right use of API security testing tools is immensely important. The challenges that organisations may face during the process can be optimized and mitigated by implementing certain best practices that will help in easing the testing effort. 

With QA InfoTech’s hands-on expertise on API security testing, identifying vulnerabilities and security risks at an early stage and fixing defects via an end-to-end testing strategy can help organisations deliver a safe and secure product to end users.

 

About the Author

QA InfoTech

QA InfoTech

Established in 2003, with less than five testing experts, QA InfoTech has grown leaps and bounds with three QA Centers of Excellence globally; two of which are located in the hub of IT activity in India, Noida, and the other, our affiliate QA InfoTech Inc Michigan USA. In 2010 and 2011, QA InfoTech has been ranked in the top 100 places to work for in India.

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