Both citizens and institutions across the globe are increasingly concerned about data leaks. The consequences of these breaches can be severe, ranging from damage to an organization’s reputation and significant financial losses to legal repercussions. High-profile incidents like the Cambridge Analytica scandal and the Equifax data breach have demonstrated the massive consequences that data leaks can have on the world’s biggest brands.

But data breaches don’t just impact organizations; they also have a significant impact on individuals. Personal information, such as passwords and credit card details, can be exposed, leaving victims vulnerable to identity theft and financial fraud.

Considering the sheer volume of these leaks, one would expect the world to focus on the attack vectors being exploited. However, the most prominent attack vector may not be what most people think. Surprisingly, application programming interfaces (APIs) are a leading cause of exposure and compromise.

Data is increasingly being exfiltrated by hackers using APIs to gain unauthorized access. 2022, a staggering 76% of cybersecurity professionals admitted to experiencing an API security-related incident. The financial impact is equally alarming, with US businesses incurring over $23 billion in losses from API-related breaches during the same period. Unfortunately, many organizations are only starting to recognize the significance of this issue.

In this article, we will explore the potential consequences of data leaks, the role and impact of APIs, and how organizations can protect themselves from these risks.

Protecting data traversing your APIs

For IT professionals, it is evident how essential security controls are in preventing the exposure or leakage of sensitive data. In order to prevent unauthorized access to data, organizations must take extra precautions. Investing in the latest security measures and ensuring that all employees are aware of the importance of protecting sensitive information is crucial. This exercise should also include investing in API security.

The volume of API traffic has grown twice as fast as the volume of HTML traffic in the past few years, claiming over 80% of the current web traffic.. Credit card information, health records, and social security numbers are among the sensitive information APIs interact with, securing APIs receives less attention compared to network, perimeter, and application security. Many organizations struggle even to know how many APIs they have.

This lack of visibility poses a significant challenge.There is a saying that says that one cannot protect what one cannot see.. API inventories and insights into sensitive data traffic are essential for organizations to address potential vulnerabilities and leaks of sensitive data.

As their only purpose is to route API traffic through them, API gateways and web application firewalls (WAFs) provide limited insight into API estates.. Additionally, API inventory involves more than just counting the number of APIs. It is essential to know the types of data the APIs engage with and to identify shadow and zombie APIs. Unfortunately, WAFs and gateways do not provide visibility into the types of sensitive data traversing APIs, which can lead to dire consequences if such data is exposed.

Adhering to compliance regulations

Securing sensitive data goes hand in hand with satisfying data compliance regulations. Data compliance covers various topics, including privacy policies, data security measures, and customer rights. Regulators worldwide continue to enact and expand requirements for how organizations handle sensitive information. Examples of such regulations include GDPR, HIPAA, PCI DSS, CCPA, among others.

Adhering to these regulations not only protects customer privacy but also helps prevent data breaches and ensures the secure handling of collected data. Identifying the location of data, its movement, and access points is critical to ensuring compliance and avoiding costly fines.

APIs play a significant role in maintaining compliance. They serve as the connective tissue between applications and devices within an organization. Organizations must realize that their sensitive data is traversing APIs.