Industry Insights with Shay Levi

API Security

Application Security Testing vs. API Security Testing

How They Differ & How Noname Security Active Testing Helps Your Business Shift Left
Application Security Testing vs. API Security Testing

As organizations continue to embrace digital transformation, it's essential to ensure that applications and APIs are protected. Application security testing, or AST, and API security testing are important components of a comprehensive cybersecurity strategy. AST is the process of analyzing application code and configurations to identify potential vulnerabilities. API security testing ensures that APIs are not vulnerable to attacks.

See Also: Cybersecurity workforce development: A Public/Private Partnership that enhances cybersecurity while giving hands-on SOC experience to students

To help you decide which type of security testing is best for your needs, we'll discuss the application and API security best practices to consider. We'll also explore the use cases of each type of testing and how they protect your business from cyberattacks.

Interested in diving right in? Download The Dummies Guide to API Security Testing.

The Benefits of Application Security Testing

Application security, or AppSec, testing is an essential element of any secure application development life cycle. It involves such techniques as code review, penetration testing, static analysis, dynamic analysis and fuzzing, which are used to identify security flaws in the application before it goes live. By conducting regular application security assessments, organizations can identify potential vulnerabilities and take steps to fix them before they become a problem.

The Benefits of API Security Testing

API security testing also helps to detect potential issues early on so that they can be addressed before they become major problems. It ensures that APIs are not vulnerable to malicious attacks or unauthorized access and s that authentication, authorization, data validation and input validation are not compromised. It also includes testing for access control mechanisms and encryption algorithms.

Ideally, API security testing should be matched with API functionality testing, which ensures that the API is working as intended. Sometimes, the two tests overlap. For example, determining if an API is returning the correct data is relevant to functionality and security.

How to Choose Between Application and API Security Testing

Application security and API security both play a critical role in the overall security posture of an organization. But it's important to understand the differences between them to properly protect your applications and APIs.

To choose the right test for your needs, understand your ultimate objective and consider cost, complexity, scalability, and whether you have the necessary resources and expertise in-house to handle the tests.

You first need to understand the different types of tests available, such as static code analysis or SAST, dynamic application security testing or DAST, and penetration testing. Each has its own advantages and disadvantages.

Finally, it's important to understand how often each type of test should be performed in order to quickly and effectively identify vulnerabilities.

Why AppSec Testing Is Not Enough

While an API security problem may manifest itself in SAST or DAST test results, the root issue may not be evident. For example, a DAST process could reveal a problem with query strings, but the actual risk is coming from a compromised API run by another entity. To figure that out, the testing team has to take time to investigate and hopefully find that API.

Another example of API security risk that won't get picked up by AST is fuzzing. In a fuzzing attack, a malicious actor uses approximations of the data required for an API call in an attempt to get a response or cause havoc.

Imagine the API is expecting a user ID. The attacker can send a large number of randomly generated IDs with the hope of hitting a real user ID. If there are no controls to defend against this, the API and the data it touches are at risk of breach. Fuzzing is used to test APIs, though we recommend testing based on business logic instead.

One of the most serious vulnerabilities is broken object level authorization or BOLA, which tops the list of OWASP API security concerns. It allows malicious actors to compromise security tokens and exploit other flaws in order to impersonate legitimate users' identities, and it exposes the API to the risk of unauthorized access.

Standard AST practices will not pick up BOLA risks because traditional AppSec testing solutions don't understand the concept of API endpoints. APIs are the connective tissue between distributed parts of an application backend and the front end presented to the consumer. To properly test an API, you need to test the reachability of all the API endpoints. You can do this by manually figuring out how the API is put together and every system and piece of data it touches or by using an automatic reachability solution to map out all the endpoints.

API reachability is very different from traditional application component testing, in which you test individual, mostly open-source, components to understand the entire application. By focusing on the endpoints, you can see individual pieces of the application functionality through the surface-based connections they allow.

How Noname Security Fills in the Gaps

Noname Security Active Testing provides much-needed API security testing functionality. It sometimes gets confused with a DAST solution, but it is able to run over 100 dynamic API security tests on an application, including automated testing based on the OWASP API Top 10 vulnerabilities, which include broken object level authorization, excessive data exposure, lack of resources and rate limiting, mass assignment and security misconfiguration. The process relies on business logic rather than fuzzing.

To learn more about Noname's Active Testing solution, click here.

About the Author

Shay Levi

Shay Levi

CTO, Co-founder, Noname Security

Shay Levi is the Co-Founder and CTO at Noname Security, a leading pioneer in the API security space. As a cybersecurity expert, Shay leads the innovation and engineering efforts that address the growing API risks enterprises face. Prior to co-founding Noname Security, Shay was a Sr. Software Engineer at Facebook and R&D Team Lead at ironSource. Before his civilian career, he spent 4 years as a Cyber Software Engineer at the Israeli Intelligence Corps.

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