Web application and API (Application Program Interfaces) protection is a set of development, integration, and deployment practices that reduces the exposure to known vulnerabilities and denial-of-service attacks. Web applications and APIs are two of the most important contributions that have been made to the internet in the last 20 years. You can’t understand the modern Web without understanding the whole ecosystem that has been created around Web apps. These modern applications, which were originally designed as silos that provided a single function, now rely on many distributed services that usually communicate with each other through APIs.
Web applications are usually the front-ends that interact with users, and they encompass the whole user experience as well as the content that drives that experience. On the other hand, APIs are the back-end services that support the front-end with features like data storage, analytics, and integration with external services, among others.
This was made possible by cloud computing, which enables developers to create new Web applications and take advantage of myriad APIs that are now available. This Cambrian explosion of new services, however, has also given rise to new security issues that must be addressed.
Why Should Web Applications and APIs Be Secured?
As the web evolves, the techniques used by malicious actors evolve as well. The new functionality, features, and automation provided by Web apps and APIs increase the surface area that can be attacked. To mitigate this issue, developers have to make certain compromises in order to secure the heterogeneous context in which their applications and services exist.
Current security considerations for web apps and APIs include Single Sign-On (SSO), a unified authentication experience that uses reliable third-party profile managers like email providers. This way, web apps can include authentication user interfaces that connect them to external providers like Google, Facebook, Twitter, or GitHub, among others. Similarly, APIs rely on standards like OpenID to provide the same functionality without direct user intervention.
In addition, Identity and Access Management (IAM), which is a collection of profile data associated with roles and permissions, can also be utilized by web apps and APIs. IAM defines the scope of users’ access as well as their responsibilities, then links them to groups and roles.
- Cross-Site Scripting (XSS): This is when malicious pieces of code are injected into and executed in otherwise benign Web apps.
- Cross-site Request Forgery (XSRF): This is when external sources execute commands and perform certain actions via authenticated users without their consent.
- Robot Networks (Botnets): These are created by infecting a set of computers with malicious code that allows an external third party to control them.
- Distributed Denial-of-Service Attack (DDoS): These are attacks that attempt to block Web apps or APIs by flooding them with huge amounts of bogus traffic.
The Open Web Application Security Project (OWASP) provides a list of the top 10 most critical security issues that are found in Web applications. This excellent list includes specific details about each vulnerability (such as how to recognize when an application is exploitable), along with sample scenarios and prevention tips. An even more comprehensive list of security concerns is the Common Weakness Enumeration (CWE™) Top 25 Most Dangerous Software Weaknesses (or the CWE Top 25). One of the most important things about this list is that it details correlated vulnerabilities, modes of introduction, and the common consequences of each vulnerability.
Is Web Application Protection the Same as a Web Application Firewall?
The short answer is no, but the two are closely linked. A Web Application Firewall (WAF) is a component that complements Web Application and API protection layers by providing a filter that recognizes attack patterns and prevents access to the target app or API. The rules that determine the filtering capabilities of a WAF are called policies. Modern WAFs adapt their behavior to the app’s execution environment (including cloud-native dynamic clusters, serverless functions, virtual machines, hybrid environments, and so on).
Finally, Web application and API protection is an ongoing task for each developer. It must be audited continuously, because any tool, dependency, integration, or feature can be attacked by malicious actors (and you should assume that they will be attacked). Remember, a chain is only as strong as its weakest link.
Prisma Cloud’s Web Application and API Security solution satisfies the requirements of Web Application and API Protection, learn more here.