Avoiding the Top Mobile API Security Weaknesses
February 06, 2020

Tom Tovar
Appdome

Every mobile app is built around a set of APIs. In fact, it's not much of an exaggeration to describe APIs as the heart of day's modern mobile. Because of their centrality to the function of mobile apps, securing each API is a difficult task. The burden is placed squarely on mobile app developers, most of whom are not security experts.

In September, OWASP published the OWASP API Security Top 10 Release Candidate, a list of the top ten security weaknesses in application programming interfaces (APIs). Eight of these issues directly relate to mobile app development processes:

Broken Object Level Authorization can create a wide attack surface level access control issue if they expose endpoints that handle object identifiers.

Broken Authentication enables attackers to compromise tokens or exploit implementation flaws to steal users' identities.

Excessive Data Exposure results from relying on the client to filter data, and, unless the client's state is controlled, servers receive too many filters which criminals can abused to access data.

Broken Function Level Authorization can eliminate the separation between user and administrative functions, which attackers can exploit to access administrative functions or other users' resources.

Mass Alignment enables attackers to guess object's properties, read documentation, explore other API endpoints and provide additional object properties in request payloads.

Security Misconfigurations create a wide array of vulnerabilities that attackers can exploit.

Injection is when an attacker sends an interpreter untrusted data to trick it into executing commands or accessing data.

Improper Assets Management can result in exposing more endpoints than is safe, such as debug endpoints.

The good news is that there are a number of security capabilities that Devops teams can implement to protect against these vulnerabilities and secure their apps with a layered defense model that protects against all vectors of attack. A comprehensive layered defense model has the following components:

Data Encryption

Data Encryption defense layer encrypts all of the app and API data using industry standard AES-256 encryption or government sanctioned FIPS 140-2 cryptography. In addition, best practice data encryption also secures all strings and resources in the app so that all personally identifiable information (PII), server URLs, API keys, API secrets and other sensitive are protected against credential theft.

Code Obfuscation

A comprehensive code obfuscation defense layer protects the structure, control flow and logic of the app and the APIs in the app. It does so by encrypting the binary code of the app as well as all native and non-native libraries, and making sure that any code, API URLs and static data are not accessible.

App and API Shielding

Shielding the app and its APIs hardens the mobile app and mobile APIs with anti-tampering, anti-debugging and anti-reversing protection. This will protect against fraud unauthorized distribution, API hooking and dynamic analysis.

Secure Communication

Secure communication creates trusted sessions that protect and encrypt all communications between the app, the APIs and the back-end server. This ensures the validity of all end points and any intermediate systems in between the app, the APIs and their back-end servers.

API Segmentation

Best-in-class API segmentation provides the last layer of defense to ensure that all mobile APIs are secure. By using strong authentication, API tokenization, segmented API workflows (for key and cookie stores), developers can ensure that only the right users can access specific API resources.

APIs are the heart of mobile app functionality, so it's critical to ensure that they are secure using multiple layers of security protection. By implementing measures listed above, mobile developers can prevent cybercriminals from taking advantage of the most common vulnerabilities.


Table: The OWASP API Top 10 and security measures to mitigate them

Tom Tovar is CEO of Appdome
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