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What is a Web Application and API Protection (WAAP) tool?

What is a Web Application and API Protection (WAAP) tool?

John Natale
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Key Takeaways

Web Application and API Protection (WAAP) tools are designed to help safeguard web applications and APIs from potential threats. This includes common vulnerabilities that lead to web application attacks and API breaches. While WAAP tools offer benefits such as access control and encryption, they also have limitations, including false positives, data sharing challenges, and gaps in addressing advanced threats.

Web Application and API Protection (WAAP) tools are designed to help companies in safeguarding their web applications and application programming interfaces (APIs) from various security threats. These tools aim to provide enhanced protection beyond commonly used security measures such as web application firewalls (WAFs) and API gateways. WAAP tools are equipped to identify vulnerabilities and detect behavioral anomalies within web application and API traffic. In this article, we will examine the advantages and disadvantages of WAAP tools.

What Types of Threats are WAAPs Meant to Address?

Before we dig into the details on WAAP capabilities, it’s important to understand what exactly these tools are meant to protect.

Web application attacks: These attacks target weaknesses in web applications. They use security flaws to get unauthorized access, steal sensitive information, disrupt services, or harm the application’s integrity. How common are web application attacks? The 2023 Verizon DBIR report says that web applications are the top attack vector in security incidents and breaches. Here are three examples of common web application attacks:

  • Basic Web Application Attacks: Through this method, threat actors directly target web applications and do not have many steps to take to reach their goal (e.g. access sensitive data) after their initial point of compromise.
  • Cross-Site Scripting (XSS): XSS attacks involve injecting malicious scripts into web pages viewed by other users. These scripts can be used to steal sensitive information, manipulate content, or perform unauthorized actions on behalf of the user.
  • SQL Injection: These attacks occur when an attacker inserts malicious SQL code into a web application’s database query. This can lead to unauthorized access, data manipulation, or even complete database compromise.

API attacks: For every web application, there are built-in APIs working beyond the scenes to exchange sensitive data and facilitate communication between not only applications, but systems, cloud environments, and more. API breaches and attacks are incidents in which unauthorized individuals gain access to and misuse APIs. Here are a few examples of vulnerabilities that open the door to API attacks:

  • Rogue, Zombie, and Shadow APIs: Unmanaged or forgotten APIs that lack oversight and protection, making them easy targets for attackers.
  • External Exposures: Occurrences where sensitive data, such as credentials and keys, are exposed outside the organization’s control, often due to leaks or improper handling.
  • Operator Errors: Misconfigurations in servers, networks, API gateways, and firewalls that create vulnerabilities attackers can exploit.

What Capabilities are WAAPs Designed to Offer?

WAAPs are intended to provide more comprehensive protection for web applications and APIs than traditional WAFs and API gateways. Here’s a rundown of some typical WAAP capabilities.

  • Access control and authentication: WAAP tools provide access control mechanisms to make sure that only authorized users and systems can interact with the web applications and APIs. They support authentication protocols, such as OAuth, JWT, and SAML, to verify the identity of users and systems.
  • Encryption and data protection: WAAP tools often include features for encrypting sensitive data transmitted between clients and servers. They help protect data confidentiality and integrity, making sure that sensitive information remains secure.
  • Traffic filtering and rate limiting: WAAP tools can filter incoming traffic to block suspicious or malicious requests. They can also enforce rate limiting policies to prevent abuse or excessive usage of APIs.
  • Monitoring and reporting: WAAP tools continuously monitor incoming requests, traffic, and responses with the goal of identifying and blocking malicious activities. They can also generate reports and alerts, enabling security teams to respond to security incidents.

What are the Disadvantages of WAAP Tools?

No discussion of a security tool would be complete without a candid look at the downsides. Here are some critical areas of security that WAAPs either cannot address or cannot provide the level of security that today’s organizations require.

  • False Positives: We mentioned that WAAP tools are designed to monitor web application and API activities and provide alerts on potential issues. The problem is, WAAPs can often overwhelm security teams with false positives, consuming valuable time and resources without offering efficient ways of indicating real threats.
  • Data Sharing: Most WAAP tools struggle with sharing data on detected vulnerabilities and behavioral anomalies, limiting the ability of security teams to act on these insights.
  • Advanced Threats: WAAP tools often fall short in addressing more sophisticated threats, leaving gaps in protection against evolving cyber attacks.
  • Policy Generation: Generating effective security policies that accurately reflect the threat landscape can also be challenging for WAAPs, adding to the operational burden on security teams who need a simplified approach.

What are the Stakes of Getting API Security Right?

WAAPs have limitations, so it’s important to know today’s threats and how to protect your organization. APIs are a part of security that needs more attention than most organizations realize. You might have controls to secure access to web applications or manage traffic in and out of their APIs. But if the APIs powering your business aren’t secure, your data isn’t safe.

APIs facilitate a continuous exchange of your organization’s most sensitive data, ranging from customer information to patient records. This proximity to valuable data makes APIs particularly vulnerable to attacks, with 92% of enterprises reporting at least one API security incident. Compromising even a single API can lead to the theft of millions of records. Exposed or misconfigured APIs are common and easily exploitable, remaining not only unprotected but also often unseen and unmanaged. This includes highly vulnerable shadow APIs and zombie APIs.

The stakes are high. Attacks on unprotected APIs can jeopardize revenue, resilience, and regulatory compliance. The problem: most organizations don’t have formal programs or dedicated platforms for securing APIs. Even the tools they typically rely on are either:

  • More focused on managing APIs vs. protecting them.
  • Not designed to provide the high degree of visibility and controls needed to stop today’s API attack methods.

WAAP tools fall into this category, because – while they are meant to offer a step forward in protecting APIs – they face challenges in sharing critical threat data, managing false positives, and often cannot act on the threats after they identify them. This highlights the need for organizations to seek more comprehensive and effective security solutions to safeguard their APIs against the evolving landscape of cyber threats.

What Does it Take to Fully Secure APIs?

Today’s threat landscape calls for a complete API security platform encompassing four critical areas: API discovery, posture management, runtime protection, and API security testing.

1. API Discovery

It’s not uncommon to have APIs that no one knows of. However, your enterprise is exposed to a range of risks without an accurate inventory. API Discovery entails:

  • Locating and inventorying all of your APIs regardless of configuration or type.
  • Detecting dormant, legacy, and zombie APIs.
  • Identifying forgotten, neglected, or otherwise unknown shadow domains.
  • Removing blind spots and uncovering potential attack paths.

2. API Posture Management

Simple API misconfigurations can open the door to attackers. Once inside, they can quickly access and exfiltrate sensitive data. API Posture Management entails:

  • Automatically scanning infrastructure to uncover misconfigurations and hidden risks.
  • Creating custom workflows to notify key stakeholders of vulnerabilities.
  • Identifying which APIs and internal users are able to access sensitive data.
  • Assigning severity rankings to detected issues to prioritize remediation.

3. API Runtime Security

API attacks are reaching the point of inevitability. You need to be able to detect and block attacks in real-time. API Runtime Security entails:

  • Monitoring for data tampering and leakage, policy violations, suspicious behavior, and API attacks.
  • Analyzing API traffic without additional network changes or difficult-to-install agents.
  • Integrating with existing workflows (ticketing, SIEMs, etc) to alert security/operations teams.
  • Preventing attacks and misuse in real-time with partial or fully automated remediation.

4. API Security Testing

Speed is essential for every application developed, making it easier for a vulnerability or design flaw to go undetected. API Security Testing entails:

  • Running a wide range of automated tests that simulate malicious traffic.
  • Discovering vulnerabilities before APIs enter production, reducing the risk of successful attacks.
  • Inspecting your API specifications against established governance policies and rules.
  • Running API-focused security tests that run on-demand or as part of a CI/CD pipeline.

Where can I learn more about API security?

If you’re interested in learning more about the visibility, controls, and capabilities needed to fully secure your organization’s APIs, check out our API Security Buyer’s Guide.

John Natale

John Natale leads content marketing at Noname Security.

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