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API Penetration Testing: Benefits & 5 Steps  in 2024

Updated on Jan 3
3 min read
Written by
Cem Dilmegani
Cem Dilmegani
Cem Dilmegani

Cem is the principal analyst at AIMultiple since 2017. AIMultiple informs hundreds of thousands of businesses (as per Similarweb) including 60% of Fortune 500 every month.

Cem's work focuses on how enterprises can leverage new technologies in AI, automation, cybersecurity(including network security, application security), data collection including web data collection and process intelligence.

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More than 90% of the company’s network perimeter can be penetrated in an average of 2 days. It is predicted that the most frequent attack vector will be API attacks. API Penetration testing can be used to identify the security shortcomings of APIs that if neglected can cause significant financial and reputational damage. 

In this article, we will examine the benefits of penetration testing (also known as “pen testing”) and the procedures that should be followed to carry it out. We will also discuss the industry-standard pen testing methods. 

What is API penetration testing?

API penetration testing is a type of security testing designed to assess the security of an API. API pen testing aims to find and fix loopholes and defects that can be used by malicious actors to:

  • Get access to data,
  • Adversely affect performance, 
  • Take over the network.

We have provided a data-driven list of more than 20 penetration testing tools that you can check here

Top 3 benefits of API penetration testing

1. Sustaining compliance

APIs if exploited can expose sensitive data of people and businesses. Companies have to follow rules and standards such as : 

  • HIPAA for healthcare information in the US
  • GDPR in the EU
  • PCI-DSS for payment processing card companies 

The exploitation of the regulations can result in civil or criminal action by the governing authorities. 

2. Preventing cyberattacks

Penetration testing can identify vulnerabilities that if found by hackers and malicious parties can lead to cyberattacks. Identified vulnerabilities can be fixed to prevent cyberattacks which in turn can prevent financial and reputational costs.

3. Keeping cyber security professionals up to date

Cyber threats are evolving all the time. Regular Penetration testing enables cyber security professionals to be aware of the new trends and methods applied by hackers. 

Sponsored:

PULSE is an AI-based automated API testing tool created by Testifi. The cost and effort of API testing can be reduced by 50% while using PULSE. Leading companies like Vodafone and Amazon employ Testifi’s services.

Insourcing vs Outsourcing

Penetration testing can be done internally using the testing team or outsourced to cybersecurity companies with experience and licenses in penetration testing. If you have already highly skilled testers with experience in penetration testing and awareness of compliance requirements for your industry then outsourcing might not be needed. However, if you do not have specialized testers in penetration testing, outsourcing offers the following benefits:

  • Getting access to skilled labor.
  • Getting access to professionals that know the compliance requirements. 
  • Possible cost saving as you will not need to hire full-time professionals or provide training and certification for the testers. 

4 steps of penetration testing

1- Reconnaissance

This step involves testers gathering as much information as possible such as:

  • API endpoints,
  • URLs,
  • Examples of calls,
  • IP addresses,
  • Documentation and so on.

Having greater information leads to making an effective attack strategy to improve API pen testing. 

2- Vulnerability Assessment

This step involves enumerating all targets that are within the scope of the test in the network and application layer. It includes identifying and including information such as :

  • Usernames,
  • Machine names,
  • Network resources .

The scanning process aims to identify weaknesses that might exist in the API.

3- Exploitation

In this step, all of the vulnerabilities identified before will be exploited in a way that a hacker would. This step will identify:

  • The degree that hackers can penetrate the API.
  • The degree that hackers would be able to damage the API.
  • Effect of mitigating solutions in place.

4- Reporting

After exploitation is finished, the testers must write a detailed report on the test results. The report has to be thorough and include:

  • Vulnerabilities identified.
  • Level of penetration.
  • Level of risks.
  • Recommendations. 

The report provides a starting point on what actions should be taken moving forward to address the security issues. 

3 Penetration testing methodologies

Companies can develop their own penetration testing process and methodologies but a few testing methodologies have been developed that have achieved standard status in the testing industry as they have proven to be effective methodologies. They are:

1- Penetration Testing Execution Standard (PTES)

This standard was developed by information security practitioners with the aim of providing an up-to-date guide for penetration testers and aims to educate companies about what to anticipate from a penetration test. PTES has 7 sections: 

  1. Pre-engagement Interactions,
  2. Intelligence Gathering,
  3. Threat Modeling,
  4. Vulnerability Analysis,
  5. Exploitation,
  6. Post Exploitation,
  7. Reporting.

2- Open Source Security Testing Methodology Manual (OSSTMM)

OSSTMM is a peer-reviewed methodology maintained by Institute for Security and Open Methodologies (ISECOM) which is updated every 6 months. OSSTMM provides guidance on how to test the security of the 5 operational channels. They are:

  1. Human security,
  2. Physical security,
  3. Wireless communication,
  4. Telecommunication,
  5. Data Networks.

3- Open Web Application Security Project (OWASP)

OWASP gives businesses access to an extensive list of web application vulnerability categories as well as solutions for mitigating or remediating them. OWASP offers various resources on its own to enhance the security posture of both internal and external web applications.

If you are looking to implement API penetration testing, you can reach us: 

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Cem Dilmegani
Principal Analyst
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Cem Dilmegani
Principal Analyst

Cem is the principal analyst at AIMultiple since 2017. AIMultiple informs hundreds of thousands of businesses (as per Similarweb) including 60% of Fortune 500 every month.

Cem's work focuses on how enterprises can leverage new technologies in AI, automation, cybersecurity(including network security, application security), data collection including web data collection and process intelligence.

Cem's work has been cited by leading global publications including Business Insider, Forbes, Washington Post, global firms like Deloitte, HPE, NGOs like World Economic Forum and supranational organizations like European Commission. You can see more reputable companies and media that referenced AIMultiple.

Cem's hands-on enterprise software experience contributes to the insights that he generates. He oversees AIMultiple benchmarks in dynamic application security testing (DAST), data loss prevention (DLP), email marketing and web data collection. Other AIMultiple industry analysts and tech team support Cem in designing, running and evaluating benchmarks.

Throughout his career, Cem served as a tech consultant, tech buyer and tech entrepreneur. He advised enterprises on their technology decisions at McKinsey & Company and Altman Solon for more than a decade. He also published a McKinsey report on digitalization.

He led technology strategy and procurement of a telco while reporting to the CEO. He has also led commercial growth of deep tech company Hypatos that reached a 7 digit annual recurring revenue and a 9 digit valuation from 0 within 2 years. Cem's work in Hypatos was covered by leading technology publications like TechCrunch and Business Insider.

Cem regularly speaks at international technology conferences. He graduated from Bogazici University as a computer engineer and holds an MBA from Columbia Business School.

Sources:

AIMultiple.com Traffic Analytics, Ranking & Audience, Similarweb.
Why Microsoft, IBM, and Google Are Ramping up Efforts on AI Ethics, Business Insider.
Microsoft invests $1 billion in OpenAI to pursue artificial intelligence that’s smarter than we are, Washington Post.
Data management barriers to AI success, Deloitte.
Empowering AI Leadership: AI C-Suite Toolkit, World Economic Forum.
Science, Research and Innovation Performance of the EU, European Commission.
Public-sector digitization: The trillion-dollar challenge, McKinsey & Company.
Hypatos gets $11.8M for a deep learning approach to document processing, TechCrunch.
We got an exclusive look at the pitch deck AI startup Hypatos used to raise $11 million, Business Insider.

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