How To Secure APIs and Third-Party Integrations

Protect the Fabric of Your Digital Business

Secure APIs 3rd Party Integration illustration

APIs are the foundation of modern applications. By enabling disparate systems to work collectively, APIs can speed time to market and deliver improved user experiences by leveraging vast third-party ecosystems. On the flipside, the skyrocketing use of APIs has decentralized architecture and introduced unknown risks. This makes securing apps and APIs even tougher, which in turn makes them extremely attractive to attackers. As organizations continue to modernize their app portfolios and innovate in the new digital economy, the number of APIs is projected to reach one billion by 2031.

Key Benefits

Distributed security

F5 runs everywhere your APIs live—in the data center, across clouds, at the edge, behind your mobile apps, and within your third-party integrations.

Consistent enforcement

F5 security employs a positive security model based on API schema learning, automated risk scoring, and ML-based protections.

Continuous protection

F5 solutions provide universal visibility, actionable insights, and highly trained machine learning that continuously discovers and automatically defends critical business logic behind APIs.

Understanding the Challenges and Potential Risks of APIs

API sprawl from a constantly expanding fabric of endpoints and integrations makes it impractical for security teams to identify and protect critical business logic using manual methods. APIs are increasingly distributed across heterogenous infrastructures, including hybrid and multi-cloud environments, resulting in critical business logic being exposed outside the realm of centralized security controls. Additionally, because application development teams move swiftly to innovate, API calls can end up hidden deep within business logic, making them difficult to identify. 

With such an emphasis on innovation speed, security is often left behind. Sometimes security is simply overlooked in the design of APIs themselves. Often, security is considered, but policy becomes misconfigured due to the nuanced complexity of maintaining application deployments that span multiple clouds and architectures. 

Since APIs are designed for machine-to-machine data exchange, many APIs represent a direct route to sensitive data, often without the same risk controls as input validation on user-facing web forms. Yet these endpoints are subject to the same attacks that plague web apps: namely vulnerability exploits, business logic abuse, and bypass of access controls that can lead to data breach, downtime, and account takeover (ATO).

Not only should API endpoints be evaluated with the same risk controls as web applications, additional considerations are required to mitigate unintended risk from endpoints that are outside the purview of security teams or that have essentially been abandoned, as is the case with shadow and zombie APIs. 

APIs are subject to the same attacks as web apps

Because APIs are susceptible to many of the same attacks known to target web applications, API security incidents have been the cause of some of the highest-profile data breaches. Risks like weak authentication/authorization controls, misconfiguration, business logic abuse, and Server-side request forgery (SSRF) impact both web apps and APIs. Vulnerability exploits and abuse from bots and malicious automation are top concerns:

APIs introduce unintended risk throughout design and implementation

Applications have moved toward an increasingly distributed and decentralized model, with APIs serving as the interconnection. Mobile apps and third-party integrations that increase business value have become table stakes for successfully competing in an online world. F5 Labs research details how APIs are a growing target as more industries adopt modern application architectures—in part because APIs are more structured and easier for attackers to work with.

Risk increases when APIs become widely distributed without a holistic governance strategy. This risk is exacerbated by a continuous application lifecycle process where applications and APIs are constantly changing over time due to integration with complex supply chains and automation via CI/CD pipelines.

The variety of interfaces and potential risk exposure means security teams need to protect the front door as well as all windows that represent the building blocks of modern apps.

API Security Solution

Advances in machine learning make it possible to dynamically discover API endpoints and automatically map their interdependencies, providing a practical way to analyze API communication patterns over time and identify shadow or undocumented APIs that increase risk. 

Furthermore, continuous endpoint monitoring and analysis enable security baselines to be constructed autonomously, providing for real-time detection, automated risk scoring, and mitigation of malicious users without unnecessary increases to your security team's workload.

This continuous and automated protection results in highly calibrated policies that can be applied consistently across all architectures for all APIs—mitigating exploits, deterring bots and abuse, and enforcing schema, protocol compliance, and access control.

Enterprises need to modernize their legacy apps while simultaneously developing new user experiences by leveraging modern architectures and third-party integrations. A holistic governance strategy that protects APIs from the core to the cloud to the edge supports digital transformation while reducing known and unknown risks.

Figure 1: F5 solutions protect APIs across the enterprise app ecosystem
Figure 1: F5 solutions protect APIs across the enterprise app ecosystem

Key Features

Dynamic API discovery

Detect API endpoints across the enterprise app ecosystem.

Anomaly detection

Identify suspicious behavior and malicious users using automated risk scoring and machine learning.

API definition import

Create and enforce a positive security model from OpenAPI specifications.

Protocol and authentication compliance

Support for APIs based on REST, GraphQL, and gRPC, various authentication types, and JSON Web Tokens (JWT).

Policy automation

Integrate into development frameworks and security ecosystems.

Visualizations and insights

Construct API relationship graphs and evaluate endpoint metrics. 

Flexible API Security Paradigms

F5 solutions provide the flexibility to operate in any environment. Universal visibility and ML-based automated protections maximize efficacy and unburden security teams. F5 can consolidate pure-play/niche solutions and consistently secure hybrid and multi-cloud environments to improve resiliency and remediation.

Key considerations for deploying API security include:
  1. Hybrid and multi-cloud support 
    Universal visibility and consistent policy enforcement reduces complexity, tool sprawl, and risk of misconfiguration, and increases speed to remediation.

  2. Integration with existing dev processes
    Security teams can keep pace with the application lifecycle by integrating security policy into CI/CD pipelines via a native terraform registry.

  3. Positive security model
    F5 solutions streamline policy with a positive security model that enforces schema using OpenAPI definitions, Swagger files, and zero-trust principles.

  4. Automated defenses
    ML-based anomaly detection remediates vulnerability exploits, business logic abuse, and denial-of-service without burdening security teams with policy tuning across environments or excessive false positives.

  5. Rich visualizations
    Security dashboards with drill-down support into API usage baselines help operators correlate insights and simplify incident response.

  6. Security resilience
    Durable telemetry and highly-trained machine learning enable more efficient and effective security that keeps pace with the speed of digital business and mitigates emerging adversarial AI attacks.


F5 solutions protect APIs across the entire enterprise portfolio by continuously discovering and automatically protecting critical business logic and third-party integrations across clouds and architectures. 

A comprehensive and consistent security policy coupled with resilient ML-powered defenses allows organizations to align API security to digital strategy. This enables businesses to improve risk management, innovate with confidence, and streamline operations.

See F5 Distributed Cloud in action.