Virtual locks on digital landscape showing FFIEC compliance and API security

API Security in the Spotlight: Navigating Recent FFIEC Compliance Guidelines

In October 2022, the Federal Financial Institutions Examination Council (FFIEC) took a decisive step in recognizing the evolving digital landscape. They acknowledged APIs not merely as tools but as an aspect of an organization’s security ecosystem that must be accounted for and protected. The updated guidelines specifically delineate APIs as a distinct attack surface, shedding light on the amplified risks they introduce.

While APIs have been integral to digital ecosystems for over a decade, their deployment often lacked a robust security framework. This oversight has inadvertently created a plethora of vulnerabilities, making organizations susceptible to malicious incursions. The repercussions? Financial setbacks, erosion of brand value, operational hiccups, dwindling customer trust, and more.

APIs, intended to promote information sharing and enhance user experiences, have paradoxically become a treasure trove for cyber attacks. These adversaries exploit the prevalent lack of visibility organizations have into their APIs, leaving them frequently unprotected.These APIs magnify the attack surface across an organization’s entire technology stack. A significant 58% of organizations, as highlighted in Traceable’s Global State of API Security report, concur that APIs significantly expand the attack surface.

The FFIEC’s swift pivot from mere acknowledgment of APIs to designating them as a unique attack surface is telling. It suggests that financial institutions might be on a tighter compliance timeline than anticipated. In this evolving scenario, CISOs, CIOs, GRC executives, and other leaders in financial institutions must prioritize fortifying their API security.

Where to Begin? Here’s a Roadmap:

Catalog All APIs

The ownership of APIs often spans multiple departments and roles within an organization, leading to potential disconnects and oversight. In addition, the dynamic nature of today’s organizations is evident in the diverse API types they deploy. From Open APIs (32%) to Third-party APIs (15%), the landscape is vast and varied. However, a startling 44% of organizations admit to lacking tools for API discovery and tracking. Moreover, 56% of organizations emphasize that the sheer volume of APIs makes it challenging to thwart attacks. In an environment characterized by hybrid cloud IT networks, microservices architectures, and Agile processes, unmanaged APIs can lurk unnoticed, becoming prime targets for attacks.

Address API Sprawl

API sprawl, a phenomenon where the number of APIs grows uncontrollably, poses a significant challenge. A notable 48% of organizations pinpoint preventing API sprawl as their top challenge. This sprawl is further exacerbated by the extensive adoption of cloud applications. With 88% of organizations using more than 2500 cloud applications, the landscape becomes even more intricate. Each of these cloud applications can introduce its own set of APIs, further compounding the sprawl.

The implications of this are manifold:

  • Complexity in discovery: The sheer number of APIs and cloud applications makes the task of discovery daunting. This directly speaks to the FFIEC’s emphasis on accurate API discovery and inventory.
  • Security vulnerabilities: With the proliferation of APIs, the attack surface expands. Each unmonitored API becomes a potential entry point for malicious actors, increasing the risk of breaches.
  • Compliance hurdles: The FFIEC’s guidelines necessitate a thorough inventory of APIs. The vast number of cloud applications and their associated APIs can make compliance a herculean task, especially if organizations lack the tools or processes to track them effectively.
  • Operational challenges: Beyond security and compliance, managing such a vast number of APIs can strain IT resources. Ensuring each API’s optimal performance, availability, and integration can become operationally challenging.

Given these complexities, it’s evident that addressing API sprawl is not just about counting and cataloging APIs. It’s about understanding the intricate web of interdependencies, ensuring security at each touchpoint, and streamlining operations to remain compliant with regulatory guidelines. Addressing this sprawl is crucial to ensure compliance, enhance security, and maintain operational efficiency.

Perform a Risk Assessment of your APIs

With a comprehensive API inventory established, the subsequent pivotal step is conducting a thorough risk assessment. This involves assigning risk scores to each API, a process that not only highlights vulnerabilities but also pinpoints sensitive data flows. In today’s complex digital landscape, where APIs can number in the thousands, leveraging advanced technological solutions becomes essential. These tools can efficiently streamline the risk assessment process, ensuring that even the largest inventories are meticulously evaluated.

Furthermore, it’s not just about identifying the APIs but understanding their interactions and data pathways. It’s crucial to map out the entire journey of sensitive data as it moves through internal applications, interfaces with various APIs, and connects with third-party tools and platforms. Achieving this level of comprehensive visibility is more than just a best practice—it’s a proactive measure that can detect and preempt potential security breaches, safeguarding an organization’s digital assets and reputation.

Enhance Your API Security

The FFIEC’s accelerated revision of its guidelines, coupled with the distinct categorization of APIs as a separate attack surface, underscores the escalating threat landscape. As APIs continue to proliferate, the associated risks will surge. Financial institutions must proactively adopt API security best practices. Comprehensive visibility, meticulous inventory management, risk score determination, and stringent access controls are non-negotiable. Neglecting these measures not only exposes organizations to potential breaches but also risks non-compliance with FFIEC mandates.

In an era where digital transformation is paramount, with 57% of organizations emphasizing the importance of APIs in their strategies, the stakes have never been higher. Financial institutions must navigate this intricate landscape with foresight, diligence, and innovation. The FFIEC’s guidelines serve as a beacon, guiding them towards a secure, compliant, and prosperous future.