By Stephanie Best, director of product marketing at Salt Security

In today’s interconnected world, the rise of cyber-attacks has cast a shadow of uncertainty over the security of critical infrastructure, with the energy sector standing as a prime target. Over the past year, Europe has witnessed a surge in cyberattacks on energy companies, including ransomware attacks and breaches in the oil and gas sector. These incidents underscore the pressing need for heightened security measures within this crucial industry.

API attacks on energy companies in particular pose a serious threat due to the critical nature of the energy sector and the increasing reliance on digital technologies. These attacks can have far-reaching consequences that range from financial losses to disruptions in energy supply and even potential safety hazards.

Government Response to Protect Critical Industries

In response to the growing threat landscape, governments are stepping up their efforts to secure critical industries. The launch of the NIS2 security directive marks a significant milestone in this endeavour. This directive raises the bar for cybersecurity requirements across Europe, targeting medium-sized and large organisations operating in critical sectors, such as the energy industry. The UK government, for instance, has until March 2024 to incorporate the NIS2 directive into national legislation.

NIS2 encompasses a range of security measures, including 24/7 incident response, employee training, cryptography usage, asset management, access control, and the establishment of incident and crisis management procedures.

Additionally, organisations are now accountable for the security practices of their direct suppliers, reflecting a more holistic approach to cybersecurity. Notably, directors may face personal liability if negligence in implementing security measures is identified.

However, a critical aspect that organisations may overlook in their journey towards NIS2 compliance is the security of their Application Programming Interfaces (APIs).

API Security: A Crucial Component for Energy Industry Resilience

In today’s digital landscape, APIs play an integral role in data sharing within the energy sector. These interfaces enable energy companies to exchange data on energy generation, distribution, and consumption. While APIs streamline operations and innovation, they also serve as potential entry points for malicious actors seeking access to sensitive information.

Recent trends highlight the urgency of API security. Gartner predicts that API attacks will become the most frequent vector for data breaches, with over 50% of data theft stemming from unsecured APIs by 2025. Disturbingly, the Q1 2023 State of API Security report reveals that nearly a third of organisations with APIs in production lack a comprehensive API security strategy.

These API security gaps can lead to dire consequences. Attackers could manipulate energy infrastructure by accessing APIs that manage and control critical systems. This could result in power disruptions, equipment malfunctions and even infrastructural damage. Furthermore, disruptions in API-based energy delivery management can lead to unstable energy grids, price manipulation and compromised energy supply to end users.

Protecting APIs and Ensuring Energy Sector Resilience

To safeguard the energy sector against API-related threats, organisations must take proactive measures:

Visibility: Maintaining an up-to-date inventory of all APIs is crucial. This enables organisations to comprehend the data exchanged across their APIs, aiding in risk assessment and monitoring.

Attack Prevention in Runtime: Runtime monitoring of APIs is essential to identify potential abuses and vulnerabilities. Organisations need to see APIs as they are being used to spot behavioral anomalies that could indicate potential threats. This requires continuous monitoring, as each API vulnerability represents a potential zero-day risk.

Proactive Security: While pre-production testing is essential, it cannot uncover all vulnerabilities. Combining pre-production testing with runtime insights enables developers to fortify APIs effectively. An incident response plan should also be part of the security policy.

Employee Education: Employees should be educated about cyber risks and the company’s digital interests. Raising awareness can empower staff to recognise potential threats and take appropriate actions.

Securing a Safer Digital Future

The NIS2 directive propels organisations into an era of proactive security, emphasising the importance of comprehensive risk assessments, employee education and robust security measures. For energy companies, API security is not an option but a necessity to ensure the resilience of critical infrastructure. As cyber threats continue to evolve, safeguarding APIs stands as a fundamental pillar in the quest for a safer and more secure digital future.

Energy companies must prioritise API security as an integral part of their overall cybersecurity strategies. This includes conducting regular security assessments, monitoring API traffic for anomalies both in production and runtime and fostering a culture of cybersecurity awareness among employees. Ultimately, protecting APIs in the energy sector is vital to ensuring the reliability, safety, and resilience of energy services in the face of evolving cyber threats.