Scanning a RESTful API Web Service

REST (Representational State Transfer) is an architectural style that can be used to communicate with web services. REST has a lot in common with protocols such as SOAP. It is used as a communication mechanism between two applications, or between an application and an online service. Many mobile web applications communicate with a RESTful API at the backend in order to communicate with the online service.

Differences Between a Web Service and a REST API

Many web services rely on complex communication mechanisms such as SOAP, RPC and CORBA. REST uses the standard HTTP methods for all four CRUD (Create, Read, Update, Delete) operations.

Commonly Used HTTP Methods (Verbs) in REST API

This table lists the commonly used HTTP methods in REST.




Create a resource


Retrieve a resource


Change the state of a resource or update it


Remove or delete a resource

The Challenges of Scanning REST API Interfaces

Unlike RPC and others, REST can be easily consumed and understood by users because of its simple structure. For example, many REST-based web services can provide a response in JSON or XML format. But this same benefit is what makes it very difficult for an automated web vulnerability scanner to crawl and attack.

Lack of Standards for REST

There is no consistent standard for REST API, as there is for WSDL and other similar protocols. Most RESTful web services have their own documentation, useful for developers but useless to automated web vulnerability scanners.

A number of projects aim to standardize the REST API:

Using Parameters in URLs

Another challenge automated scanners encounter when scanning RESTful web services for vulnerabilities is that REST APIs use parameters in URLs.

For example in the HTTP GET request below, 123 is a parameter and not a directory in the web application:

  • GET

Acunetix 360 deals with this using heuristic URL Rewrite technology that can automatically identify and scan parameters in URLs. In a REST API things work a little differently.

Scanning a RESTful API Web Service for Vulnerabilities

There are three ways to scan a RESTful API. Each is outlined below:

Importing the Definition Files Manually

When you import an OpenAPI (formerly Swagger), WADL or WordPress REST API definition file, the Acunetix 360 web application security scanner will parse the definition file and create a link for every resource available in the API. To import a Swagger, WADL or WordPress REST API definition file you should:

How to Import the OpenAPI (formerly Swagger), WADL or WordPress Definition Files Manually in Acunetix 360
  1. Log in to Acunetix 360.
  2. From the main menu, click Scans, then New Scan. The New Scan window is displayed.
  3. From the Scan Settings section, click Imported Links.

  1. From the Import Links dropdown, select an appropriate API definition file type. The Open dialog is displayed.
  2. Select a file to import and click Open. Repeat for as many items as you wish.
  3. Once Acunetix 360 imports all the links and parameters, they are displayed in a list in the Import Links section.

During the import, URL Rewrite Rules will automatically be generated, so that every parameter in the RESTful API is scanned.

When importing a RESTful web service definition file in Acunetix 360 the URL Rewrite rules are not shown in the Start a New Scan window, but they will be reported in the Knowledge Base node, either once the scan is finished or during the scan.



When importing a RESTful web service definition file in Acunetix 360 the URL Rewrite rules are not shown in the Start a New Scan dialogue, but they will be reported in the Knowledge Base Nodes once the scan is finished.

Automating the Discovery of RESTful APIs During Crawling

Similar to when scanning other web applications and services, authentication can be configured from the Authentication tab.

How to Automate the Discovery of the RESTful API During Crawling

The Acunetix web application security scanner will automatically import, crawl and scan a REST API web service, if it is identified during a scan. Once the scanner identifies the definition file, it will automatically generate the URL Rewrite rules so it can scan all the parameters in the web service.

When the scanner identifies a RESTful API web service during a crawl it will also report it in the Knowledge Base node. This is what the REST APIs node looks like in the Knowledge Base section of the Technical Report in Acunetix 360.



Should the scanner identify references to a RESTful API web service during the Crawling stage (via JavaScript or other means) but then fail to identify the definition file,  once it has the necessary samples it will still try to heuristically create the URL Rewrite Rules to scan all the parameters.

Importing RAW HTTP Requests Manually

In cases where the OpenAPI (formerlySwagger) or WADL definition files are not available, or the RESTful API cannot be identified during the crawl of a web application, you can import the API's links via RAW HTTP files.

You can capture the HTTP requests via a third party proxy tool such as Fiddler and import them before starting the scan. Here is a list of supported proxy files:

  • Burp log files (*.xml)
  • Fiddler session archives (*.saz)
  • HTTP archive files (*.har)
  • Paros log files (*.txt)



Note that when using this method the scanner won't automatically generate the URL rewrite rules. Configure the URL Rewrite Rules manually.

How to Import RAW HTTP Requests Manually

The procedure for importing these tools manually is the same as that for importing SWAGGER or WALD (see Importing the Definition Files Manually).


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