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How to Reduce API Sprawl with API Discovery

Harold Bell
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API sprawl is a term used to describe the uncontrolled proliferation of APIs across an organization. It’s a common problem for organizations that have multiple development teams and a wide variety of applications and services. As more APIs are created, it becomes increasingly difficult to keep track of them and how they’re being used. And by the looks of it, things are about to get a lot more complicated. According to Cloudflare, API calls are growing twice as fast as HTML traffic, which makes APIs “an ideal candidate for new security solutions aimed at protecting customer data.”

API sprawl can also lead to inefficiencies in development, increased costs, performance issues, and wasted resources. Not to mention confusion about the purpose and usage of certain APIs, making it difficult for developers to find APIs for their needs or understand how they interact with each other. As businesses become more dependent on APIs, it’s important to understand how API sprawl occurs and how it can be prevented or managed effectively.

To combat this issue, organizations need to deploy an API discovery tool that identifies all existing APIs and documents their use cases and capabilities. They also need to develop an API cataloging system that allows them to easily search for specific APIs or related sets of APIs. With that said, in this blog, we’ll discuss how API sprawl happens and what organizations can do to prevent it from occurring. By understanding these strategies, you’ll be able to better manage your APIs and ensure that your applications remain efficient and maintainable for years to come.

How API sprawl occurs

API sprawl can happen for a variety of reasons, such as poor API management, lack of governance, lack of visibility into the existing APIs, and inadequate documentation. Without proper governance and visibility, organizations can find themselves with too many APIs that aren’t being used or properly managed. 

Unsurprisingly, employee attrition contributes a great deal to dormant, shadow, and zombie APIs. When you consider the rate at which developers come and go within organizations, it’s easy to conclude that they often don’t transfer all of the tribal knowledge they have. One can imagine just how tedious that could be with all of the projects they’re involved with. Even those with the best intentions will overlook things during their handoff.

Also frequently forgotten are APIs that have been “inherited” as a result of a merger or acquisition. While integrating systems, which is a challenging and complicated task, inventories are sometimes lost or possibly didn’t exist in the first place. Due to the poorly documented API estates of smaller companies, larger enterprises that acquire several smaller businesses are particularly in danger.

Oftentimes, an older version of an API with inferior security or a known vulnerability is left in place. While software is being upgraded, an older version might need to coexist with a newer one for a while. Nevertheless, the person in charge of proper versioning and tasked with deactivating the API, either quits the company, is given a new assignment, or forgets to remove the previous version.

Consequences of API sprawl

I think it’s easy to see that the consequences of API sprawl can be dire. Notably, API sprawl can lead to a decrease in performance, as multiple APIs are added and maintained, the complexity of managing them increases. This can result in slower response times and higher latency when making requests. In addition, API sprawl can lead to an increase in costs as organizations have to invest more resources into managing APIs. 

Security risks also increase with API sprawl as there may be more opportunities for malicious actors to exploit vulnerabilities if APIs are not properly secured. Finally, API sprawl can cause a lack of visibility into how systems are interconnected which makes it difficult for organizations to make informed decisions about their architecture and infrastructure. You can’t possibly monitor API usage without an accurate picture of the number of APIs you have.

What is API discovery and how does it reduce API sprawl?

Based on the evidence thus far, organizations clearly need a better understanding of what APIs they have, how they’re used, and how they can be improved. API discovery is a process that helps organizations to identify, catalog and manage their APIs. If done properly, it can help organizations reduce API sprawl and better manage their APIs. 

It also helps them to better understand their current API landscape and make informed decisions about future development. Furthermore, it makes it easier to monitor and control access to these APIs, ensuring that only authorized users have access to them. 

Why manual API discovery is not an option

Manually doing an API audit might take up to 40 hours per API to accurately document all the required inputs. Also, it can take a lot more time to investigate the occurrence, assess the damage, take corrective action, and perform root cause investigation. 

You need to be able to employ automated procedures to discover every API in use in order to safeguard your API estate. It’s crucial to find and inventory every API across all of your digital activities, which includes APIs and API domains that aren’t controlled by an API gateway.

Let Noname Security help you with API discovery

On average, our customers discover 40% more APIs in their environment than originally anticipated. And we can help you just the same. Our discovery solution helps you maintain an accurate inventory of all your APIs, including legacy and shadow APIs. You can enjoy 100% visibility from all data sources across on-prem and cloud from a single pane of glass.

Our API Security Platform can scale to hundreds or thousands of pieces of infrastructure, monitoring load balancers, APIs gateways, and web application firewalls to help you locate and catalog every type of API, including HTTP, RESTful, GraphQL, SOAP, XML-RPC, JSON-RPC, and gRPC. 

Not to mention, our data classification capabilities monitor API traffic and provide visibility into the types of data that traverse your APIs – so you can quickly see how many APIs are able to access credit card data, phone numbers, SSNs, and other sensitive data.

As a first step, I encourage you to download our Definitive Guide to API Discovery. Learn how discovery is the first step to implementing a programmatic approach to API security. If you like what you read, you can sign up for a demo here.

Harold Bell

Harold Bell is the Director of Content Marketing at Noname Security. He has over a decade of experience in the IT industry with leading organizations such as Cisco, Nutanix, and Rubrik, and has been featured as an executive ghostwriter in Forbes Technology Council and Hacker News.

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