“API Expansion” refers to the rapid and uncontrolled growth of API environments within an organization. This occurs when an organization has numerous endpoints that are poorly managed or not managed at all, leading to a proliferation of APIs that can be difficult to maintain and use.
This expansion is a side effect of the scale, and it’s not all bad. But the number of APIs per organization is growing rapidly. For example, at the end of 2020, organizations surveyed by SaltSecurity reported an average of 42 APIs. In July 2022, the same survey found that its respondents maintained an average of 162 APIs.
But API sprawl can also increase security risks, increase maintenance needs, and negatively affect productivity if there are too many APIs to efficiently track and manage.
By having a clear API strategy and establishing processes for manage and document APIs, organizations can expose various functionality while avoiding the negative consequences of API sprawl. Here’s why you need that strategy and processes, and some initial steps to create them.
The good and bad sides of API expansion
API expansion can be beneficial because it allows organizations to create and expose various features to external developers or to different teams within the organization. This can lead to more innovation and faster development times, as teams can easily access and use the functionality provided by APIs, without having to build those endpoints from scratch.
There is also greater flexibility. With access to numerous APIs, organizations can be more flexible in how they build and deploy new systems and services. This can allow them to more quickly respond to changing business needs and adapt to new technologies.
However, API expansion can also have negative consequences. With numerous APIs, it can be difficult for developers to understand which ones are available, how to use them, and how they fit into the overall architecture of the organization. This can lead to confusion and inefficiency and can make it difficult for teams to work together effectively.
An expanding collection of APIs can lead to duplication of functionality and inconsistency in the way interfaces are designed and implemented. This can slow down development.
Worst of all, APIs can present a security risk if there are too many of them to manage properly, to keep track of which APIs are being used and who is using them. The same SaltSecurity survey from Q3 2022 found that 94% of respondents reported having API security issues in production APIs.
Finally, the more APIs an organization has, the more need for ongoing maintenance. More APIs means generating more code to keep them up to date, which leads to higher costs.
Security risks associated with API expansion
It can be challenging for organizations to ensure that all APIs have the proper security controls in place. With a large number of APIs, it can be difficult for organizations to monitor which APIs are being used and who is using them. And it can also be difficult to identify security issues and respond quickly to incidents.
There is a higher chance that one or more APIs contain vulnerabilities that could be exploited by malicious actors. This can lead to data breaches and other security incidents.
With so many endpoints, hackers can also exploit API sprawl by finding and using APIs that are no longer in use or have not been properly secured. This can allow them to gain unauthorized access to sensitive data or systems without being detected.
Cybercriminals can use an API in a way that it was not intended to be used, such as sending excessive requests or using an API to extract data.
And there’s just the increased danger of bugs from well-meaning developers. If they can’t understand the API landscape in an organization, they could create bugs with security implications.
Centralization vs Decentralization
As you design your API management strategy, you’ll need to decide whether to centralize or decentralize control of your APIs. These are the factors you need to weigh.
API centralization means having a single system that monitors access to all APIs in an organization. By contrast, API decentralization implies a more distributed approach, with different teams or departments managing their own APIs.
API centralization can help reduce API sprawl, making it easier to monitor and document APIs, configure security protocols, and track API usage. However, it could also have drawbacks, such as slowing down the development process and inhibiting innovation by imposing too many restrictions.
However, the decentralization of APIs allows for greater flexibility and faster development, as teams can build and deploy APIs without needing to go through the central process. On the other hand, it can cause API sprawl, as there may be less oversight and control over API development and deployment.
It may be better to go for a hybrid approach that combines both centralization and decentralization, depending on an organization’s particular needs and goals.
For example, while core APIs that are key to an organization’s operations need to be managed centrally, decentralized control may be more applicable for APIs that are less critical or experimental.
Creating a strategy to combat API sprawl
Creating an effective API strategy is crucial to making sure APIs are built in a way that aligns with organizational goals. This should involve setting standards for API design and documentation, establishing API governance policies, and assigning roles and responsibilities for API management.
You first need to know exactly how many and which APIs your organization currently has. Documentation can help developers understand the functionality, usage, and any requirements or limitations associated with each API.
Establish Processes for the Review of APIs.
Reviewing and retiring APIs that are no longer in use can help prevent sprawl and lower maintenance costs. This may include conducting regular audits of the organization’s API landscape to identify and rule out any unnecessary or duplicate APIs.
A system for approving and publishing new APIs needs to be established to ensure that only necessary APIs, which are properly documented, are available to developers. This should include a process for reviewing new APIs and rules for naming, versioning, and documenting APIs.
Monitor your API activity.
Monitoring API usage can provide insight into which APIs are being used and by whom, helping to identify APIs that are no longer needed.
Leverage the power of API gateways.
API gateways Also called multi-gateways, they are powerful software systems that provide centralized control of an organization’s connection points. Such gateways are used to manage, secure, and provide additional features for APIs such as routing, load balancing, and caching, improving API performance and reducing stress on back-end systems.
Among the advantages of API gateways: is centralized management. They offer convenient centralized control for all APIs within an organization, making it easier to manage and document those endpoints, configure security controls, and monitor API usage.
API gateways may also apply security measures such as authentication Authorization, and encryption to protect against any unauthorized access to APIs and sensitive data.
Perhaps best of all for developer productivity, API gateways give developers a single point of access to use and access APIs, making it easy for teams to collaborate.
‘Shift-Left’ also applies to API tests
Have you heard of the “Left shift” philosophy when it comes to security: It means putting more responsibility for application security on the shoulders of developers, early in the application building process, rather than relying entirely on operations engineers to keep code secure. But “switch left” can also apply to API testing and quality assurance (QA) tasks.
This is how you do it:
Establish a Continuous Testing Process.
The shift to the left means early and frequent testing, so it’s essential to create a system for constant testing of your APIs during development. This could mean setting up automated tests that run whenever you change the API, or perhaps manually testing the API frequently.
Implement unit tests.
Unit testing is an automated form of testing that verifies the behavior of different units of code. By generating unit tests early in the development process, you can detect problems earlier and lower the risk of unexpected problems in later phases of testing.
Use mock APIs.
By using mock versions of real APIs, you can test the behavior of your endpoints without relying on external dependencies or real data.
Perform User Acceptance Tests.
User acceptance testing is the process of testing an API to ensure that it meets the needs and desires of the intended users. By performing user acceptance testing early in the development process, you can catch any issues with the usability or functionality of the API and fix them before deployment.
Specify clear acceptance criteria for the API.
Before you start creating an API, make sure you have a clear understanding of what the API is expected to do and how it should appear. This will help you design and build better APIs from the ground up.
Use automated testing tools.
Automated testing tools can help you test your API faster and more effectively. Take into account the use of tools such as Jenkins, Postman or SoapUI to automate your testing procedure.
Include QA staff in the API development process.
Make sure your QA team is involved in the API development process from the beginning. They can help pinpoint potential issues and provide important feedback on API design and implementation.
In general, the purpose of shifting left is to catch bugs as early in the development process as possible so they can be fixed before they cause major problems downstream. By implementing these testing activities early in the development process, you can increase the quality and reliability of your pre-production APIs.