Analyzing the concept of API management (APIM), its benefits, and what it will look like as the API landscape continues to evolve.
There are two fundamental truths in the API landscape.
First: APIs have become a strategic tool for companies to expand their digital reach, accelerate their businesses, and do more for their customers.
Second: because of the way they work and how they’ve been used so far, APIs are particularly vulnerable to attacks from bad actors. In fact, according to recent research, malicious API attack traffic surged 117% over the past year, indicating that the threat on APIs is far from abating.
So, where does this leave businesses that want to leverage the power of APIs? For starters, they need to invest in an API security strategy that covers all their bases. A robust strategy will be held up by a number of different tools and methodologies, including API management (APIM).
In this article, we’re taking a closer look at what APIM is, its benefits, and what it will look like as the API landscape continues to evolve.
What Is APIM?
APIM is the process of creating, distributing, monitoring, and analysing APIs that connect applications and data across the enterprise and clouds. Typically deployed as a scalable platform, APIM allows enterprises to share their API configurations while controlling access, monitoring and collecting usage data, and enforcing security policies related to APIs.
In other words, APIM gives businesses the power to better leverage the API economy without compromising on security. There are also internal benefits: managing all APIs on one unified platform lets enterprises share API documentation and coding constructs between teams, ultimately making things easier (and faster) for developers.
What Are the Components of APIM?
To facilitate flexibility, quality, speed, and security for enterprise APIs, APIM platforms are usually comprised of five key elements, outlined below.
API gateway: The API gateway acts as the portal through which all routing requests and protocol translations are handled. As APIs often have different structures and languages and are constantly changing, an API gateway facilitates communication, providing a single point of contact for internal and external parties to interact with APIs.
API developer portal: The developer portal provides a self-service hub for developers that want to access and share API documentation. This contributes significantly to speeding up how developers work with APIs, streamlining the building and testing processes, and providing consistency across the team.
API analytics: There’s a lot of value in understanding and evaluating a given API’s usage and operational metrics — and that’s where an API reporting and analytics function comes in. APIM platforms are often equipped with dashboards that provide this visibility and allow enterprise teams to make better decisions about how they use their APIs, such as whether it’s worth monetizing them. From an operational perspective, these dashboards help identify issues early so they can be addressed proactively.
API lifecycle management: With APIs, one of the biggest challenges is that there isn’t visibility into the whole lifecycle — from design to implementation and retirement. The reason is that APIs are often created for small internal uses and then launched into bigger use cases without the proper vetting. Lifecycle management mitigates this, providing a sustainable solution for building, testing, and managing APIs with version control support.
API policy manager: Each API should operate within a set of API policies that shape its evolution. API policy managers control the lifecycle of these policies and house broader policies that impact the entire API infrastructure.
In an APIM platform, each of these tools comes together to give companies a more complete and comprehensive view into their APIs and the control to enhance security across the API ecosystem.
What APIM is Not
From a security perspective, while APIM platforms are key for creating unified visibility and control over a company’s API infrastructure — and for facilitating the implementation of API security features — it’s important to note that it’s only one pillar in a robust API security strategy. API management platforms are not, fundamentally, security platforms. They lack key API security elements organizations should enforce, including continuous authentication and authorization, access control, data validation, runtime security tailored to the OWASP API Top 10 attacks, and a testing plan for APIs both in production and pre-prod.
It’s also important to note that APIM isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution. It’s essential to evaluate the company’s IT infrastructure and other resources to ensure that they are equipped to adopt and implement a new platform for its APIs. Do you have the right level of expertise on your team? Are you working with enough APIs to justify the adoption of an APIM platform? Do you have API security policies in place to enable your APIM tool to do its best work? These are all critical questions to ask as you evaluate this solution.
What Are the Benefits of APIM?
For many enterprises, APIs are the Wild West of their technical infrastructure. APIs often differ significantly from one another, making it challenging to create overarching measures to manage them. The landscape is constantly changing, so documentation quickly becomes outdated and irrelevant. This is part of what makes APIs such an appealing threat vector for cybercriminals. APIM remedies this while providing other benefits.
APIM supports businesses by:
Centralising visibility to all API connections, lowering the risk of attacks, and giving teams the ability to identify gaps and duplicates
Facilitating data-driven decisions for the business, such as monetizing the API
Protecting the business from API-related threats
Enabling the creation of detailed API documentation
Creating better user experiences for API consumers
Improving developer experiences
Providing better insights into the current state of API security, allowing teams to create a better ecosystem
What Does the Future of APIM Look Like?
APIs aren’t going anywhere. Businesses are continuing to build applications that rely on hundreds, if not thousands, of APIs. With APIs exposed to multiple data centres, cloud providers, and customers, with different levels of access requirements and customization, the scale and complexity of the ecosystem are only going to get bigger. For enterprises that want to stay agile, organised, and secure, APIM will be crucial.
APIM will continue to be an important driver for functions such as versioning, deployment processes, usage metrics, and interoperability. And from a security perspective, they will develop as API gateways become more mature, doing more in the rate limiting, data masking, and authentication spaces.
Other changes will come within the interfaces themselves. There’s a growing shift in the developer tooling space with the emergence of tools that favour visual drag-and-drop functionalities instead of coding. This way, different teams can contribute to APIM within the bounds of their skill sets and still have a clear understanding of the workflows, API lifecycles, and API security policies.
As APIM platforms continue to mature, they will become an even more strategic asset for businesses that want to make the most of the API landscape without compromising their security.
About the Author: Ali Cameron is a content marketer that specializes in the cybersecurity and B2B SaaS space. Besides writing for Tripwire’s State of Security blog, she’s also written for brands including Okta, Salesforce, and Microsoft. Taking an unusual route into the world of content, Ali started her career as a management consultant at PwC where she sparked her interest in making complex concepts easy to understand. She blends this interest with a passion for storytelling, a combination that’s well suited for writing in the cybersecurity space. She is also a regular writer for Bora.
Follow me on Twitter: @securityaffairs and Facebook and Mastodon
(SecurityAffairs – hacking, Moshen Dragon)
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