APIs have rapidly become a strategic tool that companies leverage to expand their digital reach, accelerate their path to success, and do even more for their customers.
At the same time, however, APIs are an increasingly vulnerable threat vector. Due to the way they work and how they’ve been used so far, APIs are particularly appealing to bad actors that want to gain access to sensitive data. In fact, according to recent research from Salt Security, malicious API attack traffic surged a massive 400% in the last few months of 2022—and it’s not slowing down.
For businesses that want to continue building their API ecosystem, there’s a growing need to invest in an API security strategy that covers all the bases. Done right, an API security strategy will be held up by a number of different tools and methodologies, including an effective approach to API management.
In this article, we’re taking a closer look at what API management is, the core elements that make up an API management program, as well as the benefits that companies can gain from implementing it.
What is API management?
According to the Gartner IT Glossary, API management is “the set of people, processes and technology that enables an organization to safely and securely publish APIs, either internally or externally.” In other words, it’s the process of creating, distributing, monitoring, and analysing APIs that connect applications and data across the enterprise—and across multiple clouds.
API management is usually deployed as a scalable platform, enabling enterprises to share their API configurations while also controlling access, monitoring and collecting usage data, and enforcing any related security policies. Done effectively, this platform should empower businesses to do more within the API economy without taking on additional risk and exposure.
While API management is a core function within an API security strategy, it’s important to note that it works best when paired with other core API security elements. Continuous authentication and authorization, access control, data validation, and a testing plan for APIs in production are all features that should be introduced alongside your API management platform. The API management capabilities would then help manage APIs so that they meet the requirements set by these various security policies.
What are the core elements of API management?
With the goal of enabling flexibility, quality, speed, and security for enterprise APIs, API management platforms are usually made up of five key elements, outlined below.
API gateway: A portal that processes all routing requests and protocol translations. APIs are often made up of different structures and languages, and they’re constantly changing—which can make it hard for them to communicate. An API gateway streamlines this challenge by providing a single point of contact for internal and external parties to interact with all APIs in a system.
API developer portal: A self-service hub for developers that want to read and/or share API documentation. With the right information to hand, developers can speed up their work with APIs, moving faster (and more consistently) through the building and testing processes.
API analytics: API management platforms are often equipped with dashboards and reporting capabilities that give visibility into the usage and operational metrics of a given API. This visibility allows leaders to make better decisions about how their APIs are used, including whether it’s worth monetizing them. From an operational perspective, these dashboards help teams identify issues early and address them proactively.
API lifecycle management: One of the unseen challenges with APIs is that there is rarely visibility into the whole lifecycle of an API. This is because APIs are often created for internal scenarios and then scaled into bigger, external use cases without being properly assessed—and that can pose numerous challenges. Lifecycle management helps reduce the risks by providing a sustainable solution for building, testing, and managing APIs, with version control support.
API policy manager: To be most effective (and secure) APIs should exist within a set of API policies that share its evolution. An API policy manager oversees the lifecycle of these policies while also holding broader policies that impact API infrastructure.
Why is API Management useful?
For many enterprises, APIs are the Wild West of their technical infrastructure. From one to another, APIs can differ quite significantly, and that makes it difficult to develop and implement overarching measures to manage them. Plus, the landscape is always changing, so documentation quickly becomes outdated and irrelevant. This is part of what makes APIs such an appealing threat vector for cybercriminals—but it’s also what API management can help solve.
Beyond helping increase security within the API ecosystem, API management offers a number of benefits to the business, including:
- Making it easier to share API documentation and coding constructs between teams so developers can move faster
- Centralising visibility to all API connections, which lowers the risk of attacks and gives 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
- Promoting 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
Making the most of API management
APIs aren’t going anywhere. Today’s businesses are building applications and products that rely on hundreds, if not thousands, of APIs. However, with APIs exposed to multiple data centres, cloud providers, and customers—with different levels of access requirements and customization—the ecosystem is only going to get more complex. To mitigate the potential security and productivity concerns that are bound to come with that evolution, enterprises need to stay ahead of the game and implement API management solutions.
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.