Don’t Let Your APIs Get Ghosted: How to Tackle API Sprawl and Unknown APIs

On Valentine’s Day, it’s natural to reflect on the complexities of relationships. In the dating world, ghosting—an abrupt disappearance without explanation—has become an all-too-familiar phenomenon, leaving individuals questioning what went wrong.

Interestingly, this concept of ghosting isn’t confined to matters of the heart; it extends into the digital world, where the unknown APIs can have equally perplexing consequences for modern businesses.

APIs serve as the lifeblood of countless applications, facilitating seamless communication and data exchange between various systems.

However, just like relationships, these digital connections aren’t immune to becoming ‘unknown,’ disappearing into the labyrinth of an organization’s digital infrastructure. Enter API sprawl—an increasingly prevalent challenge faced by organizations worldwide.

API sprawl refers to the uncontrolled proliferation of APIs within an organization’s digital ecosystem. Much like a cluttered dating history, this proliferation can lead to a tangled web of interconnected systems, making it difficult for organizations to maintain visibility and control over their digital assets.

This lack of oversight can have far-reaching implications for security, leaving organizations vulnerable to data breaches, cyberattacks, and other digital disasters.

In this blog post, we’ll explore the phenomenon of API sprawl and its impact on organizational security. We’ll delve into the types of unknown APIs—Shadow, Zombie, and Ghost APIs—that contribute to this sprawl, and discuss strategies for mitigating its risks.

So, as we celebrate Valentine’s Day, let’s navigate the complexities of API sprawl and ensure that our digital connections remain strong and secure in an ever-evolving digital landscape.


Understanding API Sprawl

API sprawl has emerged as a significant challenge for organizations, impacting both operational efficiency and cybersecurity. At its core, API sprawl refers to the uncontrolled proliferation of Application Programming Interfaces (APIs) within an organization’s infrastructure. As organizations adopt more cloud-based services, embrace microservices architecture, and engage in digital transformation initiatives, the number of APIs in use continues to skyrocket, leading to an increasingly complex and interconnected web of digital assets.

API sprawl poses several implications for organizational security:

  1. Increased Attack Surface: With each new API introduced into the ecosystem, the attack surface expands, providing cybercriminals with more entry points to exploit. This heightened exposure significantly elevates the risk of data breaches, unauthorized access, and other cyber threats.
  2. Lack of Visibility and Control: As the number of APIs grows, organizations often struggle to maintain visibility and control over their digital assets. Without comprehensive inventory management and monitoring mechanisms in place, IT teams may overlook critical vulnerabilities or unauthorized API integrations, leaving the organization susceptible to security breaches.
  3. Complexity and Interdependencies: API Sprawl introduces complexity and interdependencies within the digital infrastructure. Changes or disruptions to one API can have cascading effects on other interconnected systems, leading to operational disruptions and potential security vulnerabilities.

To better understand the prevalence and challenges of API sprawl, consider the following:

  • According to Traceable’s State of API Security Report, 48% of businesses identify API sprawl as their top security challenge.
  • 39% of organizations struggle to maintain an accurate inventory of their APIs, further exacerbating the challenges associated with sprawl.
  • 88% of organizations now uses over 2,500 cloud applications, many of which rely on APIs for data exchange and functionality.

These statistics underscore the urgent need for organizations to address the complexities of API sprawl and implement robust measures to mitigate its risks. Left unchecked, API sprawl can undermine the security posture of organizations, jeopardizing sensitive data and compromising business operations.

When API Sprawl Gets More Complicated: The Rise of Shadows, Zombies and Ghosts

Shadow APIs: Unseen Threats

Shadow APIs, clandestine creations outside formal design and governance structures, lurk within digital infrastructures, evading the detection of central security teams. These unauthorized digital pathways, though functional, serve as potential entry points for malicious actors, exploiting vulnerabilities and compromising data integrity. Identifying and neutralizing these covert threats is paramount to maintaining the security posture of organizations and safeguarding sensitive information from unauthorized access.

Zombie APIs: Relics of the Past

Zombie APIs are the digital relics. They haunt organizations’ systems as deprecated or outdated remnants of once-vital functions. Without proper support or maintenance, these undead APIs pose significant security risks, leaving systems vulnerable to exploitation. Implementing robust discovery and management processes is essential to decommissioning obsolete APIs and mitigating the associated security threats, preventing potential breaches and data compromises.

Ghost APIs: Unforeseen Dependencies

Ghost APIs are the remnants of third-party integrations that linger within digital ecosystems, often changing without warning and causing disruptions akin to unforeseen complications in relationships. Integrated without proper oversight, these hidden dependencies can lead to system instability and compromise data integrity. Thorough audits of third-party integrations and effective change management processes are imperative to mitigate risks and ensure the resilience of digital infrastructures against unforeseen changes.


How Traceable Helps: Essentials for Managing API Sprawl and Unknown APIs

As organizations grapple with the complexities of API sprawl, it’s crucial to prioritize the foundational steps that address the challenges posed by unknown APIs.

Here’s how Traceable’s capabilities can assist your API security strategy within the context of API sprawl and the management of unknown APIs:

API Discovery and Cataloging: Begin your API security journey by implementing robust discovery and cataloging mechanisms. Traceable’s API discovery and cataloging capabilities enable you to identify and inventory every API within your organization, including internal, external, and third-party APIs. By gaining visibility into your API ecosystem, you can effectively manage the proliferation of unknown APIs and mitigate associated security risks.

Behavioral Analysis: Combat the complexities of API sprawl by leveraging behavioral analysis tools to monitor and analyze API activities. Traceable’s API security platform tracks API behavior and deviations from expected norms, empowering you to detect and address potential security threats in real-time. This proactive approach is essential for identifying unknown APIs and mitigating their risks effectively.

Risk Assessment: Conduct comprehensive risk assessments for each API to prioritize security efforts. Traceable provides detailed API security posture analysis, allowing you to evaluate the inherent risk of each API based on factors such as vulnerability specifics, data sensitivity, and exposure to external threats. By assessing the risk associated with unknown APIs, you can allocate resources strategically and prioritize remediation efforts accordingly.

Continuous Monitoring: Implement continuous monitoring mechanisms to safeguard against the evolving threats of API sprawl. Traceable enables you to monitor your APIs continuously, identify vulnerabilities, and address them promptly to minimize security risks. By staying vigilant and proactive, you can mitigate the impact of unknown APIs and maintain the resilience of your API ecosystem.

Collaboration and Remediation: Foster collaboration between security and development teams to streamline the remediation process for unknown APIs. Traceable facilitates transparency and communication, ensuring that security findings are promptly addressed and remediated. By fostering a culture of collaboration, you can accelerate the resolution of security issues and strengthen your overall security posture in the face of API sprawl.


About Traceable

Traceable is the industry’s leading API Security company helping organizations achieve API visibility and attack protection in a cloud-first, API-driven world. Traceable is the only intelligent and context-aware solution that powers complete API security – API discovery and posture management, API security testing, attack detection and threat hunting, and attack protection anywhere your APIs live. Traceable enables organizations to minimize risk and maximize the value that APIs bring their customers. To learn more about how API security can help your business, book a demo with a security expert.