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From Zombies to Legacy or Shadow APIs, it’s time to remediate your lost APIs

The largest attack vector in most organizations is unmanaged, unsecured APIs. The ones you do not know about today. The ones not in your inventory of API assets. Whether you call them zombies, shadow APIs, or legacy assets, the race is on for you to discover and remediate these before the hackers do.

Today, Amplify offers a new tool in your battle against the lost APIs.

Unmanaged APIs are your biggest security risk 

A recent survey reports that security is the top challenge companies face with APIs. 

This isn’t something you can afford to overlook. The average cost of an API security breach today is $6.1 million, including the damage to an organization’s reputation. That’s set to nearly double by 2030 

API attacks overall, moreover, currently cost $10.6 billion in the U.S., and that’s set to jump to $198 billion annually by 2030. 

How can enterprises stop the drain of this expensive security risk? There are several best practices to stop producing lost APIs. Let’s highlight the ones leading organizations are implementing.

But first, a few definitions may be helpful. 

Understanding lost APIs

Shadow APIs, Zombie APIs, and Legacy APIs are slightly different concepts, but they all represent outdated or unauthorized elements within an organization’s API ecosystem. Here’s a quick overview to better understand these lost APIs:

A zombie API is an API that is outdated, no longer supported, or has been deprecated but is still in use by some systems or applications. It’s called “zombie” because, like a zombie in popular culture, it’s technically dead but still somehow wandering around causing trouble.

You may have also heard the term shadow APIs. The main difference with zombie APIs is that shadow APIs are actively being used – they’re just not well-known, cataloged, or managed by the enterprise. These APIs are often developed by individual teams or departments to address specific needs but may lack documentation, security measures, or proper integration with existing systems.

Zombie APIs are typically deprecated but haven’t properly been put to rest.

Legacy APIs, meanwhile, are APIs that have been officially deprecated or superseded by newer versions or alternative solutions – but they are still in use by some applications or systems.

All these lost APIs might lack updates, bug fixes, or security patches, posing potential risks to systems that continue to rely on them. They can also create compatibility issues and hinder the development of newer, more efficient solutions.

Create a common API lifecycle practice

A first step to cutting back on lost APIs is defining a lifecycle that can be adopted by your organization. This involves defining well documented series of stages that an API progress through.  

Here is a common set:  

  • Define  
  • Design  
  • Develop  
  • Test  
  • Secure  
  • Deploy  
  • Distribute  
  • Observe/Monitor  
  • Version  
  • Retire  

This gives structure and tracking to where your APIs are at any given time and helps ensure no API is left behind.  

Create one registry for all your API assets

There needs to be one place where all your APIs are governed. This is the master catalog or registry of assets — an API marketplace.

You might decide not to advertise them, but you need to track and manage them. Amplify Marketplace gives you this one place.

Discovery of assets is automated by lightweight agents that sit alongside your gateways, platforms, and repositories and discover all API assets. You can then decide which to productize and publish to a specific audience.

This provides developers with one place to discover, subscribe to and track usage for all APIs, regardless of what team built them, what vendor hosts them, or what security policies are in effect.

See also: Top seven reasons your API developer portal is failing

Check against your security policy

Amplify also enables you to check discovered APIs against your security policies (you do have security policies… right?) where they will be graded and provide explanations as to what needs to be corrected for a higher grade.

This capability is known as linting, and it automates the identification of problems without manual intervention. Amplify uses the open source Spectral linting capabilities provided by Stoplight to drive this service.

See also: Hands-on with Spectral: Using API linting for better API design and API governance

Automate the API deployment process

Don’t depend on API developers alone for security (one of the leading causes of zombies in the first place). Automate as much of the process as possible.

With CI/CD pipelines, you can automate the discovery, cataloging, and linting checking of your APIs as a part of the standard deployment process.

This can be accomplished regardless of whether you are using Amplify gateways or cloud gateways like AWS and Azure. This helps ensure you stop the creation of new zombie APIs.

Find all your APIs

By definition, you do not know where the lost APIs are in your organization. They fall outside the scope of your defined processes and tools. To discover them, you must go beyond “standard” and start scanning your network in an attempt to locate them.  

There are many tools to choose from, but they all face the same problem: how to differentiate the good traffic from bad traffic? 

Security scanning tools use algorithms to identify common patterns like Denial Of Service or brute force attacks and stop them. They are good at capturing and logging all API activity (GET’s, PUT’s, etc.). 

The problem with lost APIs is that they behave exactly the same way as valid, managed APIs. This is where Axway can help mend that gap. 

Amplify Platform offers a single governance plane for all APIs across your organization, providing a single source of truth regarding your digital assets. They can be deployed directly on top of gateways or from central places within network segments that allow access to gateways or systems that communicate via APIs.

Learn more about Amplify Agents and how they enable federated API management.

In partnership with Graylog, Axway has developed a Graylog Agent to surface all scanned API traffic into the Amplify platform. This list is then compared to Amplify’s known list of all managed API assets, to understand where the lost API traffic is.   

All API traffic – Managed API traffic = Lost API traffic   

 

 

Graylog combines, enriches, correlates, queries, and visualizes all your API log data in one place, and captures real-time traffic to search, visualize, alert and report on operational and security problems. 

Amplify provides the single repository of all API assets and automatic discovery of APIs, which enables you to:  

  • Map your runtime traffic against your managed API infrastructure and identify outliers (unmanaged APIs)  
  • Prioritize APIs for remediation (based on traffic and risk assessment)  
  • Continuously monitor, identify and repeat  

No API left behind: how to remediate lost APIs

Once you find the zombies, shadow, or legacy APIs, you need to prioritize for remediation.

  • Target the ones that offer the highest risk because of the information they expose, or the volume of traffic they are driving 
  • Find the team who created and/or are hosting the API and educate them to the risk and your security policy to deal with it 
  • Decide whether it needs to be kept or killed 
  • If kept, secure the API. This typically involves placing it behind an API gateway with encryption, authentication, and authorization (Amplify can provide this gateway if needed).  
  • Contact and educate the APIs consumers and transfer them to the new managed APIs   
  • Deprecate and remove the unmanaged API 

Next up is to integrate it with Amplify’s multi-step security protection.

Automate and repeat

Regardless of how good your tools, processes, and policies are, there will still be teams that create the one-off API that is “just needed for a deadline” or for testing that becomes a legacy API. You must automate the process to find them and then make the decisions of how to remediate. Only through automation and vigilance can you keep on top of the shadow API problem.

As hackers become more sophisticated, so must your tools and processes advance. Amplify will continue to bring new capabilities to assist in the battle against hackers and zombies.

Death to zombie APIs!

 

 


Learn more in our on-demand webinar about unleashing the power of secure APIs.

Key Takeaways

  • Learn about Zombie, Shadow, and Legacy APIs and why they pose significant security risks within your organization.
  • Prioritize and secure lost APIs using Axway's Amplify Platform, integrating with tools like Graylog for effective monitoring and management.
  • Use Amplify Marketplace to create a single registry for all APIs, automate discovery, linting checks, and deployment processes to prevent the creation of new zombie APIs.
  • Implement automation and vigilance strategies to address evolving API security threats and prevent the emergence of new legacy APIs.