APIs serve as the foundation for how software systems and services communicate and exchange data. But unmanaged and unsecured APIs can open up massive vulnerabilities that lead to disastrous security breaches and data leaks without proper governance.
With API-related attacks increasing — and set to increase 996% by 2030 — unmanaged APIs are a very real security threat. How do you implement reliable API security without slowing down innovation or blowing up costs?
The answer lies in standardization. In this post, we'll talk about how taking a standardized approach to API security and governance can help organizations reduce risk, accelerate time-to-market, and lower costs.
What is API standardization?
API standardization involves creating (and adhering to) guidelines intended to ensure consistency, interoperability, and reliability in the design, development, and usage of APIs.
Standardizing APIs helps create a common framework that developers, applications, and systems can follow. This leads to a higher quality level and more reliability in API development.
Other benefits of API standardization include reduced complexity, increased ease of adoption, easier scalability, and (of course) increased security.
Why standardized API governance matters
API governance involves the processes and policies for overseeing APIs throughout their entire lifecycle. This includes establishing proper authentication, authorization, audit logging, rate limiting, and other forms of access control.
With effective governance in place, companies can track all APIs in use across environments, set and enforce security policies, monitor for suspicious activity, and optimize how APIs are consumed. Standardizing this approach helps unify often fragmented efforts from individual teams and systems.
Common root causes behind API vulnerabilities
There are a few key factors that commonly contribute to API security gaps:
- Rapid pace of change — The API landscape changes quickly, with new interfaces constantly added as teams release features and integrate with internal/external systems. This makes API governance difficult to track.
- Complexity — Modern architectures are complex, with many different services and endpoints. Microservices exacerbate sprawl.
- Lack of visibility — IT often lacks visibility into all APIs in use and how they're secured (or not secured).
- Missed patches — Much like operating systems and apps, APIs need regular patches and upgrades to fix vulnerabilities. Neglecting these allows risks to persist.
- User error — Ah, that old reliable classic of security gaps everything: user error. Misconfigurations and oversights during implementation can inadvertently introduce security holes.
- Complacency — Because APIs serve internal needs, organizations often underestimate their exposure. A lack of due diligence around governance magnifies risks.
- Legacy architectures — Monolithic applications with large attack surfaces pose bigger risks, necessitating modernization.
- Complexity of identity — Juggling internal and external user access, SSO, and robust authentication creates gaps that attackers exploit.
These challenges (and more) lead to APIs being rolled out without adequate protections in place. The consequences of exposed APIs can be severe — from data breaches, to regulatory non-compliance, to degraded services, and irate customers.
Security benefits of standardizing API governance
Standardizing API governance comes with a bevy of security benefits. By ensuring consistent application of security protocols (like authentication, authorization, and encryption), API governance standardization helps reduce vulnerabilities — and therefore the risk of a breach.
And since the standardization process calls for regular security audits, threat assessments, and vulnerability testing, organizations are more likely to detect and mitigate potential risks earlier than they might have otherwise.
By clearly laying out security guidelines related to data protection, access controls, and secure coding best practices, API governance standardization creates a solid security foundation — allowing for greater resilience of the API ecosystem again security threats.
Other benefits of standardizing API governance
The benefits of standardization go well beyond security, with other benefits realized including an improved developer experience, superior user experiences, and a reduction in time and costs.
Improved developer experience
Standardizing API security and governance simplifies development in a few key ways.
- Remove redundancy — Developers don’t have to reinvent the wheel for each project/API. Common protocols, plugins, authentication, etc. are defined once.
- Promote reuse — Developers can build on established standards and shared libraries of governance/security code rather than coding from scratch.
- Speed onboarding — New developers get up and running faster when standards are clearly documented. They don’t have to learn bespoke implementations.
- Clarity on requirements — Standards provide clear guidance on which security measures are mandated for different API types/use cases. This removes ambiguity.
- Allow focus on core logic – Standards handle the heavy lifting, so developers don’t get bogged down implementing customized security controls.
- Facilitate collaboration — Team members are aligned on shared frameworks and policies when building APIs together.
- Platform enforcement — Much of the security adherence can be automatically enforced by gateways like Kong when compared to manual reviews.
Overall, standardization gives developers a proven blueprint, tools, and guardrails that make incorporating security into API development a more systematic (versus ad-hoc) process. It provides efficiency and clarity. Automation then scales this efficiently across many APIs.
Reduce time and costs
Here are some of the key ways standardizing API security and governance can reduce costs and accelerate time-to-market.
- Eliminates redundant development work for security features that are standardized.
- Lowers operational and personnel expenses from systematized processes versus ad-hoc security.
- Consolidates tools and platforms like Kong for economies of scale.
- Automates implementation of standards policies so less manual effort.
- Enables easier integration and interoperability between systems.
- Leverages shared security libraries and protocols vs building from scratch.
- Removes the need to develop custom security controls for each API.
- Onboarding new developers is faster with standardized frameworks.
- Promotes collaboration and alignment between teams.
- Automated governance speeds up compliance and the launch of new APIs.
- Change management can be implemented quickly across APIs.
- New features and endpoints can build on existing standards.
- Fosters reuse that accelerates development lifecycles.
Overall, standardization and automation provide efficiency, clarity, and economies of scale. This directly translates into lower costs and a faster ability to get new APIs and products to market in a secure manner.
Improved user experience
Standardizing API security and governance can also improve the end–user experiences in a few key ways:
- Enhance reliability — Consistent security means apps and services are less vulnerable to outages and breaches that disrupt users.
- Improve performance — Standardized protocols are optimized for speed and efficiency versus ad-hoc solutions.
- Facilitate scalability — Standardization allows the app to scale rapidly without security bottlenecks.
- Simplify integration — Common standards enable seamless integration between apps and services from a user perspective.
- Increase usability — Standards enable single sign-on and unified identity management.
- Reduces friction — Standard authentication eliminates redundant login prompts and complexity.
- Builds trust— Users feel more secure knowing standards are applied consistently across the application.
- Promotes innovation— Developer time spent on security standards means more time for user-focused features.
- Prioritizes user experience — Developer resources go towards core user functionality vs security mechanisms.
- Enables personalization— Context-based standards allow fine-grained customization of user experience.
By leveraging standardized components, developers can focus on optimization and innovation that improves the user experience end-to-end. Security becomes an enabler rather than a bottleneck. The result? Apps that are more robust, usable, and tailored for the user.
In essence, API governance allows organizations to maximize the business benefits of APIs while minimizing security risks and technology debt. But all too often, companies approach governance in a fragmented way, with policies varying widely across environments and teams. This leads to gaps that malicious actors exploit.
That's why implementing standardized API governance is critical — it provides comprehensive security and oversight scalably across an entire organization.
Path to API governance and security maturity
When standardizing API governance, following core principles and best practices helps ensure success.
5 key principles for API governance success
Adhering to these principles will help establish effective API governance that balances security, productivity, and adoption across the organization.
- Start with discovery — The first step is discovering all APIs in use across the organization, what they connect to, who owns them, and their current security levels. An inventory provides visibility.
- Take an iterative approach — Governance capabilities should be rolled out incrementally over time. Prioritize quick wins first and build towards an end-state vision.
- Enable self-service — Make it easy for developers to implement governance policies in a standardized way during API development, without bottlenecks.
- Default to secure — APIs should default to employing authorization, SSL, rate limiting, etc. — unless explicitly excluded for specific business reasons.
- Continuously monitor — Utilize tools to monitor API activity, detect anomalies, identify misconfigurations, and alert on policy violations.
3 steps to API governance and security maturity
Here are three key steps organizations should take to advance API governance and security maturity:
- Establish central oversight — Consolidate fragmented efforts into a center of excellence for managing APIs securely and consistently. Audit current posture and processes to identify gaps.
- Standardize protection — Leverage tools like Kong Enterprise to implement standardized authentication, SSL, rate limiting, and other protections across all APIs. Promote a secure-by-default culture.
- Continuously monitor and optimize — Monitor API activity for policy violations, unwanted usage patterns, and early attack indicators. Regularly tune policies to optimize security and performance.
Taking these steps will help transform API security from an ad-hoc collection of individual efforts into a mature governance model that enables innovation and protects the business.
How to achieve automated standardization
Choosing the right API gateway is important when it comes to achieving automated standardization. The right API management platform is basically like having your own expert guide to creating APIs. Many options are packed with ready-to-use templates and rules that follow standard practices, making it simple for developers. In this way, the right API gateway or API management platform ensures you can not only make APIs quickly but keep them secure, consistent, and error-free.
Many major enterprises, from fintech to retail, healthcare, and technology have leveraged Kong to implement robust, consistent API governance across their organizations. Here are a few success stories.
- Implemented OpenID Connect integration to maintain consistent security across all business lines
- Reduced application deployment cycles from days down to just hours
- Created a "digital hub" for centralized management of APIs
- Replaced cumbersome manual firewall configurations with Kong for centralized policy orchestration
- Lowered operational costs while accelerating the release of new features
First Abu Dhabi Bank
- Reduced mobile app onboarding timeframes from 7 months down to just 3 months
- Cut costs substantially while speeding time to market
- Managed 200+ APIs across multiple data centers consistently
- Uses Kong for core security, traffic control, and observability for 70+ internal APIs
- Optimized API consumption, reduced costs, and prevented outages
- Accelerated innovation cycles and time-to-market for new apps
These examples showcase how the right API platform can provide tangible improvements in governance, system visibility, speed of innovation, and bottom-line cost savings when applied to securing APIs.
APIs now serve as the connective tissue integrating most modern applications and services, both within organizations and externally with partners. However, exposing unmanaged and unsecured APIs can lead to devastating breaches and systemic risk.
Implementing centralized, consistent API governance provides protection at scale for businesses. Kong gives organizations an integrated platform for governing all APIs and microservices securely while gaining invaluable visibility across environments.
With capabilities like declarative policy definition, authentication integration, granular access control, and sophisticated traffic monitoring, Kong allows organizations to standardize critical governance while preventing API risks and accelerating innovation. By following best practices around governance, businesses can adopt APIs safely and strategically.
Want to learn Learn more about how Kong can help your organization adopt a standardized approach to API security and governance? Get a demo today.
Or check out the free, on-demand webinar Reducing Costs with a Standardized Approach to API Security and Governance for a deeper dive into understanding the ins and outs of standardized API security and governance.