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  • Brian Joe

Why Shadow APIs are a Cultural Problem, Not a Technical One

Shadow APIs, also known as "rogue" or "shadow" IT APIs, are APIs that are created and used within an organization without the knowledge or approval of the IT department or other official governing body. They are often created by individual business units, departments, or developers, who may not be following the same standards, protocols, or guidelines that are in place for the organization's official APIs.


The biggest insight that I've found is that the drivers for shadow APIs aren't technology based, but rather rooted in organizational culture. Here are the top 10 reasons that our early customers have told us about why their organizations have Shadow APIs and what they're asking us to help them solve around the use of APIs in their organizations:


  1. Lack of centralized control: When different teams within an organization are responsible for creating and maintaining APIs, it can be difficult to ensure that all APIs are consistent and adhere to the same standards. This can lead to the creation of "shadow" APIs that are not officially sanctioned or supported.

  2. Business silos: When different business units or departments operate independently, they may create their own APIs to meet their specific needs, resulting in a proliferation of shadow APIs.

  3. Lack of documentation: When APIs are created without proper documentation or oversight, it can be difficult for other teams to discover or understand their functionality. This can lead to the creation of duplicate or redundant APIs.

  4. Lack of governance: Without proper governance, it can be difficult to ensure that APIs are secure, compliant, and adhere to industry standards. This can lead to the creation of "rogue" APIs that may pose a risk to the organization.

  5. Lack of developer knowledge: When developers are not properly trained on best practices for creating and maintaining APIs, they may create APIs that are inefficient, insecure, or difficult to use.

  6. Inadequate tooling: When organizations lack proper tooling for creating, testing, and deploying APIs, it can be difficult to ensure that all APIs are consistent and adhere to the same standards.

  7. Short deadlines: When teams are under pressure to deliver new functionality quickly, they may create APIs without proper planning or oversight, leading to the creation of shadow APIs.

  8. Lack of collaboration: When teams are not properly communicating and collaborating with each other, it can be difficult to ensure that all APIs are consistent and adhere to the same standards.

  9. Lack of security: When security is not properly incorporated into the development process, it can lead to the creation of APIs that are vulnerable to attack.

  10. Lack of testing: When APIs are not properly tested before deployment, it can lead to the creation of APIs that are unreliable or prone to errors.

It's worth noting that, the reasons why shadow API are created are varied and the reasons may not be mutually exclusive, rather they may be related to each other or may have multiple causes. Additionally, Shadow API's creation can lead to a number of problems such as security issues, compliance violation, data duplication, and integration problems, which in turn can lead to negative impact on the organization's reputation and revenue.


These business centric reasons above are why we're focused on building a modern, collaborative, API security platform. Security insights, detections, and alerts are helpful ways for CISOs to help address some of the root causes for Shadow APIs, but unless CISOs have tools that help them address the organizational and cultural challenges they face, the number of Shadow APIs they have will continue to grow.

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