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API Security

The concept of an API gateway

The concept of an API gateway

In general, a gateway is a passage that acts as a connector for 2 components to make them achieve certain functionality. API Gateway is not very different. However, it is a crucial topic to understand for many of us. 

Well, in this article, we have got you covered.

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Learning Objectives

What is an API Gateway? A Quick Overview 

API gateway is like a virtual passage placed assuredly between an API and its various backend services. It takes care of invites or requests, matching them to the suitable stations or services for request/call processing, and sends them back to the target resource.   

APIs for enterprises and data-driven organizations need an added layer of safety, access monitoring, and usage limiting. A gateway attains the goal, as it takes care of request rate limitation, data usage, request source validation, and access/user authentication.  

API Gateway example

The Concept at a Glance

Gateway API’s idea is centered around a rule-oriented resource standard and enables multiple non-coordinating services to share a centralized communication ecosystem. It highlights the below-mentioned resource types:

  • GatewayClass demonstrates the cluster’s load balancer. 
  • Gateway states how and where a load balancer lets the traffic communicate.
  • HTTPRoute elucidates the protocol rules for API call routing via the internet.


Why use an API Gateway? 

For a novice, it may seem like an ideal means to supervise API calls properly. But, it’s way more than this. Let’s explain API Gateway’s functions crisply below:

  • Its features like authentication and rate-limiting help developers examine API abuse and overuse.
  • Its inclusion permits developers to find out how APIs are used in different scenarios. 
  • For monetized solutions, it constructs a seamless relationship between backend processes and billing systems. 
  • It can concoct the specific requests for assorted applications if microservices deployment is concerned.
  • It assists in obtaining all the needed resources for API maintenance, upgrades, and modernization, even when updates are happening. 
  • Multiple API handling is easy with API gateway as it will observe everything occurring to API.


How does it work?

Application testing and usage involve tons of data exchange operations. Such type of communication requires advanced arrangements. To sort the issue, the API gateway turns into a central platform for receiving assorted API requests.

During the process, several API calls are clubbed, authenticated, and redirected to suitable APIs.  

In the microservices ecosystem, it formulates an opportune entrance for requests by specific microservices. It also establishes accessibility and conducting criteria.

Besides, API gateways handle employment like service discovery, API protocol translation, business logic processing, cache management, network traffic assistance, and API monitoring.

API Gateways pattern

Cruciality of Gateway in Overall API management 

Being able to handle API calls and dispersing them to the concerned department makes a gateway an indispensable player in API management. Here, it operates errands like rate limiting, notifications, analytics, authentication, policies, cost calculations, and safety.


API Gateways for Microservices Architectures 

A huge number of smaller components constitutes microservices. This approach helps developers enhance the user experience. However, not without an API gateway. After all, it works as a translator for these components, ensuring swift, less tedious, and error-free API implementation.

A typical gateway can process maximum client requests, keep all of them at a centralized place, and combine them. Doing so cuts down the time taken in the client-application communication. So, the cost of operations reduces too.

API Gateways for Microservices

Advantages of API gateway

Putting a gateway into place is good for end-user, applications, and API or solution developers as everything from API development to controlled operational cost is achieved in one shot.

  • Effective API development

API gateway grants developers an ability to execute various versions of a particular API consequently and test, iterate and update APIs in the least possible efforts. API development becomes quick yet equally effective. As API gateway charges for only the API calls made and data transfer, there is no minimum commitment to fulfill.

  • Productivity at any scale

API gateway helps developers operate with the least latency, helping them deliver a better experience for the end-users. Additionally, it allows traffic throttle and API request authorization. These two features assist the backend API development team to deal with any unnoticed/uninvited traffic spikes and ensure continual API performance.

  • Easy monitoring

API gateway brings everything to a consolidated point and grants unified visibility to data like API calls information, error rates, and details related to latency. Having instant access to all these metrics allows developers to keep track of API performance at every stage and spot any hidden caveats. 

  • Reducing costs at any scale

API gateway comes with multiple subscriptions and grants freedom to choose the package as per the API requests made. In general, one can process million API requests at a mere cost of $ 0.90. With such flexible pricing, one can keep the API development costing under control.


API gateway Issues

  1. Safety

It’s tough to implement security practices in each API call and track their performance. This job becomes a tab in a microservice ecosystem as various small requests are there to handle. Also, one should think of diverse safety practices for internal and external APIs. Thi implies, a lot more work!

  1. Sustainability and Trustworthiness

As an API gateway combines multiple requests, just one such gateway going non-functional will collapse the entire API infrastructure. So, it’s hard to consider it reliable.

  1. A High level of dependency causes Complexity

For effective working, it’s crucial to maintain API gateway updates with the addition of every microservice. This becomes too hectic when a single application turns into millions of microservices. Updating a gateway in such a scenario will be an endless task.


Service Mesh vs. API gateway

Unlike an API-specific Gateway which promotes centralization of the control, a service-mesh uses diverse microservices to perform distinct functions in an application. However, if you use an API gateway for mediating the exchange among microservices in the service-mesh, your digital solution will have a higher level of security and operation-execution speed.

Comparison table

Differentiating FactorAPI GatewayService-Mesh
AimRouting the organizational, outsider and database calls or requests securely.Boosting the platform-independence within an organizational network using microservices.
FunctioningCan interact with the outsider network and forward the requests to & fro the organizational network.Acts within the organizational limits or a network.
ResponsibilityManagement & safety of the network’s APIs.To boost a system/network’s performance and portability. APIs hide service meshes from outsiders and secure them.
Security MethodAllows the use of automation and policiesRequires manual implementation of security strategy.

API Gateway vs. Load Balancer

As you must have understood by now, an API gateway is the mediator for various services. It takes the network calls to and fro, ensuring that interaction remains secure and fast. 

On the contrary, a load balancer has the work of diverting a server’s traffic but without any hard and fast rules. So, you can think of an API gateway as an authentication-based network traffic-balancer.

Comparison table

Differentiating FactorAPI GatewayLoad-balancer
UseRouting the inner and outer network traffic, alongside the database request, securely in a system/network.Reducing the load for a server by diverting the traffic. Its work is to pace up the server’s working speed.
Request HandlingIt handles a request using an authentication method. Only the authorized users/requests can enter the network.It checks the most suitable node for traffic diversion when a request arrives. This decision may be based on the location of the requesting user or on the fact that which resource/server is free.
SecurityIt may have automated or manually-implemented security controls to decide who should be authorized and who should not be.There may be explicit security implementations but the load balancers itself do not take care of security.

How do I protect API gateways? 

If you read carefully yet, it must be clear that API gateway is not spared by online vulnerabilities and needs adequate API security practices to keep gateway issues at bay. The first step to being taken towards this direction is to ensure that HTTP is used for all sorts of communication. There should be no exception in this case.

Implementing a couple of user authentication methods keeps unwanted access to API calls. Both these practices keep duplication far away and maintain consistency in the application development.

Threats like DDoS, SQL injection, and brute force demand an added defense line to safeguard the API gateway. For instance, SQL injection attacks can be prevented by using user validation at both the server and client end before data is shared. 

To prevent malicious code from attacking the gateway, it’s wise to do the regress API getaway check on the server end. It’s obvious to receive frequent API calls and rate-limiting, throttling, and request size ensures that API requests are managed at every stage. 

Knowing the API data accessed is crucial as it allows developers to figure out the API utility.  One of the most viable ways to get this done is to log the API gateway. It makes auditing the API calls and answers simpler. 

Other than the above-mentioned standard procedures of gateway safety, here are a few more approaches to adopt:

  • Define the usability and accessibility of each API gateway at the time of development only. 
  • Make sure the gateway is not exposing too much information and access filters are defined. 
  • Try applying a transformation reaction to the gateway while using the HTTP headers for RESTful API. This leads to an automatic share of only needed data. 
  • For an application with many use cases like IoT devices, mobile implementation, website, and integration, create a dedicated API gateway for each type. Don’t bring internal use endpoints into the public’s eye. 
  • Gateways for internal apps or networks should be accessed over a private network to prevent unwanted data access.  

Lastly, track APIs at every stage. For effective API security, remove APIs or components that are no longer needed, outdated, and not defined by security standards. Continuing with such poor quality APIs will only exert more burden on you and can create a hole in the security approach.

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