May 17, 2023

API Gateway Security: Best Practices for Protecting API Endpoints

API gateways provide a central control point for managing and securing APIs and can help protect against various security threats. But they are only as failsafe as the security practices implemented around them.

Before discussing the best practices for securing API gateways, let’s explore API gateways and API gateway security.

An API gateway: What is it, and How Does it Work?

An API gateway is a software intermediary between an API provider and its consumers. A microservice API gateway works for microservices architecture and can improve their performance and security.

You can use an API gateway to authenticate API consumers, authorize them to access specific resources, and encrypt data in transit.

People can opt for a public or private API gateway depending on their API architecture needs. Private API gateways expose APIs only accessible to users within a specific organization or network. On the other hand, public API gateways are typically used for APIs that are exposed to the public, such as APIs that customers or partners use.

Irrespective of which you choose, it’s essential to weigh the benefits and risks of API gateways beforehand. The benefits may outweigh the risks or vice versa, so decide based on your organization’s specific needs.

The Benefits of API Gateways

  • Increased security: API gateway tools can help to protect APIs from unauthorized access, use, disclosure, disruption, modification, or destruction. They can do this by providing many security features, such as authentication, authorization, data encryption, and rate limiting.
  • Improved performance: API gateways can improve the performance of APIs by caching data and reducing the number of requests that need to be made to the backend. API gateway services store frequently-requested data in memory and only send requests to the backend system when necessary.
  • Enhanced scalability: API gateways can scale APIs by load-balancing requests across multiple servers. API integrations work best when requests are evenly distributed across available servers instead of having one server becoming overloaded.
  • Reduced complexity: API gateways can simplify the management of APIs by providing a single point of control through centralizing security controls, managing API traffic, and monitoring API activity.

Top Risks of Using API Gateways

  1. Increased attack surface: API gateways provide a central entry point for all API requests, making them susceptible to cyber-attacks. If an attacker can compromise an API gateway, they could gain access to all the APIs protected by it.
  2. Complexity: API gateways can be complex to manage and secure because they often have different features and settings you must configure and manage. If an API gateway is not configured correctly, it may be vulnerable to attacks.
  3. Cost: The cost implications of API gateways deserve careful consideration because it will include paying for specialized hardware and software. In some payment models, you still get to pay even if you don’t use the API gateway.

What is an API Gateway Security?

An API gateway security is the measure of protection you give APIs from unauthorized access, use, disclosure, disruption, modification, or destruction. It encompasses a variety of security measures, such as authentication, authorization, data encryption, and rate limiting.

How Does an API Gateway Boost Security?

Having established that results may vary depending on your API gateway integration, you should know how API gateways provide security.

  • Authentication: API gateways authenticate API consumers to ensure that they are whom they say they are, requesting usernames and passwords, OAuth 2.0, or SAML.
  • Authorization: Companies and product owners need an API gateway authorization to access specific resources. Before granting access, the gateway checks the user’s permissions against the rules defined by the API owner.
  • Data encryption: API gateways encrypt data in transit to protect it from unauthorized access using a secure encryption protocol, such as TLS or SSL.
  • Rate limiting: Reducing the number of requests made per user, per IP address, or period is how API gateways limit API requests to prevent denial-of-service attacks.
  • Web application firewall (WAF): API gateways can use a WAF to filter and block malicious traffic. They achieve this effect by using a set of predetermined rules.
  • API security testing: API gateways can be used to test the security of APIs. This is done by sending test requests to the API and checking for vulnerabilities.

The Importance of an API Gateway Security

API gateway security protects the way different applications communicate with each other. If APIs are not adequately secured, they may be vulnerable to data breaches, denial-of-service attacks, and account takeovers.

This security is also intertwined with branding since the API gateway custom domain technology became more popular. API gateway security is necessary when you use a domain name associated with your company or product. That is why API management services like Tyk technologies shoulder the burden of ensuring organizations’ website APIs always work as planned.

Best Practices for Enhanced API Gateway Security

There are many best practices that you can follow to secure API gateways, including:

Use strong authentication

During an API software integration, use robust authentication mechanisms, such as multi-factor authentication, to verify the identity of API consumers. This extra step helps to prevent unauthorized access to APIs by requiring users to provide multiple forms of identification, such as a password and a one-time code.

Implement authorization

Use authorization mechanisms to control which API consumers can access resources. Then encrypt data in transit and at rest to protect it from unauthorized access. The encryption stops hackers from intercepting and reading sensitive data as it is transmitted over the network or stored on a server.

Monitor and log an API activity

You will notice potential attacks early on by monitoring and logging API activity to detect suspicious activity and identify security incidents. And the longer these likely attacks fly under the radar, the higher the chances they will manifest and cause damage.

Keep an API software up to date

Security patches may seem like a constant hassle to update, but you should keep API software up to date with the latest security patches. It is a small step to ensure known vulnerabilities are fixed & APIs are as secure as possible.

Use a security scanner

Security scanners identify security vulnerabilities in API gateways. So, use them to look for potential security risks to address them before attackers can exploit them.

Implement a security policy

If you run an organization, you need a specific approach to online security to ensure everyone works in sync. Start by implementing a security policy to define the security requirements for API gateways. It will ensure that all API gateways are configured and managed securely.

Use API gateways with built-in security features

Some API gateways offer built-in security features such as authentication and data encryption. Using an API gateway with these features helps simplify securing APIs.

Implement security testing

Security testing makes you privy to security vulnerabilities that attackers can exploit. Some standard security testing methods include penetration testing, vulnerability scanning, and code review.

Educate API consumers

API users should be educated about the security risks associated with APIs and how to protect themselves. You’ll be surprised how many people don’t know how their actions put them at risk of online attacks. So teach them to use strong passwords, identify phishing attacks, and report suspicious activity.


Understanding the need for gateways before your website API integration will save you no end of stress and defend your business against security risks. So, follow the best practices outlined in this blog post; they are the latest recommendations for anyone looking to make their API gateways as secure as possible.

About the author 

Peter Hatch

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