An API gateway acts as a secure channel between the client and infrastructure in the backend. It also ensures that sensitive data stays protected, whether in transit or at rest. When API security is intact, only authorized personnel can access microservices.
Since an API gateway supports diverse authentication methods, you can integrate it into authentication and authorization systems. In this post, we’ll discuss authentication and authorization mechanisms for API gateways.
An Overview of Authentication and Authorization Systems
Authentication and authorization are separate systems involved in any secure login process. To successfully implement security controls, you must understand the difference between authentication and authorization.
Authentication is the act of verifying the identity of a user, while authorization means confirming the level of access a user has. Authorization decides if they can access the system, whereas authentication ensures that a user is not a bot.
Different Types of Authentication and Authorization Systems
Authentication and authorization work together to ensure tight security. Let’s quickly highlight some authentication and authorization options.
Password-based login is the standard form of authentication for any software or online service. Note that passwords are prone to phishing attacks and data breaches. Therefore, you must create complex passwords and keep them safe in a password manager. To secure your account, you need a strong password containing letters, numbers, and special characters.
This mode of authentication verifies users based on their distinct biological features. Standard biometric data for identifying users include fingerprint scans, retina scans, and facial and voice recognition.
Multi-factor authentication (MFA)
Systems using MFA ask users to verify their identity more than once to gain access. Often, multi-factor authentication systems require receiving one-time passwords (OTP) via a verified mobile number or email. The most common application of MFA is two-factor authentication (2FA) — which requires additional confirmation after entering your login details.
Popular API authentication methods include HTTP Basic, API keys, and OAuth. With HTTP BasicAuth, a user agent offers a username and password. Since it believes in the HTTP header, this mode doesn’t require cookies, session IDs, or login pages. Similarly, third parties can use the more-complex OAuth to access restricted repositories and applications.
A token is a unique string of characters that users receive during sign-up. Instead of entering your credentials every time you log in, you can use the token to sign in once and for all. Some authentication tokens for API gateway integration include a JSON Web Token (JWT).
Users can also be authenticated by systems based on their certificate credentials. Similar to physical ID cards, digital certificates contain information about the bearer, including details like names, public keys, and digital signatures.
Use Cases for Authentication and Authorization Systems
Popular methods like two-factor authentication (2FA) can be applied in many scenarios. Here are some typical use cases:
- Web applications: Most web-based platforms use cookie-based authentication, third-party access, OpenID, or SAML to protect visitors’ information on the web. These authentication protocols act as extra layers of protection for your system infrastructure.
- Face ID: Smartphones employ Face ID and fingerprinting technology to verify user identity.
- Vault security: Vault system verification works when the information about a user or machine is confirmed against an internal or external database.
- Payment systems: Payment platforms rely on authentication tools to ensure that cybercriminals are not using other people’s data to make online transactions.
- Online banking: Banks must possess a secure authentication setup that verifies users as legal owners of their accounts. Most online banking systems rely on PINs, multi-factor authentication (MFA), and knowledge-based security to reduce cases of stolen identity.
The Benefits of Integrating an API Gateway with Authentication and Authorization Systems
API gateway integration ensures that sensitive data stays protected and that only authorized clients can access the microservices. Here are a few API gateway benefits you should know about:
Improved microservice security
API gateways offer an extra layer of security to microservices, which makes it hard for malicious entities to compromise the system. You can defend the underlying structure of microservices in the backend using API gateway tools.
Simplified authentication and authorization management
The best API gateway enables strong authentication and authorization features so no unlicensed users can access APIs and their underlying systems. At the same time, it makes it easier to manage who can enter the system or make changes to it.
Enhanced user experience
API gateways are formidable barriers against attacks like SQL injection, cross-site scripting (XSS), and cross-site request forgery (CSRF). Otherwise, these vulnerabilities can affect the performance of your application or website, hampering the overall user experience.
Techniques for Implementing Authentication and Authorization in an API Gateway
API gateway features several authentication methods for diverse scenarios and use cases. Let’s study the standard techniques for authentication in API gateway.
Using API keys
You can pass in an API key to use API gateway features like a quota. An API key identifies your project for quota, billing, and monitoring activities. This way, an API gateway can verify the mission of the associated client app.
Using resource policies
This technique lets you create resource-based policies to restrict access to your APIs and methods from targeted source IP addresses or endpoints. You can permit or deny access using API gateway resource policies.
Best Practices for Integrating API Gateways with Authentication and Authorization Systems
Let’s explore the best practices that will guarantee API security by protecting sensitive data from risks associated with data integration API.
Validate API requests
To integrate API gateway services, all user input must be validated. When you validate API requests, it hinders malicious users from transferring hazardous data or codes through the API gateway.
Encrypt sensitive data
All sensitive data should be encrypted, whether in transit or at rest. API integration tools should use protocols like SSL/TLS to prevent snooping from unauthorized parties. You should also ensure the microservice API gateway communicates with clients over HTTPS.
Use a Web Application Firewall (WAF)
Implementing a Web Application Firewall (WAF) is a powerful way to secure the API and its gateway. A WAF limits access to APIs based on predefined rules and conditions to prevent threats and attacks.
Monitor API gateway activity
It’s essential to record activity logs of the API gateway to track client requests and other activities. Such insights help you detect loopholes and vulnerabilities around the API gateway so you can fix them.
API gateway integration is vital for keeping your APIs secure from cyberattacks while guaranteeing the authenticity of incoming user traffic.
API gateway security protects sensitive data and its underlying microservices. To improve API open source performance, you must use modern authentication methods, validate API requests, and enable a web application firewall (WAF).