Secure API gateway: What is it and how does it work?

What is a secure API gateway?

Successful digital organizations recognize that their APIs grow in value the more they are connected to a broader ecosystem of applications, developers, partners, and customer experiences. However, opening up this value could also lead to opening new security vulnerabilities. Anytime an organization enables public access to its APIs, it’s critical to ensure these APIs are properly secured and performing with optimal functionality. 

API gateways are a common component in modern architectures, helping organizations route their API requests, aggregate API responses, and enforce service level agreements through features like rate limiting. But an API gateway also plays an important role as a secure access point that protects an organization’s APIs. API gateways implement industry-standard encryption and access control –– giving API developers a way to let people in and direct them to the right place. Gateways point to the backend APIs and services that you define and abstract them into a layer that can be regulated by your API management solution.


How does an API gateway secure your systems?

The best API gateways are designed from the ground up to provide robust security. An API gateway typically performs the following functions:

  • Serving as an inline proxy point of control over APIs.
  • Verifying the identity associated with API requests through credential and token validation, as well as other authentication means.
  • Determining which traffic is authorized to pass through the API to backend services.
  • Metering the traffic flowing through the APIs using rate limiting and throttling. 
  • Logging all transactions and applying runtime policies to enforce governance.
  • Providing last-mile security to the backend services that power the APIs. 

MuleSoft's industry-leading API management platform provides end-to-end, enterprise-grade security, including a high-performance API gateway component.

The API gateway points to the backend APIs and services that you define and abstracts them into a layer that Anypoint Platform manages. Consumer applications invoke your services. APIs route to the endpoints that the gateway exposes to enforce runtime policies and collect and track analytics data. The API gateway acts as a dedicated orchestration layer for all your backend APIs to separate orchestration from implementation concerns. The gateway leverages the governance capabilities of API Manager, so that you can apply throttling, security, and other policies to your APIs.

Secure API gateway diagram

Getting started with MuleSoft’s API gateway

Mule runtime engine includes an embedded API gateway. With this gateway, users can apply a basic authentication policy on top of a Mule application or enrich an incoming/outgoing message to an API without having to write any code. 

API gateway allows you to add a dedicated orchestration layer on top of your backend APIs and services to help you separate orchestration from implementation concerns. You can leverage the governance capabilities of API Manager to apply, among other capabilities, throttling, security, caching, and logging API requests and responses.

Connectors available for API gateway: 

  • HTTP/S
  • Jetty
  • Web Services Consumer
  • JDBC File

Integration capabilities: 

  • Message processors
  • Transaction management
  • Error handling
  • Mule Expression Language (MEL)
  • DataWeave (Transform Message)
  • DataMapper
  • DataWeave


API gateway can be deployed to the cloud or on-premises. Deciding on the right environment for your use case depends on a number of factors including the location of backend endpoints, enterprise architecture, and corporate security policy. Gateways can be deployed as single nodes or in clusters to support high availability and high throughput use cases.

Options for installment:

  • On-premises installation: install and manage the gateway behind your firewall.
  • Cloud installation: use API gateway in the cloud if you don’t want to install and maintain any MuleSoft software for your gateway. 

The advantages of a flexible API gateway

While API gateways are a standard part of API management, the API gateway included with Anypoint Platform has a distinguishing feature: it is capable of being deployed anywhere — on-premises or in the cloud. This flexibility leads to faster deployment of services; the gateway leverages whatever governance policies you set in API Manager. This means that security and other policies can be applied as you choose.

It’s becoming increasingly important for businesses to have the flexibility to deploy on-premise or in the cloud and customize security to their needs. As companies develop a hybrid infrastructure, they need to integrate various services, applications, and data sources that come from numerous places. Disparate data sets and tools can lead to data silos, duplicated work, and an inefficient IT team. 

Having a unified API management and integration platform allows you to manage users, monitor and analyze traffic, and secure APIs with ordered policies in one place. Anypoint Platform’s unified capability enables API management for every connection with a single runtime that can be deployed as an integration engine and an API gateway. 

For more information, take a look at more resources on API management in Anypoint Platform.

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