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Creating a Secure and Scalable API Architecture

Creating a Secure and Scalable API Architecture 

Application programming interfaces (APIs) enable the communication between two computer programs, thus enabling businesses to cooperate. Thanks to the API adoption, companies increased their market capitalization by 12.7%  compared to those that haven’t introduced APIs.

In order to achieve such results yourself, you should build a secure and scalable API. Here are the most important steps you need to follow to do so.

How to make a secure API

You’ll get instantly interested in API security once you learn this fact: a shocking 41% of businesses suffered some sort of an API security incident in 2021. Also, 63% of them complained about data loss or data breach.

For you to avoid such grim statistics, here’s what you need to do.

Use HTTPS at all times

This is hardly a mind-blowing suggestion, yet the consequences of not using it consistently can be rather serious. When you use SSL every time, you transform the authentication credentials into a randomly generated access token, thus making it stronger. That action takes the token to the HTTP Basic Auth username field.

In addition, you can use HTTP 2 for better performance. HTTP 2 can help you send a variety of requests over a single connection. Consequently, you’ll be avoiding the TCP and SSL handshake overhead in the follow-up requests.

Keep the URLs clean

Whatever you do, you shouldn’t let any passwords, API keys, usernames, or session tokens appear in the URL. That calls for an immediate data breach or data leak, and you won’t have anyone but yourself to blame for being so exploitable.

Hash the passwords

Hashing passwords will protect the system and minimize the hacking damage. Use hashing algorithms such as bcrypt, scrypt algorithms or PBKDF2 to improve password security. As hashing algorithms are one-way functions, no one else can decode or unscramble the text but you.

Switch to OAuth

In securing APIs, basic auth goes pretty much without saying, as it helps you reach a certain level of security. However, we’d rather you go beyond this and raise the API security bar with OAuth 2.0.

Why is OAuth so recommendable? Basically, this authorization framework can help a third-party application get limited HTTP service access. There are two ways to do this: either by allowing the third-party application to gain access on its own or on behalf of the resource owner by connecting the owner and the HTTP service.

Put a timestamp in the request

The main benefit of adding a timestamp as an HTTP custom header in API requests is that it’s going to prevent repeated cyber attacks. The server compares the current and request timestamps and only approves the request after a reasonable period (e.g., 30 seconds).

Validate request parameters

Use parameter validation at the very beginning, before a user reaches the application logic. Create strong validation checks whose failure will result in immediate request rejection.

Avoid unnecessary complex solutions

While setting up and maintaining API security is absolutely vital to the business, you should be careful not to overcomplicate your API security solutions. True, sometimes a complex solution is the only way, but the majority of the suggestions we’ve made are very straightforward, yet efficient. And in most cases, they suffice.

The more complex API solutions are, the higher the probability of overseeing something and leaving a “hole” in the system. That’s why you should try to keep it simple whenever possible.

How to make a Scalable API

API scalability is another determining growth factor in business. That’s the ability to deal with a continuous, sometimes heavy stream of requests without any issues with performance. This is particularly visible in e-commerce, where you can have an extensive and ever-growing customer base.

So, how do you scale an API to enable it to handle a multitude of different requests without any interruptions to the process? Here’s what you can do.

Make APIs stateless

Making an API stateless is important because, in that way, an API doesn’t require data from previous interactions — it’s already present in the incoming requests by design. Thanks to this feature, several servers can deal with a set request.

In contrast, a stateful API must access the information from previous sessions to complete a request.

Introduce asynchronous job processing

When you have a case where two or more operations don’t depend on each other, you can run them asynchronously, i.e., in parallel. This should enable you to complete bulk operations quickly. As a result, you’ll avoid long backlog lines in the system.

Regarding e-commerce, this feature is critical during the peak shipping season when bulk requests often occur and backlog queues are more prolonged.

Make use of hybrid NoSQL and SQL databases

To achieve better API scalability, we advise you to use both NoSQL and SQL databases, as you’re probably going to need both for efficient data management. For example, you should store faster read operations in an SQL database, while NoSQL databases are more suitable for heavier write operations. You just need to dynamically leverage which database is a better fit.

Regular control and timely (re)action

The above NoSQL should help you prevent any scaling bottlenecks, but it can’t be responsible for the overall API scalability. If you truly want to achieve optimal results, you’ll have to regularly monitor the load and alert internal teams if any issue occurs. Eventually, this should give you a clear image of the scalability trends within your company.

Limit the dynamic rate

Limiting the dynamic rate should allow you to push the limits of max allowable throughput for clients. As different requests create different loads, it’s a good idea to set thresholds for rate limits according to the API’s cumulative load. That way, a user can make multiple performant requests quickly without any rate limitations.

Creating a secure and scalable API architecture requires a number of actions. Some of them you’ll complete initially, while others demand continuous monitoring. Still, once you set everything in order, you can start looking forward to lucrative business prospects.

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