Web application firewalls are great for preventing attacks that target web applications’ security flaws. But they aren’t designed to ward off all types of attacks.
They usually follow either a blocklist or allowlist security model or some combination of both. They can also implement a reverse proxy and be deployed transparently between the device and the application server.
A WAF prevents application-level attacks, such as cross-site scripting and SQL injection. It functions at layer 7 of the OSI model and safeguards applications in web-facing zones and HTTP and HTTPS traffic. It also helps secure businesses against distributed denial of service (DDoS) and web application firewall attacks. On the other hand, firewalls operate at layers 3 and 4, monitoring and analyzing network traffic and transforming data to and from a network.
Firewalls typically offer a wide range of security features, including anti-virus and anti-malware protection, intrusion prevention system (IPS) protection, and application safe listing. They can also detect a wide range of attack signatures and behavior patterns, which can help identify suspicious or malicious activity. Some also feature a correlation engine that analyzes incoming traffic and triages it using knowledge-based attacks, AI/ML analysis, application profiling, and custom rules to decide whether or not to block the traffic.
However, a WAF can sometimes trigger unnecessary threat alerts because its broad ruleset protects against many attacks and vulnerabilities. To avoid this, most WAF solutions utilize a safelist system that only allows traffic to pass through the firewall if it is safe. It helps minimize the number of false positives and improves accuracy. Some also use a dynamic ruleset that adjusts to changes in the attacks and vulnerabilities that target a specific web application.
WAF vs firewall has a different role, protecting web applications from attacks. Many organizations, including mobile app developers, social media providers, and digital bankers, use them. Most of these businesses store sensitive data in backend databases that can be accessed through web applications. Attackers often target these applications in an attempt to steal or change data. WAFs can help protect this data from attackers by monitoring, filtering, and blocking malicious requests.
A WAF can be a software, appliance, or service that filters HTTP conversations between a device and a web server. It can be configured to operate in a safelist or denylist security model, letting in all known-good traffic and rejecting all other requests. It can also be configured to perform input validation. This type of WAF can detect various web application attacks, including SQL injection, cross-site scripting, and command and control communications.
WAFs can be deployed on-premises or in the cloud. On-premises hardware WAFs are more expensive than cloud-based solutions but offer more outstanding customization options for security teams. Some hardware-based WAFs can be installed locally to minimize latency, while others require that the security team maintain and manage the physical equipment. Either way, a WAF can be combined with a network firewall to increase protection at multiple network layers.
In addition to blocking malicious traffic, a WAF solution should provide detailed monitoring and logging capabilities. It lets administrators see how well the firewall functions and improves existing policies. Many WAFs also offer features such as DDoS protection and protocol validation.
Unlike network firewalls, WAF solutions are designed to protect specific web applications. It makes them an excellent choice for companies that run e-commerce websites or online financial services. However, they do not cover all threats that may affect the company, so they should be used with other security tools such as RASP.
WAFs can help prevent SQL injection, cross-site scripting, and buffer overflow attacks by analyzing the structure of an application and creating rules to block malicious incoming traffic. They can be deployed as a cloud-based solution, an appliance, or a server plugin and are typically placed between the internet and the web application to filter out incoming attacks.
Although WAFs can be an excellent tool for preventing web attacks, they can lead to false positives and disrupt the performance of a business. It is a big reason why some vendors, such as Fortinet, have begun to include anti-false positive technology in their products. This technology uses machine learning to identify normal application behavior and prevents the creation of false positives. It can save time and resources for both IT and the security team.
As cyberattacks become more sophisticated, protecting web applications and business data from incursions is essential. Fortunately, many tools help stop attacks, including web application firewalls (WAFs).
A WAF analyzes HTTP interactions to reduce or block malicious activity and traffic. It uses rules or policies customized to specific vulnerabilities to prevent attacks such as cross-site scripting (XSS) and SQL injection. However, implementing these rules is complex and requires specialized administrators to maintain and configure the WAF.
Unlike network firewalls, which monitor low-level protocols such as TCP and UDP and filter data based on the contents of packets, a WAF operates at the application layer (Layer 7 in the OSI model). It makes it easier to detect a wider variety of threats and attacks.
As such, a WAF is a crucial component of a security strategy that includes a network firewall and endpoint protection. In addition, a WAF can provide real-time, customizable security dashboards to visualize inbound and outbound HTTP traffic and identify issues that could expose sensitive information. It is also a valuable tool for companies that rely on web applications to conduct business online, such as e-commerce and financial services businesses that handle private customer data.
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