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Web Application Firewall – A security solution to protect from the ever-evolving cybercrime

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By Shibu Paul, Vice President – International Sales, Array Networks

Cyber crimes are a constant threat to businesses and they are increasing by the day. As businesses grow, they become more vulnerable, reinforcing the need to protect them against rising cyber threats. Although cyber security has been one of the top concerns for enterprises for a long time. The increasing sophistication of these crimes is causing more headaches now.

In addition, attacks like identity theft, credential theft, and data leaks have the potential of harming users by exposing their private information and undermining their confidence. The situation worsens with the increase of bot-based attacks and the accessibility of commercially available tools that make it simpler than ever before for hackers to commit such crimes. As a result, contemporary solutions, like managed and subscription-based services, such as Web Application Firewall (WAF) can assist both organisations and their consumers. They have the advantage of being simple to use, economical, scalable, and endowed with sophisticated threat identification and mitigation abilities.

WAF and the way it works

WAF is an effective firewall solution for tracking, filtering, and obstructing incoming and outgoing data packets from a web application or website. Reverse proxies are often used to deploy WAFs, which can be host-based, network-based, or Cloud-based, in front of an application or website (or multiple apps and sites). To filter out suspicious or risky traffic, WAFs can be used as network appliances, server plugins, or Cloud services. WAFs can either be used in combination with other applications or as a sole warrior. Based on the requirement, WAF can operate at a lower level or a higher level. WAF regulations use such standards as PCI DSS and HIPAA (1996).

WAFs are especially vital for a growing number of companies that offer products or services online. These include mobile app developers, social media providers, and digital bankers. WAF helps you protect sensitive data, like customer records and payment card data, and also prevents leakage.

Are firewalls and WAF same?

To a layman, the firewall and WAF may seem the same. In fact, they are quite similar in a number of ways. But, the two are not exactly the same in every respect. There are some basic differences between them. So, if you plan to deploy one, you should understand their differences.

A firewall is a wider term for various firewalls deployed to protect computer networks. Firewalls differ based on the protection levels they offer and their delivery models. For instance, some firewalls use packet filtering, while others use proxies, NGFW, or stateful inspection. You can compare WAF with proxy firewalls. But there is a slight difference there, too.

WAF is used primarily to safeguard web applications against threats in the cyber world. It monitors and filters HTTP/HTTPS traffic and mitigates OWASP’s top 10 threats to protect applications from known and unknown vulnerabilities that start working from the application layer. So, no matter what the approach, implementation of WAF always takes place at the application layer. 

Web application firewall types

There are three primary ways to implement a WAF. Network-based, host-based, and Cloud-based.

  • Network-based WAF: This is usually hardware-based, and is installed locally to minimise latency. However, it is the most expensive type of WAF and the physical equipment needs storing and maintaining.
  • Host-based WAF: This can be fully integrated into the software of an application. It is cheaper than network-based WAFs and can also be customised, but it takes up extensive local server resources. Moreover, it is complex to implement and can be expensive to maintain. The machine used to run a host-based WAF often needs to be hardened and customised, which can take time and prove to be expensive.
  • Cloud-based WAF: This is an affordable, easy-to-implement solution, which typically does not require an upfront investment. Users could pay a monthly or annual security-as-a-service subscription. A Cloud-based WAF can be regularly updated at no extra cost and without any effort from users. However, since you rely on a third party to manage your WAF, it is important to ensure that Cloud-based WAFs have sufficient customization options to match your organisation’s business rules.

Conclusion

Businesses should not undervalue the significance of adopting cutting-edge technologies, such as Cloud-based WAFs that are designed specifically to function in Cloud and Hybrid systems, given the fast adoption of Cloud and multi-Cloud environments. Besides being affordable, WAF-as-a-service is a great approach to protect the integrity of customer data, safeguard your web applications from widespread attacks, and maintain business continuity.

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