The rapid growth of e-commerce businesses over the last couple of years and the necessity of remote work created major vulnerabilities for companies around the world.

Malicious traffic and unauthorized access have been just some of the ‌issues that organizations have had to combat to keep their customers, employees, and corporate data safe.

To safeguard their business and sensitive data circling the system and networks, companies rely on a Web Application Firewall (WAF).

What is WAF exactly, how does it make applications safe, what type makes sense for the needs of one’s business, and how does it protect important assets of organizations?

What Is a Web Application Firewall?

Web Application Firewall (WAF) is a security tool that monitors the traffic going in and out of the applications to filter any unwanted activity. 

Acting as a border between the users that use the application and external internet traffic, it also filters and blocks said traffic based on the pre-written rules.

Essentially, WAF is software that protects organizations from cyberattacks.

How Does a WAF Protect a Business?

Some ‌threats from which WAF can defend organizations include:

  • DDoS
  • Cross-site scripting
  • SQL injection
  • File inclusion
  • Zero-day threats

Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) is the type of attack that overwhelms the network by sending false traffic to it. If it’s not mitigated early, it can slow down the systems for months, make them unavailable or even crash websites.

Cross-site scripting refers to injecting a malicious script into a website that is deemed safe to visit. A seemingly trusted website sends the script to a user with the goal of gathering their sensitive information.

SQL injection is a threat that can allow hackers to alter the information within an application. This type of threat can delete valuable data or escalate into a full-blown Distributed Denial of Service Attack.

File inclusion refers to inserting infected files into a web application. The format of these files is either HTTP or FTP URI, and they mostly affect the servers to which users can upload their own files.

It’s important for WAF to protect companies from the top 10 threats listed by OWASP as well as any new emerging hacking method that could disrupt the workflow of a company and put sensitive data at risk.

Zero-day exploits are threats from which organizations don’t have the proper security yet, as they refer to new hacking methods. It’s dubbed “zero-day” to indicate how much time businesses have to fight off the threat.

What’s the Difference Between a Regular Firewall and WAF?

Many businesses wonder whether they need both a regular firewall and WAF to guard their systems. The truth is, both are necessary because the standard firewall monitors internet traffic and WAF is focused on HTTP traffic.

That is to say, the regular firewall is there to protect the traffic on the network and the Web Application Firewall is focused on the app that it guards.

For security to be effective in general, avoid relying on a single tool or software to cover all your assets. Layered protection of versatile solutions is necessary because you never know where the hackers could find vulnerabilities within your system.

Does WAF Function the Same for All Organizations?

No. There are different types of Web Application Firewalls that companies can deploy for their systems. Also, each business has to set the rules of protection that make sense for their unique infrastructure.

Cloud-Based vs. Software-Based vs. Hardware-Based

There are three different kinds of WAF depending on where they are placed, and include cloud-based, software-based, or hardware-based. Besides different locations, these types of WAFs work towards the same goal.

Cloud-based WAF is installed and managed on the cloud, and it’s mostly used by the service provider to ensure that their service is safe for their clients.

Software-based WAF is deployed on a virtual machine, and it can also protect cloud environments.

Hardware-based WAF is used on physical hardware, and they’re deployed locally on the network, being ideal for businesses with many clients and high website traffic.

Blacklisting vs. Whitelisting vs. Hybrid Configuration

The rules of how the WAF will work for a company depend on the protocols it has to adhere to, as well as whether it allow list-based (whitelisting) or blocklist-based (blacklisting).

If it’s configured as a whitelisting, the software follows the preset rules that determine which traffic is allowed to pass through the firewall and reach the server. The traffic that’s allowed meets strict criteria and has been approved beforehand.

Blacklisting WAF, on the other hand, is set to block any activity that indicates known vulnerabilities or malicious code. In other words, it recognizes possible attacks and blocks them before they get a chance to enter the applications.

The third configuration possibility is a hybrid model that most WAF providers implement today to get the best of both worlds.

Why is WAF Essential for Businesses?

For organizations that rely on applications to do their business, WAF is the key to:

  • Protecting corporate intelligence and customer’s data
  • Defending the company from attacks and vulnerabilities specific to web application
  • Adapting security for new threats

Unauthorized access or malicious code injected into the application are some of the threats that can let the cybercriminal into the organization or enable them to monitor your activity and gather sensitive data.

By not allowing malicious traffic into the network, WAF prevents major data leaks and compromised credentials that can otherwise ruin a company’s reputation.

As with any system, applications have a unique set of possible flaws that have to be examined and patched up before they lead to common attacks. 

Therefore, utilizing the tool that’s built to address the app-specific issues aids you in getting the most out of the software.

Finally, the adaptability of this protection software is crucial to get full coverage and remain prepared for any new hacking methods and techniques.