WAF stands for Web Application Firewall.
What does WAF mean for the average business owner with a website? Basically it protects the business website from spammers and hackers, 24 hours a day, automatically.
Digitalisation, software solutions, and the Internet have become a blessing for business people and ordinary people alike. However, everything has a price and risks associated with it. Similarly, the ease and convenience provided by data technology, has the additional burden of maintaining data integrity and security.
The increased reliance on cloud-based software, applications, and Internet protocols has put every individual at the risk of identity theft, credit theft, cyber-attacks, and malicious web traffic.
According to some statistics, malware infections have increased to a record level in the last 10 years. 92% of malware is injected by email. America has been the most affected area by the malware-infected network, hosting over 36% of the botnet control servers.
As a business owner, it is important to understand that you’re at constant risk of these malware attacks, and the website might become a victim of such malicious traffic hosting.
A business cannot afford to be at the risk of being attacked. Therefore, it is necessary to ensure a foolproof data security and integrated system, that no online intruder can exploit. This can be considered as a guard dog, protecting a website.
In this article, we’re going to talk about Web Application Firewall(WAF) that works like network firewalls, anti-virus, computer firewalls, etc., to protect your data stored in your devices.
What is a Web Application Firewall?
Web Application Firewall or WAF can be defined as an application firewall that filters, monitors, and protects web applications, services, or website from malicious traffic.
WAF works on HTTP applications to apply a set of rules to HTTP conversations going on between web services and end clients. There are several kinds of attacks that websites are protected against by using WAF. In simple words, WAF can be called a reverse proxy that doesn’t let intruders access the web servers, infect, exhaust, or modify them.
In simplest terms, WAF(web application firewall) sits between websites or web-based applications and the Internet. The firewall mitigates the risks of cyber attacks that are not in the domain of the network firewalls. Placing a protective shield between data and the Internet.
How does WAF work?
After understanding what a WAF is, it is important to understand how it works and how it can protect business websites.
A WAF protects the website and web-based applications. Every data request generated by a user/client has to pass through WAF before reaching the website. In this way, the shield filters, monitors, and blocks the malicious requests and let the genuine requests pass through.
Let’s understand its works.
As mentioned above, a WAF usually assesses the requests generated through the Internet. Such requests are called HTTP(Hypertext Transfer Protocol) requests in technical language. So when an HTTP request is sent to a website, the WAF reads the conversation of HTTP.
HTTP conversations analysed by a WAF are GET and POST requests. As the name implies, a GET request signifies a data retrieval request from a web server. Similarly, POST requests signify requests sent for posting data or changing data state on a web server.
How does WAF analyse these requests?
There are two approaches used by any WAF for analysing and monitoring HTTP requests: white-listing and black-listing. The third one is a hybrid of the two.
White-listing can be explained as a strict approach in which a WAF blocks all the requests other than trusted ones. The White-listing approach works as the client provides a list of safe IP addresses. This approach has a shortcoming as the WAF might not allow even benign traffic to come to a website.
Black-listing is a resource-intensive approach where the WAF allows the traffic to pass through the filters where it is analysed using pre-set signatures for blocking or allowing it. The pre-set signatures are a list of potentially malicious data packets.
If you’re a business owner running a public facing website, using a black-listing approach is more favourable. However, the downside of black-listing is that more work is required to filter all data packets and IP addresses.
A hybrid combination uses the elements of both techniques to create an effective WAF for filtering malicious traffic.
What types of attacks are prevented by WAF?
A WAF can protect a website from many different types of attacks. The most common types prevented by a WAF are:
SQL injection is an injection attack where the attackers or hackers will run infected or malicious SQL statements that can modify and control the database server working behind a web application. SQL injection gives the hackers authority of adding, modify or delete the records of SQL databases, and it is done by bypassing web-page authentication. SQL injection is one of the top 10 web application security threats as listed by OWASP.
XSS(cross-site scripting) attacks are types of infection where malicious scripts are injected into legitimate and trusted websites. It happens when an attacker uses web applications for sending malicious codes in the form of browser-side scripts to users.
The user can not detect an XSS attack, and it executes it as a trustee source. Consequently, the malicious script can access session tokens, sensitive information, and saved cookies in a browser.
Direct denial-of-service is a type of attack where the intruders try to disrupt a network by overwhelming the website by serving with a flood of internet traffic. As a result, the web server resources get exhausted, making it impossible to reach the web service.
Why do businesses need WAF protection?
We’ve discussed different types of attacks a website is vulnerable to, and how can WAF protect from such attacks. A business owner might question if a web application firewall is necessary. Here are the most convincing reasons why protecting data integrity and security is important.
Websites are vulnerable to cyber-attack
According to data, out of all cyber-attacks, 43% of attacks target small businesses. The reason is that most small business owners do not pay any attention to web security. The most alarming fact is that 64% of small businesses have experienced web-based attacks: botnets, malicious codes, etc. Therefore, do not ignore the website and secure it by employing effective WAF solutions.
A business website is your most important asset
In the era of digitization, the online presence of any business is crucial. This importance is amplified to a higher level in the case of a small business. Therefore, the business website is also a critical asset for a small business owner. You must protect your physical assets as well as the virtual assets from any intruders.
Benefits of Web Application Firewalls
There is no doubt about the benefits and usefulness of WAF for protecting your websites and web applications against malicious attacks and cyber threats. However, the most prominent benefits of a WAF are as follow:
A WAF works as a monitor that always analyse the traffic to protect against attacks in real-time. Microsoft Azure WAF is one of the most popular web application firewalls that defends your web assets.
Protection is also the most important function of putting a WAF safe from intruders and attackers. Your website and web service are protected from the vulnerabilities of the internet.
What are the different types of WAF Application Firewalls?
You now know how important WAF is for protecting a website against malicious attacks. However, there might be confusion about how to choose a WAF. There are different types of WAF that are network-based, cloud-based, or host-based WAF’s. Choose one according to usability, affordability, and network requirements.
A network-based WAF is a hardware-based firewall. It is locally installed in the hardware, and it is the most secure one. However, it is an expensive option and requires high maintenance.
Host-based WAF’s are integrated into the applications software, and it is a less-expensive solution. The big benefit of host-based WAF is that there is room for customising. The downside in the case of this WAF is complex implementation and maintenance costs.
The cloud-based WAF is affordable, easy to implement, and simple to install. Cloud-based WAF’s are continuously updated to protect against the newer threats, etc.
WAF is a necessity for an online presence or planning to have one. Therefore, don’t compromise digital assets’ data integrity and security.
Drachsi is a Webmaster for a number of businesses that require knowledge and experience to support the business website. Here is a definition of a Webmaster if you have not heard the term before.