Cybersecurity Essentials: Web Application Firewalls

Web Applications Firewall

Web applications run on web servers and are accessed over the internet through web browsers. In the simplest sense, any component on a website that performs a task for a user is a web application. Some examples of web applications include shopping carts, online forms, video streaming and editing, word processors, social media widgets, and more.  

Many companies rely on web applications to increase the functionality of their website and improve user experience. However, much like any software, web applications come with security risks. That’s why Australian businesses should implement a web application firewall. 

What is a web application firewall (WAF)?

A WAF protects your web applications by analysing and filtering incoming web traffic. It works on rules that determine what malicious code and suspicious behaviour (e.g., unusually high traffic or unauthorised access attempts) to detect. When a WAF detects a potential threat, it immediately blocks the suspected traffic to prevent further harm to your web applications and their underlying systems. WAFs can operate under the following models:

  • Blacklist – protects web applications by using the latest threat definitions to block known attacks.
  • Whitelist – allows only traffic that meets your company’s parameters for your applications. Any deviation from these parameters is considered bad traffic.
  • Hybrid – utilises the strengths of both denylist and safelist models

What’s more, WAFs scan web applications for critical vulnerabilities and prevent any attempts to exploit them by locking down parts of a website, so your team has ample time to rectify the issue. Some WAFs even verify whether a website visitor is human or a bot with CAPTCHA tests.

What threats does a web application firewall defend?

A WAF is capable of mitigating various cyberattacks, including:    

  • Distributed denial-of-service – Hackers flood web servers with HTTP requests, or traffic, resulting in web applications failing to run.     
  • Cross-site scripting – Hackers exploit web applications to embed malicious code into trusted websites. Malicious codes compromise sensitive information and bypass access restrictions. 
  • SQL injection Attackers inject malicious code into poorly coded web applications to gain access to a company’s back-end database. Moreso, attackers can manipulate the database after infiltration, read classified information, and even run commands on the operating system.
  • Web scraping Cybercriminals use bots to extract data and HTML code from a website so they can steal copyrighted content.  
  • Cookie poisoning Cookies, or data that identify a web user’s device, are modified by hackers to gain sensitive information about a user — often for identity theft purposes.

How does a WAF benefit your business?

Cybercriminals exploit web applications like eCommerce systems, login pages, and online forms to steal sensitive data and commit fraud. In fact, data breaches cost Australian companies $203 per record on average. Companies are also liable to pay fines for non-compliance with The Privacy Act and may suffer a massive backlash from the incident. 

A web application firewall helps your business avoid these issues. It lets you determine what you can and can’t access your web applications. It also monitors web applications so you can spot and resolve potential data leak issues like openly visible source codes, credit card information, and classified server details. Finally, the best WAFs regularly scan and update web applications to safeguard your data from the latest threats. 

What are the different types of Web Application Firewalls?

Now that you understand the importance of WAFs, you must also consider the type your company will utilise. The different WAF types are classified according to their deployment and specific businesses.

1. Network-based WAFs

This involves installing a hardware appliance on your local server to monitor incoming data packets to your website. Since this requires physical equipment and on-premises installation, network-based WAFs tend to be more expensive than their counterparts. However, these types of firewalls can track and filter data packets much more quickly and with very little latency because of their physical proximity to the server. Network-based WAFs are ideal for large organisations that get massive traffic and have the resources to manage in-house hardware.  

2. Host-based WAFs

Host-based WAFs are embedded within web applications. Unlike network-based WAFs, host-based WAFs don’t require physical equipment. They are installed as external software to monitor website traffic. These attributes make host-based WAFs more affordable and more customisable. The downside is that they can be tricky to set up and configure, so you’ll need specialised expertise to operate them. 

3. Cloud-based WAFs

With cloud-based WAF, components are inside a cloud service provider’s servers, so your company doesn’t need to install anything locally. The service providers set up and manage the WAF for you for a monthly subscription fee. The trade-off for this simplicity is that you relinquish responsibility to a third party, so there’s little room for customisation. Still, cloud-based WAFs are an excellent option for small- and medium-sized businesses that don’t have the budget and workforce to maintain WAF hardware.

Augment your security framework with a WAF

A web application firewall adds a strong layer of protection to your web applications, but it’s more effective when paired with other security measures. WAFs should be part of a more comprehensive website security strategy consisting of intrusion prevention systems, web filtering, email security software, etc. 

If you need help implementing a well-rounded security framework, Empower IT has the expertise and solutions you’re looking for. Our security consultants can advise you on the best WAF deployment, configure your system, and integrate it with other security measures. Call us now to get started.