What Is Web Application Firewall (WAF)

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When it comes to cybersecurity, there are many options, tools, and technologies available. You can hire security staff to keep an eye on your security defenses or hire a third-party managed security partner (MSP) for that purpose. But if you’re on a budget, there are less expensive options available on the market — one such example is a web application firewall (WAF).

Security tools such as malware detectors, automated vulnerability scanners, and DNS filters are other affordable options for protecting your website, applications, and databases. But we’re not focusing on those in this particular piece.

What Is a web Application Firewall? WAFs Explained

A WAF is a type of security software or hardware component that filters HTTP/S traffic coming from clients in order to protect a server from malicious traffic. The web application firewall works like a shield that’s placed between a website server and the internet. It continuously monitors the web traffic coming to your web application and blocks anything suspicious.

A WAF protects the servers from attacks such as:

  • SQL injections
  • Distributed denial of service (DDoS)
  • Cross-site forgery
  • Cross-site-scripting (XSS)
  • Formjacking
  • File inclusion

A WAF also prevents data from leaking from the server. While a vulnerability scanner points out the holes in security defenses, a web application firewall makes sure a hacker can’t exploit those vulnerabilities.

A web application firewall provides application-layer security. This is the top layer of data processing of the Open Systems Interconnection (OSI) Model and directly interacts with clients. Whenever a client makes a request, it first reaches this layer. The WAF sits in front of this layer as an extra shield to scrutinize the traffic and protect it from various threats.

osi model websec
How Does a Web Application Benefit Your Organization?

As we already learned, a WAF helps to protect your web apps against common attackers who use XSS, SQL injections and DDoS attacks. But what does it do in terms of providing other benefits?

  • Frees up your IT and security personnel. Your employees are one of your organization’s biggest security assets. If they’re tied up performing monotonous and repetitive tasks (like monitoring traffic), then it takes them away from focusing on other essential functions.
  • Ensures compliance by helping secure data. Compliance is critical to every organization and business, and a critical aspect of many regulations and laws is keeping data secure. Being non-compliant with industry and geographic regulations spells bad news and can result in costly penalties.
  • Helps protect your reputation. If your web apps and services continually experience outages or issues due to attacks, it’s going to affect your brand’s reputation and your relationships with customers.

Summarizing the Role of a WAF in Cyber Security

A web application firewall is a security layer between your application and the internet. The WAF filters web traffic coming to your server and protects it from various cyber threats. It works on the principles of reverse-proxy and protects the application layer.

There are three types of WAFs: hardware-based, cloud-based, and host-based. Each of them comes with a variety of advantages and disadvantages. As an application owner or webmaster, you should select the most suitable option for your situation — weighing costs, ease of implementation and updates, and resource consumption.

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