Why Do You Need a WAF For Your Websites?

PUBLISHED ON August 30, 2022
LAST UPDATED Aug 30, 2022

Businesses have to worry about different kinds of cyberattacks, many of which could bring down their websites, wipe out their data, grind business processes down to a halt, impact the customer experience, tarnish their reputation, and even land them in legal hot waters.

An analysis of 7 million websites found that companies experience an average of 94 attacks daily, and their websites are visited by bots 2,608 times a week. In fact, around 12.8 million websites worldwide are infected with malware. 

Meanwhile, the average cost of a DDoS attack in the US is around $218k. A malware attack costs $2.5 million on average, and IT downtime costs an average of $5,600 per minute

Given the mounting cost of cyberattacks, companies must take steps to protect all their online and digital properties, including websites, web applications, webservers, and internet traffic. The amount you invest in the right defense mechanism will be a fraction of the cost of an attack, which can include downtime, lost sales, reputational damages, regulatory penalties, and the costs of other remediation actions.

One of the tried-and-true protection methods is a web application firewall (WAF.) Let’s look at how it can help you strengthen your defense, protect your online properties from threat actors, and benefit your business.

The modern threat landscape continues to evolve and techniques used by one type of threat often blend into another. Bots may attempt to abuse exposed application functionality. Automated attack platforms are used for reconnaissance and exploitation. Learn how to implement a full spectrum approach to application protection.

How Does a Web Application Firewall Work?

WAFs sit on the outside of a network and in front of the public side of a web application. They work as a reverse proxy to filter, monitor, and block malicious traffic from reaching the application layer. They also prevent unauthorized users from exfiltrating data from a website, web application, or web server. You can implement a WAF as software, an appliance, or a cloud-based service.

WAFs monitor your application-layer traffic for potential attacks or threats and automatically block that traffic so you have real-time threat protection while your security and development teams resolve the underlying flaws. They also analyze traffic and generate reports to provide insights into your threat landscape so you can focus your cybersecurity resources strategically. 

WAFs enforce rules (also called policies) to determine what traffic is safe and what is malicious. You can customize the criteria based on your security strategy and regulatory requirements. Advanced WAFs can analyze large amounts of threat data and update the rules automatically using machine learning technologies to help you keep up with the complex and fast-evolving threat landscape.

Common rule mechanisms used by WAFs include regular expressions, score building, signature-based analysis, behavioral analysis, reputation analysis, and application profiling. Most WAFs are based on three security models:

Whitelisting Model (Positive Model)

This method allows online traffic that meets specific requirements to reach the application layer. For example, you can configure a WAF so only traffic from trusted IP addresses can access sensitive files on your web server.

Blacklisting Model (Negative Model)

This model uses predefined or customized security rules to block malicious traffic with characteristics that are known to be a threat to websites and exploit web application vulnerabilities. For example, you can block any user input that contains a specific script.

Hybrid Model (Inclusive Model)

This approach blends the whitelisting and blacklisting models to allow traffic that meets specific criteria while blocking those that violate your security policies.

Why You Need a Web Application Firewall For Your Websites

Now you may wonder, what is the benefit of a web application firewall? Here are 12 reasons why a WAF is a must-have in your cybersecurity arsenal:

1. Protect Against a Wide Range of Attacks

A WAF can help prevent different types of threats. These include DDoS, SQL injection, cross-site scripting (XSS), zero-day, business logic, and man-in-the-middle attacks, as well as malware and ransomware, session hijacking, and defacement attempts.

2. Improve Your Cybersecurity Posture

A WAF offers a proactive way to block malicious activities before hackers can infiltrate your systems and networks. It forms the first line of defense against various threats while complementing other protective systems (e.g., firewalls and intrusion prevention) for a layered approach to cybersecurity.

3. Detect Botnet Attacks

As threat actors automate their attack methods with bots (e.g., sending spam, launching DDoS attacks,) organizations can no longer keep up through manual techniques. A WAF helps you automate your defense and augment bot detection to stay ahead of threat actors.

4. Respond to New and Zero-day Threats

You can easily update the policies and quickly respond to new or different attack vectors. For instance, you can promptly execute rate-limiting during a DDoS attack simply by adjusting the WAF policies to mitigate the attack’s impact. 

5. Build Customer Trust

A WAF protects customer data on your web server and web apps to prevent breaches that could tarnish your brand’s reputation and diminish customer trust. Having a stellar reputation in data security is no longer an option if you want to acquire and retain more customers.

6. Protect Against Data Loss

For many companies, data is their most valuable asset in today’s business environment. A WAF protects against data loss and data corruption, ensures high availability, and helps improve business resiliency—not only at the network level but also at the application level. 

7. Minimize the Cost of an Attack

Cyberattacks have high hidden costs. Besides downtime and lost revenues, the repetitional damage could impact your sales for years. If customer data is stolen, you may also have to pay for litigation and remediation actions (e.g., credit monitoring.)

8. Improve Customer Experience

A WAF can prevent many attacks (e.g., DDoS, botnet, credential stuffing) that could compromise your customer experience. It works behind the scene to protect your online properties from attacks without impacting your customers’ interaction with your brand. 

9. Ensure Regulatory Compliance

Data privacy laws are fast evolving, and companies must proactively address vulnerabilities before breaches occur. A WAF is an essential part of a cybersecurity toolkit to help you comply with regulations, such as HIPAA, PCI-DSS, and GDPR, to avoid hefty penalties.

10. Lower IT Overhead

The number and level of sophistication of cyberattacks mean IT teams, many already stretched thin, can no longer keep up manually. A WAF automatically runs security tests and monitors traffic to free up your IT resources so they can focus on responding to real threats and executing strategic initiatives.

11. Inform Your Security Strategy

An advanced WAF collects and analyzes data on each attack and gives you insights into the threats your company faces. You can paint a complete picture of your risks, focus your data security strategy and resources on what matters, and effectively improve web application security.

12. Support Digital Transformation

Cybersecurity is an essential component in any digital transformation (DX) strategy. It goes hand-in-hand with collecting and utilizing customer data to deliver an outstanding customer experience while informing accurate decision-making. 

As web applications and their threats have evolved, traditional WAFs have struggled to keep pace. Web Application and API Protection (WAAP) introduces a modernized approach to application security that addresses these new challenges. Download a 3-Step Plan to Modernize Your AppSec.

How To Select the Right Web Application Firewall For Your Company

There are many things to consider when selecting a WAF for your business. Here are a few questions to ask:

  • How will the WAF integrate into your environment?
  • How does the WAF detect and respond to attacks?
  • What does the WAF protect against?
  • What does the WAF log, and does it meet your reporting and auditing requirements?
  • How is the WAF managed and updated?
  • Does the WAF allow customization?
  • Is it easy to deploy the WAF?

Most businesses can benefit from using a cloud-native WAF because it’s easy, flexible, and hassle-free to deploy. It should secure all your applications and APIs to protect them against command injection, SQL injection, XSS, XSRF, session hijacking, and more.

Also, look for an intelligent WAF with advanced analytics. It can learn from your company’s attack history and data from other organizations to identify new vulnerabilities, distinguish bot traffic from human users, and proactively allow, block, flag, or challenge a request.

Besides signatures and anomaly detection, your WAF should identify and track malicious entities even as traits such as IP addresses and user agents change. You can compile a complete picture of your risk profile and focus on threats with the most impact on your business.

Additionally, you should consider scalability, multi-tenancy, and bandwidth costs for traffic spikes because they can affect the speed, performance, and availability of your web applications.

The Future of Threat Protection: Unified API and Web App Protection

Real-time protection like a WAF is a critical layer of any cybersecurity program. To stay ahead of threat actors, companies must go beyond a single tool to using a multi-prong approach driven by a single risk engine for the most effective and efficient protection. 

In fact, Gartner predicts that by 2023, 30-35% of public-facing APIs and web applications will be defended by web application and API protection services that consolidate WAFs, DDoS protection, API protection, and bot mitigation.

ThreatX’s API and Web Application platform can help you improve the efficiency of your protection while thwarting attacks that you could miss if you cobbled together disjointed solutions that don’t integrate well with each other. Learn more about our platform and see how you can lower your risks.

About the Author

Neil DuPaul

Neil DuPaul is the Sr. Director of Demand Generation at ThreatX and works with the team to execute impactful, customer-centric campaigns. He has 15+ years marketing a variety of cybersecurity solutions, executing a range of tactics and strategies across many business functions. A lifelong learner and gamer with a zest for physical activity.