A WAF, or Web Application Firewall, is a vital tool for safeguarding web applications (websites). Its primary function is to filter and monitor HTTP traffic flowing between a web application (your website) and the Internet (users of your website). In many respects a WAF is like a standard firewall, however a WAF is tightly optimised for website activity. They often exist off-site, offered as an online tool by a 3rd party specialist. Their services are consumed by directing internet traffic through their servers using standard DNS/network techniques.
A WAF gives strong protection from malicious activity such as cross-site forgery attacks, cross-site scripting attacks, file inclusion attacks, and SQL injection attacks. A good WAF will also offer a level of protection against DDoS attaches. With its robust capabilities, a WAF plays a crucial role in maintaining the security and integrity of web applications.
Here are 10 key points to enhance your understanding of WAFs:
1. Security Policies
WAFs work based on predefined security policies that include rules and conditions to identify and block malicious traffic. These policies can be customised to suit the specific needs of the web application and its potential vulnerabilities.
2. Positive and Negative Security Models
WAFs can operate using positive security models (allow only known good traffic) or negative security models (block known bad traffic). Positive security models are more restrictive but highly effective against many types of attacks.
3. Behavioural Analysis
Some advanced WAFs incorporate behavioural analysis and machine learning techniques to detect anomalies and zero-day attacks, enhancing their ability to protect against evolving threats.
4. Logging and Reporting
WAFs often provide extensive logging and reporting capabilities, allowing security teams to monitor traffic, investigate incidents, and fine-tune security policies based on real-time data.
5. SSL/TLS Inspection
Many WAFs can inspect encrypted HTTPS traffic to identify and block threats hidden within encrypted connections.
6. Integration with Other Security Tools
WAFs are often part of a broader security ecosystem and can integrate with other security solutions such as Intrusion Detection Systems (IDS), Intrusion Prevention Systems (IPS), and Security Information and Event Management (SIEM) platforms for a more comprehensive defence strategy.
7. Challenges and False Positives
WAFs may face challenges in distinguishing between legitimate traffic and false positives, which can result in blocking legitimate users or allowing malicious traffic. Proper tuning and monitoring are essential to minimise these issues. This requires ongoing investment in monitoring of outcomes and tuning of rules.
As web traffic grows, WAFs must be scalable to handle increased load effectively. Cloud-based WAF solutions can provide scalability advantages.
9. Continuous Updates
WAFs require regular updates to their rule sets to stay effective against new attack vectors and emerging threats. Keeping the WAF up-to-date is crucial for maintaining security.
10. User Authentication and Access Control
Some WAFs offer user authentication and access control features to restrict access to certain parts of a web application based on user roles and permissions.
Cloudflare WAF solutions
Stream Interactive has a significant and growing number of clients adopting use of the extended Cloudflare WAF. Stream handles the implementation on behalf of our clients as part of the overall development and hosting package. The process involves planning, initial setup, close early monitoring and tuning and then ongoing monitoring and tuning. The Cloudflare offer is an online solution that is injected as a 'reverse proxy', and which offers a number of clear advantages:
- Affordable plans which can be tuned to suit business needs.
- Can be implemented relatively easily, without flow-on effects that trigger need for other rationalisation.
- Powerful WAF capability to give greatly enhanced security outcomes.
- Performance and speed enhancement through caching, dynamic optimisation of content and a powerful CDN.
- Strong set of tools to address DDoS attacks.
Stream has always taken great care to run with best practices that minimise exposure to malicious actors, including working to industry defined coding patterns, establishing well structured hosting environments and running security audits. The need to continue with this approach remains. A WAF is an important tool in the arsenal, giving another very specialised 'layer to the onion'. It gives the best chance for your business to run with high quality service levels, with the least risk of disruption or worse.
In conclusion, a Web Application Firewall is a valuable component of web application security, but it should be part of a comprehensive security strategy that includes other layers of defence and ongoing monitoring and adjustment to adapt to changing threats and traffic patterns.
Contact us to discuss your website security needs, or call the office on +64 9 889 1880.