Cybersecurity intrusions and incidences have ballooned unprecedentedly, primarily because of the pandemic and organisations increasingly adopting digital initiatives. According to security firms, cybercrimes are up by over 600% because of the pandemic. In a study involving about 4.7 Million web application-related cyber intrusions, it was established that the attacks were increasing by 22% every quarter in 2021. Web Application attacks continued to rise at 67.9% between Q2 and Q3 of 2021. Remote code execution (RCE) and Remote File Inclusion (RFI) web application attacks had a surge of 271%.
To stay competitive, businesses include using web applications in their daily tasks while remaining oblivious of the risks that come with this. The employee’s lack of security awareness and the security vulnerabilities in the said web applications are among the factors that expose an organisation or business to various security risks. Security professionals leverage Web Application Firewalls (WAF) to protect the web application from cyber intrusions.
What is a WAF?
Web Application firewalls aren’t designed to protect a computer network’s perimeter. WAFs act as a guard explicitly intended to monitor all the web-based traffic. In practice, the web application firewalls reside at the front of a web application, monitor and screen all outgoing and incoming HTTP traffic, and block any malicious traffic. They are programmed to protect the web applications from the threats below.
Threats That A WAF Protects Your Network From
If a web application is vulnerable to SQL injection, the attacker can inject a malicious code, giving them access to do malicious things you’d wish they didn’t. The attackers can download the entire database’s contents, including customer information and intellectual property. Or, if the cybercriminal doesn’t steal the data, they can delete or modify it.
SQL injections are, in some cases, a result of vulnerabilities in the backend code, although other software security vulnerabilities can expose the web application to SQLi. A web application firewall can protect the application against SQLi by preventing any requests associated with suspicious signatures. If you don’t have a WAF, the nefarious character can easily exploit the SQLi vulnerability and pass a fraudulent claim as an authentic one.
Cross-Site Scripting (XSS attacks)
An XSS attack is an exploit whereby an attacker executes a malicious script on a user’s browser, acting ostensibly on behalf of a kind of web application. Cross-Site Scripting attacks are among the common exploits in cyberspace today. They can result in various adverse outcomes, from deleting user accounts to malware injection.
The problem is that cross-site scripting attacks are often not guarded, effective and straightforward. Cyber security researchers suggest that about three-quarters of all web applications and websites are vulnerable to an XSS exploit. Like SQLi attack prevention, the web application firewalls can prevent Cross-site Scripting through scanning the security signatures. It is blocked if a request is associated with a suspicious signature(s). Therefore, the web application firewall provider should update their security databases regularly to include the new attack vectors.
Path/Directory Traversal Attacks
This is an attack where a cybercriminal can access the data stored out of the root folder. The data may include config files or other sensitive files that weren’t meant for public use. The attacker uses the absolute file paths to commit a directory traversal attack and access the data.
In path traversal attacks, the attacker exploits the web application or software’s lack of security and not the software bug. A web application firewall protects against directory traversal attacks through scanning HTTP requests and preventing the attackers from uploading the attack files to the system.
WAFs can also protect a web application from insecure deserialization, broken authentication, malicious bots attacks, DDoS, and Zero-day attacks. The hackers can also use broken access controls, XML External Entities (XXE), and security misconfigurations in a web application. Therefore, installing web application firewalls is essential in website security and cyber threats in the digital era.
Why are Web Application Firewalls Critical?
Data breaches are costly. However, a cyber security research firm, PT Security, revealed that a third of web applications had low-security levels. From the data, the web application security is worsening with time. With businesses shifting their operations online because of the pandemic, people uploading their entire lives on the internet, banking and financial operations, and health information residing online, running an insecure web application may have detrimental consequences. When a data breach arises, you might be hit with lawsuits and have your brand reputation tarnished. Being safe is far much better than saying sorry moments later.
Therefore, web application firewalls are among the best tools for preventing and protecting web applications from fraudulent traffic. Today, hackers have become more adept at disguising malicious codes, interlacing the malicious code with web traffic that is seemingly safe. This makes some security measures fail in detecting it. However, a Web application firewall can scan every incoming HTTP request and catch the attacks missed by other countermeasures. The developers aren’t perfect, they too make errors, and even though the backend code may have bugs, a web application firewall can prevent an attacker from exploiting the code.
Types of WAFs
In terms of operation mode, there are two types of WAFs: Blacklist WAFs and Whitelist WAFs. Blacklist WAFs work by blocking the malicious traffic by comparing the signatures with a database of well-known exploits. On the contrary, a whitelist WAF only allows traffic from trusted websites. Whitelist WAFs are more restrictive and might not work for some users. However, to ease the restrictiveness, Most WAFs use a Hybrid between blacklist and whitelist WAFs.
In terms of integration, there are Network-based WAFs, Cloud-based WAFs, and Host-based WAFs.
These Web application firewalls are usually hardware-based. Their main pro is reducing latency because of their local installation. Their settings and rules are replicated over various appliances, making them suitable for enterprise applications. The costs associated with storage, maintenance, and purchase of the physical gear are the main shortcoming of the network-based WAF.
These are cheaper than Network-Based WAFs and integrated with the application’s software. You can customise host-based WAFs’ working parameters, and they have a reduced hardware cost. Integrating host-based WAFs into the existing system may be challenging since it depends on the local server.
These WAFs offer the easiest way of implementation. You only need DNS traffic to redirect to filter through the web application firewall. There are no hardware costs like in Network-based WAFs. Instead, you pay an annual or monthly service charge. With this WAF, a third party controls the web application security, and certain features may be unavailable. Although its implementation is straightforward and fast, Cloud-based WAFs lack the customization capability compared to host-based WAFs.
Web application firewalls are essential in the digital era of website security and cyber threats. They can stop various exploits and threats from XSS attacks and path traversal attacks to SQLi. With cyber intrusion incidents increasing over the last several years and most businesses or organisations moving their operations online, securing customer information is paramount. After a data breach, you do not want to be hit with a class-action lawsuit or see your brand’s reputation tarnished.+