A Web Application Firewall (WAF) is a tool that filters the incoming and outgoing traffic at the application layer.
Based on the pre-set rules by a business and WAF provider, it either blocks the traffic it deems malicious or allows it to enter the network.
For companies that do business via versatile applications or have developed their own unique app-based service, the WAF tool is an essential layer of cybersecurity.
In the last couple of years, there has been a surge of cyber threats in general, but some types of attacks appeared in greater frequency than others.
Here, we discuss some major threats and weaknesses within the application that WAF can identify and protect against.
How common are the listed attacks, and how can a Web Application Firewall aid in their prevention?
Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS)
At the start of 2022, the number of Distributed Denial of Service Attacks (DDoS) increased by 203% compared to the previous year.
What this type of cyber threat does is overwhelm the website or application with a surge of fake traffic.
As a result, it can significantly slow down the application — to the point of unusability. In the worst-case scenario, DDoS attacks have taken down entire websites or applications.
Users that have been using the application decide to uninstall the app or leave their shopping carts if the website is running too slow.
A Web Application Firewall is the most important tool for DDoS protection.
The tool is automated and uses machine learning to determine the patterns that differentiate the usual traffic from that which is not normal for the organization in type or even frequency. It can detect and block false traffic on its tracks, not letting it disrupt the network.
Social Engineering Attacks
Phishing is the most common and well-known kind of social engineering attack.
In 2021, over 87% of companies have reported that they’ve been targeted with bulk phishing — in which hackers send as many emails to any addresses they can find.
Bulk phishing is one type of many that are being sent around with the hope that the recipient accidentally installs a virus on their device.
It takes one worker to click on the malware-infected link in the body of an email, install the virus hidden within an attachment or send their credentials to a person that is impersonating their boss.
Social engineering attacks rely on human errors to create a direct path that leads them into the organization.
While WAF can’t prevent the employee from clicking the link and downloading the malicious malware hidden in the attachment, it can thwart the email from reaching the unsuspected team member in the first place.
WAF is crucial for detecting more advanced phishing attempts that don’t follow the typical script and use more cunning methods to impersonate the bank, police, or higher-ups within the company.
So far in 2022, over 70% of organizations have been targeted with a ransomware attack — which is the highest percentage recorded so far.
In cases when the cyber criminal successfully breached the network with malware, the user would be locked out of certain files, or even the entire network would be inaccessible.
After encrypting files, the hacker follows it up with a message on the screen that lists ransom demands. Mostly, there is a request for payment in crypto after which the victim will supposedly get a key to decrypting documents.
For businesses, this means that they would either lose time and not be able to operate as usual (without the essential documents). In other cases, it could mean that they would have to rebuild their entire infrastructure.
Ransomware attacks have been getting more sophisticated (besides encrypting data, they also obtain it) and nowadays are even offered as a service — which means that anyone can order and use it with little hacking knowledge.
WAF prevents that type of malware from communicating with centers that are tasked with Command and Control.
OWASP Top 10
OWASP is the key resource to which developers turn to web app security. After testing applications from versatile threats, the site lists the top weaknesses that would have enabled cybercriminals to compromise their work.
The list of the latest OWASP top 10 flaws that could be exploited by hackers currently includes:
- Broken access control — the most common type of flaw detected in the tested apps
- Cryptographic failures — that can lead to the exposure of personal information
- Injection — the ability of hackers to inject malicious code and gain control over the entire application
- Insecure design — sacrificing security over novel design features
- Security misconfiguration — mistakes in the way the safety controls are implemented
- Vulnerable and outdated components — using parts that have well-known weaknesses that can be exploited
- Identification and authentication failures — that can result in data breaches
- Software and data integrity failure — assuming instead of verifying the integrity
- Security logging and monitoring failure — that cause inaccurate forensics or false alerts
- Server-side request forgery — that could give the hacker control over app requests
Reliable WAF is created and continually updated according to the list of OWASP’s top threats.
Therefore, it encrypts the communication between the user and the network, continually examines any login attempts and prevents malicious HTTP sessions.
There are more flaws and online threats than we mentioned here and even more potential vulnerabilities than listed in OWASP’s top 10.
Many of them are advanced and zero-day threats that traditional tools can’t automatically identify and remove before they cause an incident.
Ransomware, DDoS, flaws listed by OWASP, and phishing are only some common cyber threats that WAF is designed to prevent.
As the tool that is first in the line against threat actors, a Web Application Firewall is an important layer of protection against malicious activity.
Paired with other essential tools (such as anti-malware and antivirus software) that can detect and mitigate threats, it creates strong security for any business.