Demystifying Next-Gen WAF: Meaning, Benefits & More

March 28, 2024

With the proliferation of threat actors on the internet, enterprises must strengthen their security backbone to mitigate modern attack vectors to protect their web applications effectively. For example, according to IBM, application-layer DDoS attacks rose by 15% in the second quarter of 2023.

However, determining which security solutions are best for a given set of circumstances remains a challenge.

Terms like firewall and next-generation web application firewall, which sound similar but play very different roles, can create confusion. As a result, businesses frequently struggle with choosing the best security appliance for their organization, despite each one serving a distinct function and addressing a different set of problems.

Thus, in this blog, we’ll demystify what a next-gen web application firewall is, how it’s different from a traditional WAF and firewall, and how it benefits businesses.

What is a Next-Gen WAF?

Before we explore “next-gen,” let’s understand what web application firewalls do.

A web application firewall (WAF) is a security solution that works at application layer (L7). It protects the business’ web applications from internet-based threats (malicious traffic). These could be DDoS, cross-site scripting, and more. It acts as a gatekeeper and protects web apps from malicious threat actors. It does so by filtering and monitoring HTTP/HTTPS traffic and blocking out malicious traffic it detects.

A traditional WAF works on a signature-based model. This means it checks incoming traffic against its set of database signatures. And if it’s faulty, it blocks the traffic/denies the request.

Another way a WAF functions is by detecting the traffic’s source of origin to determine if it’s genuine or malicious.

While these two ways have worked fairly well in the past, hackers are getting smarter by the day. For example, hackers could change IP addresses to defeat the geo-location test. And mask the traffic to trick signature database tests. This means a traditional WAF may not be able to detect and block a zero-day attack since it’s not aware of it already. Thus, failing to implement proper web application security measures can be potentially catastrophic.

That’s where a next-gen web application firewall comes into play. A next-gen WAF does everything a traditional WAF does. Plus, it provides additional must-have capabilities for modern applications.

It detects not only the traffic but also its behavior and intent. So, for example, a DDoS attack does not harm the application because of the malicious packet content. Instead, it bogs down the system with the sheer volume of bot-driven traffic. Thus, a next-gen WAF intelligently analyzes requester behavior to stop hackers in their tracks.

Furthermore, a next-gen WAF uses machine learning to learn about new and evolving threats. Traditional WAFs were built on a rule-based system. They relied on predefined signatures to identify and block malicious traffic. However, cybercriminals are constantly evolving their tactics, and these signature-based WAFs struggle to keep pace with the ever-changing threat landscape. By leveraging machine learning, next-gen WAFs learn and adapt to new threats in real time. For instance, a surge in traffic may not be considered an anomaly by a traditional WAF. However, a next-gen WAF analyzes traffic patterns and identifies deviations from normal user behavior. This could include sudden spikes in traffic from a specific location, unusual login attempts at odd hours, or attempts to access unauthorized parts of a website. By recognizing these anomalies, the NGWAF can flag them for further investigation or even block them automatically.

By analyzing vast amounts of data and constantly learning about new threats, next-gen WAFs can even equip organizations to mitigate zero-day attacks.

Not only is next-gen WAF an ideal solution for modern applications, but several vendors are offering WAF solutions that are also intuitive to manage. Let’s learn more about the benefits of next-gen WAF.

Benefits of Next-Gen WAF

A next-gen WAF is still a WAF. This means it protects your enterprise against attacks like DDoS, cross-site scripting (XSS), web scraping, and other Layer 7 attacks. Here are a few more benefits that come with next-gen WAF.

1. Fights Modern & Evolving Threats

A next-gen WAF does everything a traditional WAF does. It mitigates known attacks and OWASP Top-10 attacks. But, a next-gen WAF also mitigates evolving attacks such as zero-day attacks.

2. Real-Time Visibility

To mitigate the most sophisticated attacks, enterprises need to gain real-time visibility. This helps IT teams to enhance application performance and security.

3. Highly Effective & Scalable

Next-gen WAFs combine negative and positive WAF models. It not only mitigates known vulnerabilities but also protects against unknown threats that fall in the grey area between whitelist and blacklist requests.

4. Ease of Management

Next-gen WAFs are quite intuitive and easy to manage compared to traditional WAFs. Network administrators can easily view system parameters stats and configure automation or enable services. Moreover, admins can integrate system management with 3rd-party monitoring and management systems with an extensible API interface.

Now, How Is a Next-Gen WAF Different from Firewalls?

WAF and firewall are often used interchangeably but are entirely different. To make matters more complicated, next-gen nomenclature is added into the mix without proper consideration.

The main difference between a WAF and a firewall is: a) where they’re located and b) what they protect.

While a firewall protects network traffic, a WAF protects web applications.

A firewall ensures that only authorized traffic can access private networks. WAFs, on the other hand, monitor and filter HTTP/HTTPS traffic and protect a company’s web applications. It safeguards the company from various malicious threats like DDoS, XSS, web scraping, and more. These threats can wreak havoc on the application and risk sensitive customer information.

Both of these security appliances have their respective places and cannot be replaced by the other. Thus, enterprises must analyze their requirements and consult a security expert to get an ideal security solution.

Array’s ASF Series

Array’s ASF series is a next-gen web application firewall that protects Internet-facing SaaS applications, ecommerce portals and corporate websites from ever-evolving internet-based threats. Some of the features of array’s ASF series are:

● It comes with SSL offloading capability. This means the compute-intensive task of SSL encryption and decryption is moved to an ASF appliance. Thus, what enterprises get is enhanced performance without any compromise to security.

● It works from Layer 3 to Layer 7. It comes with advanced capabilities, like enterprise-grade DDoS mitigation, HTTP protocol compliance checks, and packet anomaly checks.

● It works on negative and positive WAF models to detect and block known and unknown vulnerabilities.

● It comes with data leakage protection (DLP) rules which protect sensitive and confidential information and secure customer confidence. Finally, the Array ASF Series comes with a flexible deployment option for enterprises.

Conclusion

With a myriad of security appliances, and buzzwords thrown around casually, it’s imperative that enterprises analyze their requirements and learn how a new security appliance can enhance their security posture.

Get in touch with our security experts today to know more about Array’s next-gen web application firewall.

Paul Andersen

Mr. Andersen has more than 20 years of high-tech industry experience, and has previously served in various roles at Cisco Systems, Tasman Networks and Sun Microsystems. He served as Senior Director of Marketing for Array Networks for more than ten years, leading critical positioning, sales generation and marketing efforts as well as sales training and partner marketing, enablement and management. Paul holds a Bachelor's Degree in Marketing from San Jose State University.