How a Web Application Firewall Strengthens Your Site’s Security

Cyber crimes around the world continue to exponentially increase year over year, growing 358% from 2019 to 2020 and rising by another 125% in 2021. For businesses that have built their brand around trustworthiness and credibility, a data breach can cost big money and do irreparable damage to your reputation. In 2022, companies impacted by a data breach lost $4.35 million on average, according to IT expert AAG.

As bots, artificial intelligence and hackers get smarter, web security must grow to reject harmful traffic and ensure only legitimate users are accessing your website. As a business, you likely already have cyber security measures in place, but more companies are turning to a web application firewall (WAF) to provide an added layer of protection. With more risks threatening businesses now than ever before, it’s never a bad idea to give your web security an extra boost.

What is a WAF?

A web application firewall (WAF) is an extra barrier that traffic is filtered through to reach your website. Think of the world wide web as an open door welcoming users to your site. Now imagine how adding a security camera above the door would affect traffic to and from your site—anyone with a malicious intent will likely be deterred. This is similar to standard security measures protecting your website: hackers and bots typically won’t get through to your website when security makes it difficult or impossible to do so.

Now consider how a security guard blocking the door would add another layer of resistance to wrongdoers wanting to pass through. That’s what a WAF does for your website—no user can get through to your site content without first passing through the firewall. The firewall filters out hackers and unwanted bots so only valid traffic can access your site. Regular users will be directed to your site as usual, but when the WAF detects suspicious behavior, a questionable IP address or a harmful URL, the hacker or bot will be unable to enter your site.

How does a WAF work?

A WAF is typically deployed in one of three ways: network-based, host-based or cloud-based. WAFs hosted by a network are implemented directly in a company’s hardware, making it more expensive to maintain. A host-based network allows the WAF to integrate with company software, offering a bit more flexibility but still requiring a lot of company resources to keep up with. Cloud-based WAFs are preferred by most companies who take advantage of the convenience and ongoing security support offered by a third-party service that monitors the WAF. Traffic is simply rerouted to the WAF, where predetermined rules and policies kick in to prevent undesired traffic from reaching your website.

Cloud-based WAFs provide a comprehensive list of rules and policies to help you exclude certain types of traffic from your site. No company wants hackers accessing their website, but some bots are beneficial to your site. For instance, Google’s bots need to crawl your website so it can display in search results when a user searches for your goods or services. The WAF can be customized to permit beneficial bots and exclude spam bots or malicious bots so your site still has SEO benefits without opening your site to every bot on the web.

And there are a lot of bots to contend with—Statista estimates 42% of web traffic in 2021 came from bots, classifying about two-thirds of those bots as bad bots. Third-party security experts who maintain the cloud monitor your traffic and continue to update rules and policies to get in front of bad bots and hackers as they think of new ways to infiltrate your website. Through the process of actively inspecting and monitoring your web traffic, the cloud keeps identifying new ways to protect your site and eliminate bogus traffic.

Plus, unlike traditional security, a WAF has advanced geofiltering capabilities to prevent irrelevant users from accessing your content. For example, if you’re based in Midwest America and provide localized services, acquiring traffic from foreign countries likely isn’t your goal. Anyone trying to access your content from a region you aren’t selling to could have ulterior motives (or it’s a robot), so you can cut those visitors off at the source. WAFs also look for strange user behavior, like how quickly a user is bouncing between your site and others. Anything that defies typical user behavior or is sourced from a strange IP address or URL is put to a stop. If you store a lot of sensitive data on your site or have a carefully earned reputation to uphold, a WAF is a great way to play defense against attackers.

What companies should consider a WAF?

A WAF can provide peace of mind for small businesses and large corporations alike. With that said, companies that collect sensitive information, receive large amounts of web traffic or use a variety of website forms especially benefit from a WAF shielding their site content from bots and hackers. At-risk or high-profile industries like financial services, banking, government and healthcare can put a WAF to work to ensure their reputation and credibility stay intact with a safe, secure site. WAFs enable advanced protection while remaining compliant with HIPAA, PCI or other applicable regulations for your industry.

How can a WAF protect my website?

WAF security administrators regularly update the best practices and rules regulating traffic to and from your website. Hackers take multiple approaches to infiltrate your site or damage your reputation, but WAFs sense suspicious traffic and cut it off before hackers or bots take advantage of your website content. A WAF provides comprehensive coverage against the most common attacks by implementing custom rules that keep your site safe.

Defends Against DDoS Attacks

A distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attack occurs when a flood of fake traffic takes over your site so real users are unable to access your site content. Your website’s bandwidth can only accommodate so much traffic, so if intuitive bots find an opening and overflow your site’s server capacity, you stand to lose out on real business. Any ecommerce business or company generating revenue online can lose out on customers and cash flow if attacked. However, downtime or lack of accessibility to your site can also damage your reputation, so any business wanting to maintain a positive relationship with customers should be concerned about potential DDoS threats if unprotected.

WAFs spot strange patterns like random traffic spikes at unexpected times during the day or a group of users all accessing your content via the same device or IP address. Because WAFs are experts at sniffing out bot behavior, a WAF is a smart solution to prevent robots from wreaking havoc on your site.

Who’s at risk?

  • Ecommerce businesses and other companies generating revenue online
  • Reputation-dependent businesses

Protects Against SQL Injection Attacks

SQL injection attacks take aim at your site’s user query functionality, inserting SQL code anywhere you’re requesting user input throughout the site. This is why websites that rely heavily on user form submissions without appropriate protection in place are at increased risk for a data breach. When hackers inject SQL code into your site content, they overwrite existing code and gain access to critical data like usernames and passwords, credit card information and site vulnerabilities. Once they’ve surpassed your website and take control behind the scenes, they are able to modify and exploit your site content for their own gain. The implications for your reputation are potentially disastrous. A WAF gives you more control over who can access your site by watching for harmful SQL code in incoming URLs and restricting access from malicious users.

Who’s at risk?

  • Any company that has user forms, login functionality or a search tool on their website
  • Companies who collect credit card information or social security numbers
  • Sensitive industries like healthcare, banking and online retailers
  • Small businesses

Limits Bot Behavior & Spam Traffic

In an age of experimentation with up-and-coming artificial intelligence across the web, it’s no wonder bots are more problematic than ever. Even if bots aren’t hacking your data or breaching controls to your site, they can pose as a regular user and “scrape” content from your site to reuse for their own purposes. Instead of viewing your page content to learn more about your products or services, they steal the content you’ve put time and effort into customizing for your brand to potentially post elsewhere on the web.

Duplicate content is harmful to your website’s search engine optimization strategy. More than that, your site is your intellectual property and no one wants their content recycled by a robot with who-knows-what intent. For example, online retailers who carry a limited inventory are at risk of bots buying out everything in stock and reselling through a third party. WAF filters specialize in bot detection and can pick up on a number of concerning behaviors that classify a bad bot before the bot has free access to all of your content. WAFs catch bots quickly without interfering with regular users, so only your desired traffic is able to reach your site.

Who’s at risk?

  • Companies publishing a lot of original content, like blogs or news articles
  • Online retailers
  • Any company concerned with SEO

Minimizes Malware Attacks

Malware is another common method hackers use to compromise a website by installing a vicious software to your server. Once installed, hackers are able to access protected data, restrict traffic to your website and potentially even pose a security risk to individual users accessing your site. Putting individual user data at risk is a surefire way to ruin your reputation, so having an extra layer of security in place only strengthens your ability to better serve your customers. WAFs won’t allow malicious software through to your site.

Who’s at risk?

  • Sensitive industries like ecommerce, healthcare, banking, government and energy
  • Small businesses

Prevents Outside Parties from Changing Content on Your Site

As a high-profile business or even a small business relying on the trust and support of your customers, it’s important to meet their expectation of safety and security. When they’re accessing your website, that same expectation should carry through. If laidback security measures allow hackers through to your site, they can destroy the sense of safety you’ve created by uploading images or files and altering content to promote their own message. Once a customer knows your security leaves you susceptible to unwanted outside parties, it’s hard to earn that trust back when they need to secure their own data with you. Adding a firewall layer for enhanced security ensures you’re doing the most to protect your business and the customers you serve.

Who’s at risk?

  • Reputation-dependent businesses

Better Your Website Protection with a Web Application Firewall Solution

As a team of web design and development experts, Blue Compass understands how much goes into building a website that accurately and professionally represents your brand while serving as a compelling conversion point for users. The last thing we want to see is all that hard work destroyed due to weak security measures. When you design and host your website with Blue Compass, we include automatic security features to keep your site safe from attackers.

Still, as cyber crimes continue to rise, we want to provide added peace of mind for our clients who have particularly vulnerable data to protect. Our Website Protection+ plan grants our clients access to a web application firewall managed by a team of security experts at Amazon Web Services. Through custom WAF rules and policies, you can have even more control over who accesses your site. Whether friend, foe or robot, a web application firewall will spot the difference and permit only desired users through to your site. To learn more about Website Protection+, get in touch with our team today.


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