If your organization uses any web applications to conduct essential business functions to boost productivity and collaboration, and provide an easy, customer friendly way to deliver services, you should consider solutions that incorporate a WAF, or Web Application Firewall. A WAF is a firewall specifically targeting the application layer — protection that’s needed as this user-friendly interconnectedness can also open the doors (or access points) to cybercriminals, no matter the application.
Particularly vulnerable to malicious threats are web apps used to collect personal information such as those used by health, financial or government services industries. E-commerce apps are also at risk, with the vast amount of credit card information they collect, transfer, and store.
Risks of Using Web Applications
According to Verizon’s 2023 Data Breach Investigation Report, web application attacks are involved in 26% of all breaches, ranking them second in attack patterns.
Some of the possible risks to your data through web applications include:
- Data breaches: If proper security precautions are not applied, your organization’s data is subject to cyberattacks such as malware, ransomware, and trojans, as well as Denial of Service (DoS) attacks, cross-site scripting, and attacks on credentials.
- Insufficient encryption: Without strong encryption protocols built into the web app, such as HTTPS, AS2, and SFTP, data is at risk of being exposed.
- Outdated SSL algorithms: Known attacks can specifically target older versions of an app and leave you exposed, if you’re not up to date with the latest app release.
- Unauthorized access: Without secure authentication and authorization, a web app can leave a door open to session hijacking, password theft, or other access vulnerabilities. If the backend app does not follow strict security practices, it could be exposed. For example, outdated libraries that contain common vulnerabilities and exposures (CVEs) could be exploited.
- Data access in motion and at rest: Whether data is being transferred to another entity or sitting on a web server, if not encrypted or if the server itself is not secured, it is at risk.
- Non-compliance: If a web app is not thoroughly vetted to meet specific compliance requirements your organization falls under such as HIPAA, PCI DSS, or GDPR, you can incur substantial financial, legal, and reputational costs.
“It’s so important to take time to evaluate how you can reduce risk exposure by following best practices around the use of web applications, whether you’re collecting financial or other personal data, or simply using an app to conduct daily business, such as file transfers,” said Chris Bailey, Senior Product Manager, SFT, for Fortra. “These best practices can encompass using software solutions that apply WAF security, conducting penetration testing and strong authentication/authorization practices as well as ensuring any software integrations are kept up to date. And of course, these best practices should also include promoting employee awareness and education about how to best handle sensitive data with or without web applications.”
Related Reading: Cybersecurity Threats Continue to Evolve: Best Practices
What is a WAF?
A web application firewall (WAF) acts as a filter to block or monitor web traffic that may be malicious from accessing your application. It adds protection at the application layer (where the user interacts with the software and network) against threats and can work in tandem with other security measures. A WAF exists between an application (or several applications) and a traditional firewall, adding protection to help prevent malicious threats before they reach the application.
Unlike some firewalls, a WAF does not totally block all traffic or slow your business down, as it is narrower in scope. Rather, it is selective in what internet traffic (or data packets) is allowed through the filter. Firewalls, whether traditional or web-based, look at each data packet individually and decide if they meet the pre-established security rules to be let in or refused entry. As this Fortra article states, you can think of a firewall as security for an entire hotel, whereas a WAF is security for a single room within the same hotel.
“You can also think of your web application as one of those selective universities that many people want to attend. The admissions officer (or WAF) screens those perspective students (web traffic) to determine which students are safe, legitimate prospects and which applicants might have falsified (or malicious) credentials in hopes of getting in. Those top students get that coveted welcome letter to the university (web app), but those students who don’t make the cut are kept at bay or are blocked from entry,” noted Bailey.
Organizations that exchange data via the cloud can take advantage of the extra security a WAF provides through software as a service (SaaS). This can ease deployment of the WAF as well as potentially lower your costs if you were to secure a WAF on your own.
How a WAF Protects Cloud File Transfers and Other Business Processes
Without a robust file transfer solution, transferring data is at risk while it’s in motion and at rest. Solutions that utilize strong encryption protocols, protective gateways, and automation to minimize the risk of human error, as well as incorporate a WAF add valuable security assurance to this business-critical process.
The WAF can provide continuous monitoring for potential threats. As most authentication happens with HTTP(S), the entirety of each HTTP(S) request is inspected to determine what is legitimate, harmless web traffic and what is a targeted threat to be blocked, as defined in the policies of the WAF. Protocols such as SFTP can just pass through the WAF.
Identified threats are exposed through anomaly detection, threat intelligence feeds, as well as behavior modeling. Automated responses can mitigate any incoming threats early in the transaction.
If malicious activity is found, it can be blocked at the WAF level, and your application can continue to run. Without a WAF in place, detected malicious activity in a SaaS environment may require immediate remediation in the app itself, resulting in critical downtime. Utilizing a WAF also removes the burden of vetting all incoming connections from your web app and blocking malicious activity from the server, so the web app can focus on what it is mean to do.
Interested in File Transfers with a Web App?
If you’re looking for a better way to transfer your business-critical, sensitive files and are looking at SaaS or web-based solutions, see how the GoAnywhere MFTaaS solution can fit in your organization. Our 15-, 30- or 60-minute demonstrations can show you all the details. Schedule yours today.