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Difference between WAF and Firewall

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In this article, let us know the major distinguishability between WAF(Web Application Firewall) and Firewall in a clean way. 

Web Application Firewall(WAF) :
A Web Application Firewall operated as Application Firewall for HTTP Applications, it implements a set of rules for a HTTP Conversation and these rules will cover how to deal common attacks such as Cross Site Scripting (XSS) and SQL Injection. 

Purpose of a Web Application Firewall :  

  • Generally Firewalls are administered to monitor network traffic which acts as an additional layer of protection that will scan all traffic at site and securing the network against malicious bots and multiple different attack vectors.
  • whereas WAFs just not only passively monitor activity but also proactively shore up weaknesses in the web applications, they constantly scans the vulnerabilities, WAFs also often observes the weaknesses in the network long before the user notices and also makes a patch in the weak points.
  • while patch does not serve as a long time resolution but it does gives the user time to fix the issue and prevents potential breaches in network.

Benefits of Web  Application Firewalls(WAFs) :
Now let us have a look on what are the benefits these WAFs can serve the user and why its a great long-term invest to have them positioned on the site :

  1. To stop customer data from being compromised –
    WAFs make sure the customer data does not get exposed to any malicious attacks and potential vulnerabilities.
  2. WAFs enforces compliance –
    WAF make sure that the data be strictly enforced to the standards HIPAA and PCI to make sure data is strictly organized there by blocking any opportunities or vulnerabilities which may create a space for hackers to perform attacks.
  3. Saves Resources –
    WAFs do save a lot of resource for the user by automatically running security test and monitoring traffic.
  4. Prevents attacks – 
    By performing effective monitoring and running security tests and creating patches to weak points WAFs prevent various attacks including SQL injections, cross-site scripting (XSS) attacks, and distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks. 

Differences Between WAFs and Firewalls : 
Now, let us move to our main agenda, identifying key differences between WAF and a firewall as follows.

  1. Both Function in different ways – 
    As we know a firewall is administered in a network while a WAF is generally deployed near application here there is a complete difference in functionality of them, WAF focuses on ensuring security on application network traffic whereas a Firewall stresses on a network for protection and monitoring traffic. 
  2. Both are placed in different location of the network – 
    In General, a firewall is deployed near edge of a network which makes it a barrier between known and trusted networks and any unknown networks. Whereas a WAF is placed before application and servers thereby making it enabled to offer protection against any threat designed to attack servers, this can be taken into record as fundamental difference between both firewall and a WAF. 
  3. Both offer protection against different kind of threats –
    Generally standard firewalls are designed to deny or permit access to networks, thereby denying unauthorized access to networks, some examples of firewall include blocking access to pornographic or questionable content from school computer labs and logging to a LAN of computers in a computer Lab. WAFs generally focuses on offering protection to  HTTP/HTTPS applications and servers to prevent threats. like Attacks via SQL Injection, DDOS attacks, XSS or cross-site scripting attacks. 
  4. Both Concentrate on different layers of the OSI Model –
    The OSI Layer represents the inner working and functions of a standard network, it is regarded as bible map of network. Firewalls concentrate on layers 3 (network) and 4(Transport) of the OSI model, Layer 3 generally is concerned on the transfer of packets between nodes in the network, Layer 4 of the model is concerned about transformation of data to a destination host via a source. Whereas, WAFs primary focus is on layer 7(Applications) which is closest to user, Layer 7 is typically the software or interface with which the user interacts with the network. 
  5. Both differ in amount of access control offered –
    As WAF job is to focus on preventing attacks to applications by monitoring network and not on restricting accesses WAFs don’t focus on access control or restricting access while on other hand access control is the primary operation performed by a firewall. These settings are more often customized to serve users needs and more often firewall will be enacted to deny access to folders, websites, networks – only allowing those with the proper credentials. 
  6. Firewalls and WAFs run different Algorithms –
    Since Firewalls and WAFs differ in design and function, users expect them to run different kind of algorithms which is true. WAFs run Anomaly Detection Algorithms, Heuristic Algorithms, and Signature Based Algorithms. While on other hand, Standard Firewalls run Proxy Algorithms, Packet-Filtering Algorithms and Stateless/ Stateful Inspection Algorithms. 
  7. Both have DDOS protection in Different areas –
    DDOS or Denial-Of-Service attacks are kind of attacks, which leaves a network in crippled condition. This type of attack is exactly the what the name implies, it denies access to a network usually by flooding access point with extra overload. Each of these Firewalls offers some protection towards this DDOS attacks, while the location of protection offered differs between the two, Since WAFs primarily deals with the applications, their DDOS protection concentrates on application layer which Layer 7 of the OSI model. While the Standard Firewalls protect against Layers 3 and 4 of the Network Layer. 
  8. Both Have different modes of operation –
    WAF operates in two different modes are as follows. 

    Passive Mode :
    Passive Mode WAF operates passively that is without action, which effectively renders the application network not secure and should be used for testing use case only. 

    Active Inspection Mode : 
    In Active Inspection Mode, a WAF will continuously scan and offer protection against any kind of threat. 

  9. Standard Firewall also operates in two modes –

    Routed Mode : 
    A Routed Mode is Firewall’s main mode operating on Level 3 executing static and routing protocols and acting similar to a network router. 

    Transparent Mode : 
    Transparent Mode works only on Layer 2 and allows transparent forwarding of data due to the bridging of interfaces , completely bypassing Layer 3. 

  10. Both Have different Levels of application Protection –
    As they differ in Design, Function, operating location Both WAF and Firewall also has different kind of protection offered in application level. As Firewalls operate in Levels 3 and 4 in the OSI Model, focus of protection permits minimal attention to the application level, which allows Firewalls to on transfer of data between networks. On the other hand, a WAF’s primary function is to protect application layer(level 7) of the network, thus providing security to entire application layer of network, this application layer includes applications, servers, software and interfaces with which the user has direct access to network. 
  11. Both Have Different Use cases –
    As The protection offered by each of these Firewalls gives each of them a different use case, WAFs are deployed in zones that have contact with internet, protecting HTTP/HTTPS applications and servers. The focus of its protection is safety of application or server. Whereas Firewalls are usually meant to protect individual user as well as network of individuals(such as LAN or individual network), Traditional Firewalls are effective but they mostly offers protection at basic levels of network. This is the reason why WAF is deployed along with a Firewall to make increased protection against multiple layers of network. With Multiple Firewalls operating, a network becomes more strong and secure. 

Conclusion : 
Web Application Firewall(WAF) and Standard Application Firewalls fundamentally differ in their operation and designed accordingly to provide secure and robust network infrastructure to users. Knowing these differences will help Consultants to provide best scenario and implementing design in business. 

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Last Updated : 13 Sep, 2021
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