WAF and Compliance: Meeting Legal and Regulatory Requirements

WAF and Compliance: Meeting Legal and Regulatory Requirements

Building a web application in an online environment that hosts a countless number of bad bots, malicious hackers, and other security threats can be complicated. A web application must first be built to be functional (easy enough, sort of), and to be secure. Ideally, security will be considered from the beginning, and then flaws will need to be addressed upon completion. So, if your organization handles customer data, which it almost certainly does, there are legal and regulatory compliance rules you have to follow.

Incorporating a WAF in cyber security strategies can help you comply with codes like the GDPR, CCPA, and other regulations like them. By reducing the number of successful attacks on your application, the WAF, as well as its complementary solutions, can reduce your risk of a data breach without compromising your customers’ experience with your software.

The Role of the WAF

A web application firewall (WAF) is an initial layer of security around your application that filters and blocks traffic based on rules and activity patterns. It can detect bot attacks like DDoS, credential stuffing, and data scraping, which it prevents by blocking the bots’ access to the application. Because of its rules and traffic filters, the WAF is able to do this without also blocking legitimate traffic, and it discerns the difference between real customers and bots without requiring customers to complete CAPTCHAs or other cumbersome identity verifications.

There are three key benefits to an organization that a WAF brings to the table:

  • Automated Traffic Monitoring. When a WAF is in place, especially one that implements artificial intelligence, threats can be mitigated quickly. Intervention by the security team is generally not needed, which keeps the threats out and enables resources to be directed to more complex projects. WAFs that use machine learning can update their rules themselves, which is a huge benefit to both your organization and your security team.
  • Vulnerability Insulation. It’s not always possible to patch a vulnerability in your code right away, and there are likely plenty of security flaws that you haven’t discovered yet. WAFs prevent vulnerability exploitation by preventing bad actors from accessing your application. While it’s still important to update and patch your software frequently in case an attack sneaks past the WAF, the extra layer of security is highly valuable to security teams.
  • Because WAFs work based on rules for allowing or blocking traffic, security professionals can create customized rules for the WAF to align with compliance regulations. Additionally, some regulations, like PCI DSS, require organizations to have a WAF in place. In this case, companies that deal with sensitive customer data, specifically payment information, are legally required to protect their software with a WAF.

WAFs and Compliance

While all aspects of security are important, protecting consumer data needs to be a top priority for your organization. Besides the risks of customer loss and litigation, allowing your customers’ data to be compromised puts you at serious risk of a compliance violation. This will not be a cheap fix. HIPAA violations, for example, can cost between $137 and $68,928 per violation (and where there is one violation, there are often at least a few more, so these fines may add up more quickly than you expect).

Fortunately, a WAF can be very effective for reducing your risk of security incidents and compromised data. Here are a few ways that they can bolster your ability to meet your legal obligations:

  • Ensuring Confidentiality. Your customers entrust their health, payment, or personal identification data to your company. Most laws, from the GDPR to HIPAA, require that this information stays under lock and key. A WAF makes this much easier for you to accomplish by filtering traffic, identifying potential OWASP threats, and blocking atypical activity that could lead to a breach. Most attackers won’t make it to the application’s code or the data it contains.
  • Detecting Vulnerabilities. WAFs regularly update their own rules for security and actively check for new vulnerabilities within your software code. This automated monitoring capability also tracks traffic activity, and it will alert you when there are unusual patterns. This makes it easier for your security team to prioritize and address vulnerabilities quickly, which further decreases the chance of a data breach. The monitoring also gives useful insights when an incident does happen, allowing you to improve your prevention tactics and recovery plan for the future.
  • Proactive Problem Solving. If your customer data is compromised, the fines often depend on your degree of culpability. Demonstrating that you have met your obligations by implementing WAF solutions and taking other security measures can help reduce your risk of an incident and, even if you experience a security problem, your risk of a high fine. Analyzing and reporting on the results of the WAF’s monitoring and performing regular rules audits are both important, proactive tasks that you should complete to further improve your security.

Enhancing Compliance with Strong Web App Security

Protecting your customer data against attack should be one of your top priorities, both to retain customer trust and to ensure compliance with data privacy regulations. WAFs contribute significantly to your security, but they aren’t the only tool available. Other protective measures, like web application and API protection (WAAP) and runtime application self-protection (RASP) provide additional layers of security that can catch attacks not detected by the WAF.

Evasive bots, which operate more slowly than traditional bots and are much better at imitating legitimate activity, may sneak through your WAF. However, if you have a RASP solution, the interactions between the bots and the application during runtime will trigger an unusual activity alert, and the attack will fail before it can access any sensitive data. Additional protection from a WAAP protects the endpoints of APIs integrated into your application, which reduces your risk at those vectors.

To ensure that your compliance and security are covered, consider a solution that incorporates the WAF, WAAP, and the RASP. Strong application security is essential to your long-term goals and business continuity, and it can reduce your liability in the event of a successful attack. Security won’t guarantee that you’ll never experience a successful attack, but it can reduce your risk and limit the damage of a successful breach.