What is the difference between a normal firewall and a WAF?
Did your IT guy ask you to choose between a Web Application Firewall (WAF) and a normal Firewall? If yes, then what did you choose? Or, is the decision still pending?
It happens and it’s not just about you. Many people are unable to distinguish between a Web Application Firewall (WAF) and a normal Firewall. They don’t know which option would be better for them and their organizations. Sometimes, they end up choosing the wrong option and suffer severely.
To make your choice easy, we will discuss the difference between a Web Application Firewall and a normal Firewall based on different parameters.
They function differently
A normal Firewall is administered in a network while a WAF is deployed near the application. The positioning of a normal Firewall and a Web Application Firewall differentiates their functions. WAF focuses on ensuring the security of application network traffic. On the other hand, a normal Firewall on a network for protection and monitoring traffic.
They are placed in different locations on the network
A normal Firewall is placed near the edge of a network, making it a barrier between known and trusted networks as well as any unknown networks while a Web Application Firewall is placed before applications and servers, making it enabled to offer protection against any threat designed to attack servers. Compared to other differences, this is the most fundamental one. You can not consider others but it’s crucial to consider this.
They offer protection against different kinds of threats
A normal Firewall denies or permits access to networks, denying unauthorized access to networks. For example, some Firewalls block access to pornographic or questionable content from school computer labs. Sometimes, the Firewalls block computers in the lab from login into a LAN.
On the other hand, WAF offers protection to HTTP/HTTPS applications and servers, preventing threats like attacks via SQL Injection, and DDOS attacks, XSS or cross-site scripting attacks.
They concentrate on different layers of the OSI Model
OSI stands for Open System Interconnection. It’s a model describing seven layers used by a computer system to communicate over the network. In other words, the OSI model or layer is considered to be the map of a network. The inner workings and functions of a standard network are represented by the OSI layer.
A normal Firewall concentrates on layers 3 and 4. Here, layer 3 is concerned about the transfer of packets between nodes in the network while Layer 4 is concerned about the transformation of data to a destination host via a source.
On the other hand, WAF concentrates on layer 7, closest to the user. Unlike other layers in the OSI model, layer 7 is typically the software or interface. With this layer, the users interact with the network.
They offer different amounts of access control
A Web Application Firewall prevents attacks on applications by monitoring the network and not restricting any access. The thing is WAF doesn’t focus on access control or restrict access.
The control access of a normal Firewall is completely different. It’s the primary operation of the Firewall. A normal Firewall often comes with customized settings to serve users’ needs. Here, the Firewall acts to deny access to folders, websites, and networks. It only allows access to those with proper credentials.
They run different algorithms
Because of the difference in design and function, the algorithms run by a normal Firewall and a Web Application Firewall are different. The WAF runs Anomaly Detection Algorithms, Heuristic Algorithms, and Signature Based Algorithms.
On the other hand, a normal Firewall runs Proxy Algorithms, Packet-Filtering Algorithms, and Stateless/Stateful Inspection Algorithms.
They provide DDOS protection in different areas
Denial-of-Service, abbreviated as DDOS, is a type of attack that leaves the network in a crippled condition. DDOS work just like its name. It denies access to a network, flooding access points with extra overload.
Both a normal Firewall and a Web Application Firewall offer protection against DDOS attacks but the location of protection offered by them is different, meaning the areas of protection are different.
A WAF’s DDOS protection concentrates on the application layer. Here, the application layer is 7 of the OSI model. On the other hand, the normal Firewall allows protection against layers 3 and 4 of the Network Layer.
They have different modes of operation
The two modes of a Web Application Firewall are Passive Mode and Active Inspection Mode. Passive Mode operates without action, meaning passively. This mode effectively renders the application network not secure and is used for testing use cases only; while Active Inspection Mode continuously scans and offers protection against any kind of threat.
The two modes of a normal Firewall are Routed Mode and Transparent Mode. A Routed Mode Firewall operates on Level 3, executing static and routing protocols and acting similar to a network router; while, Transparent Mode works only on Layer 2, allowing transparent forwarding of data due to bridging of interfaces, bypassing Layer 3 thoroughly and completely.
They have different levels of application protection
Just like differences in Algorithms, the design, function, and operating location of WAF and firewalls play a major role in application protection. Just like differences in these factors, the application protection levels are different.
A normal Firewall operates in Levels 3 and 4 in the OSI Model so the focus of protection permits minimal attention to the application to the application level, allowing A Firewall to transfer data between networks.
Talking about WAF, it protects application layer 7 of the network, providing security to the entire application layer of the network. The application layer consists of applications, servers, software, and interfaces with which the user has direct access to the network.
A normal Firewall and a Web Application Firewall are very different from one another based on the factors mentioned above. So, choose wisely.
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