Delete Cyber Gaffes — Bolster Your WAFs

Though cyber threats are constantly evolving, certain security solutions have become stalwarts when it comes to defending the fort. One of the most quintessential security tools in an engineer’s arsenal is the Web Application Firewall (WAF). Yet, the deeper you navigate into the nuances of cybersecurity, the more shortcomings are exposed in the philosophy and practicality of a WAF’s role in the security program. Let’s take a look at some of the pros and cons of using WAFs, and how solutions like Waratek can address these shortcomings to enhance your applications’ fortifications in the face of evolving threats.

What are WAFs?

The inception of WAFs dates back to the early 2000s when the proliferation of web applications began to reveal a vast landscape of vulnerabilities. WAFs were developed as gatekeepers for web applications, designed to monitor HTTP/HTTPS requests and apply a set of rules to filter out malicious traffic before it could exploit these vulnerabilities.

Operating primarily through pattern recognition and rule-based logic, WAFs inspect GET and POST requests for common attack signatures associated with threats like Cross-Site Scripting (XSS), SQL Injection (SQLi), and File Inclusion. They use blacklisting to block known malicious patterns and whitelisting to allow recognized safe traffic. Some advanced WAFs also employ heuristic analysis to identify anomalous behavior that might indicate a new or evolving threat.

The Strengths and Weaknesses of WAFs

WAFs are essential for modern web security — they offer an immediate line of defense between web apps and the internet, protecting against a wide array of attacks as soon as they are deployed. This immediate protection is crucial for maintaining the security integrity of an organization’s digital assets. This helps organizations adhere to stringent data protection regulations and compliance standards like SOC 2

WAFs also offer the flexibility to customize rules so organizations can tailor their security measures to fend off specific threats. Many security engineers welcome a defense mechanism that can be tailored to their organization’s unique security needs.


Having said all that, WAFs still have significant limitations when it comes to protecting Java applications. Let’s take a look at some of the areas where they fall short. 


  • Limited Depth: While effective at the perimeter, WAFs lack the depth to analyze or protect against attacks exploiting deeper application logic vulnerabilities.
  • False Positives/Negatives: The reliance on pattern matching can lead to false positives, blocking legitimate traffic, or false negatives, allowing malicious traffic through.
  • Bypassing Techniques: Skilled attackers can craft payloads that bypass WAF detection, especially in complex attacks like advanced XSS or sophisticated SQLi variations, and especially in the case of insecure deserialization, where attackers exploit the way applications process serialized objects.
  • Hindering Application Performance: WAFs sit between web applications and the internet to decrypt, inspect, and re-encrypt incoming and outgoing HTTP/HTTPS traffic. This inspection process, especially if the rule set is extensive or complex, can introduce latency as each request is examined before being allowed to reach the server.
  • Misconfigurations: Maintaining a WAF requires regular updates to its rules and policies to protect against new vulnerabilities and attack vectors. Improper configuration or failure to optimize these rules can lead to inefficient processing. In many cases, misconfigurations neutralize usefulness altogether, as poor performance will lead devs to put their WAFs in detect mode. This allows traffic to flow freely in and out of the application while performing continuous logging. Good for business, but bad for security.

In addition to the operational shortcomings of WAFs, the true underlying flaw is that they are too expensive to use ubiquitously throughout your stack. While WAFs are an essential component of a comprehensive cybersecurity strategy, especially for compliance standards like SOC2, their deployment across all Java applications within an organization can be prohibitively expensive. The financial burden extends beyond the initial acquisition and deployment costs to ongoing maintenance, updates, and scaling efforts to match the growth in web traffic and application complexity. This economic reality makes widespread WAF deployment across all Java applications impractical for most organizations. 

It’s these weaknesses that are worth honing in on if you are responsible for securing web applications at your job. A security program is only as strong as its weakest link. You should be constantly iterating on your security protocols — identifying which weak points are most likely to thwart your defenses and how you can eliminate those risks. 

Use Waratek to Fill in the Gaps

In the Java application security game, relying solely on traditional defenses like WAFs leaves gaps in an organization’s security posture. Waratek fills these gaps by offering a deeper, more adaptable form of protection at the runtime level, rather than simply around the application. 

By integrating directly with the Java Virtual Machine (JVM), Waratek provides a level of protection that scales with your application needs without the hefty price tag associated with scaling firewalls. This approach makes securing all of your Java applications economically feasible. 

This unique approach allows for real-time analysis and immediate remediation of complex vulnerabilities, like:  

  • Insecure Deserialization: Waratek monitors the deserialization process from within, identifying and neutralizing threats that exploit serialization vulnerabilities, preventing attackers from executing unauthorized code or accessing sensitive data.
  • Cross-Site Scripting (XXS): Waratek’s approach transcends simple pattern matching. For XSS, it dynamically inspects and sanitizes output, effectively neutralizing malicious scripts even if they were obfuscated or missed by a WAF. 
  • SQL Injection (SQLi): Waratek analyzes the intent and context of SQL queries at runtime, offering precise differentiation between legitimate queries and malicious injections. This method drastically reduces false positives and negatives, ensuring legitimate traffic flows unhindered while malicious attempts are thwarted.

By operating at the JVM level, Waratek introduces minimal performance overhead compared to the potential processing delay caused by WAFs examining traffic at the perimeter. Additionally, Waratek’s security policies are easily updated and adapted to counter new threats without the need for extensive rule configuration or application downtime. When security teams combine Waratek’s advanced protection with WAFs, they benefit from both perimeter and in-depth application security, ensuring a resilient defense while preserving the agility and performance of their web applications.

To learn more about bolstering all your java applications with automated internal detection and remediation, click here. 

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