NGFW vs WAF: Which Solution Is Best for You?

Firewalls serve as protective buffers between a private network and a broader network, such as the internet. Within the family of firewalls, not all are created equal. Here, we’ll examine the differences between next generation firewalls (NGFW) and web application firewalls (WAF). 

Next Generation Firewall (NGFW)

A NFGW is a type of firewall that protects a private corporate network and its server, and is usually featured within larger cybersecurity platforms. It offers a very high level of protection. It covers several security bases at once — such as antivirus protection — along with what is covered under traditional firewalls. In that way, NGFWs are typically more cost effective for enterprises.

A NGFW can do the following and more:

Read more: What Does a Next Generation Firewall Do?
NGFW ProsNGFW Cons
Full-stack visibilityOverall financial investment
Greater administrator controlPotential network performance issues
Very high level of security
Meets stringent compliance standards
Thorough scanning of files and incoming data
Cost effectiveness via broad security coverage

Leaders in the NGFW space include Check Point Software, Cisco, Fortinet, Juniper Networks, Palo Alto, and Sophos. 

Web Application Firewall (WAF)

A WAF is a type of firewall that, like a NGFW, also protects a private network and its server, but does so through a web application. It serves as a buffer between a web application that’s hosted on a private server and web users who try to access that app from outside of the corporate network.

That is, the same level of protection would apply, for example, to employees who access the corporate network on their private devices, or to bad actors who are trying to hack into a company’s server. 

A WAF offers more limited protection than a NGFW because it focuses on web apps and nothing else. Because of this, it complements other security measures. WAFs can do the following and more:

  • Process a high volume of connections and connection requests
  • Rapidly detect web app coding errors
  • Keep sensitive information in
  • Keep unauthorized users out
WAF ProsWAF Cons
Extra layer of protection in web appsPotential app incompatibility
Easy to use and configurePotential app performance issues
Second line of defense against network firewall bypasses
Enables nimble reaction to threats
Discovers code errors without accessing source code

Top vendors for WAFs include Amazon (AWS), Microsoft (Azure), Barracuda, Cloudflare, Fastly, Fortinet, Imperva, and many more.

Read more at eSecurity Planet: Top Web Application Firewall (WAF) Solutions 

NGFW vs WAF: What They Protect (Against)

NGFWs and WAFs are similar in the sense that they both protect an exclusive network from unauthorized access, which could lead to a data security breach. However, what they protect differs. A NGFW protects an entire corporate network, while a WAF protects a web application. 

NGFWs protect a private network from unauthorized access through many entry points, not just apps. They also protect from man-in-the-middle attacks and privilege escalation. They can determine whether an app is harmful using signature matching and SSL decryption.

WAFs, on the other hand, protect from web-based attacks, such as cross-site scripting, distributed denial-of-service (DDoS), and SQL injection. 

NGFW vs WAF: How They Work

A NGFW enforces security regulations on multiple levels, such as application, port, and protocol levels. It distinguishes between safe and unsafe packets at the application level through deep packet inspection (DPI).

Given that it does keep apps secure, a NGFW does take on a similar role as a WAF. In contrast to a WAF, however, a NGFW inspects a data packet not only for its port, IP address source, and IP address destination, but also for its contents.

NGFW vs WAF: Which Is Better?

Given the level of hacker sophistication these days, it’s a good idea to at least have a NGFW in place. At the same time, it behooves companies to layer and maximize their security, so implementing a NGFW in conjunction with a WAF is prudent. NGFWs do contain some app protection, but WAFs narrow in on apps only and will enhance any app security that a NGFW offers.

Read more on eSecurity Planet: Top Next-Generation Firewall (NGFW) Vendors for 2021
Lauren Hansen
Lauren Hansen
Lauren Hansen is a writer for TechnologyAdvice, covering IT strategy and trends, enterprise networking, and PM software for CIOInsight.com, enterprisenetworkingplanet.com, project-management.com, and technologyadvice.com. When she's not writing about technology trends, she's working out or spending time with family.

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