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F5 BIG-IP Advanced WAF vs. NGINX App Protect vs. open-appsec WAF


In this blog, we'll discuss and compare the features of three different WAF options. Two of these are traditional WAFs, while the third is a fairly new and contemporary web application security tool that is making its impact on the market. We'll highlight their main features and mention the pros and cons shared by their past customers.

Let’s get started.


Difference Between F5 Advanced WAF, NGINX App Protect, and open-appsec WAF

Factors

F5 Advanced WAF

NGINX App Protect

open-appsec WAF

Machine-Learning App Security Approach

Not Available

Not Available

Uses offline and online machine learning models to secure web apps and APIs from known and unknown attacks

Type of System Configuration Used

Uses declarative API-base configurations to deliver security-as-a-code

Uses declarative security policies

Uses declarative configuration and WebUI (SaaS)

System Maintenance Complexity

Requires manual updates and patching, which makes it complex to maintain

Presence of rules and policies makes it complex to maintain

Enables effortless system maintenance by eliminating the need for threat signatures, rules, and exceptions

Intrusion Prevention System

Not Available

Not Available

Uses Snort 3.0 engine

Free Version and Pricing

Offers a free trial, and you have to contact them to get a pricing quotation

Offers a 30-day free trial

Offers a free version, and its pricing plan consists of two paid versions:

1. Premium Edition

2. Enterprise Edition


Open-Source

Not open-source

Not open-source

Fully open-sourced

Malicious Bot Prevention

Uses behavioral analytics to prevent bot and DoS attacks

Uses rules, signatures, and policies to protect against bot attacks

Uses machine learning models to identify malicious bot traffic

Web Latency

Some cases of increased web latency, especially when used with a VPN

It is a lightweight security tool and does not increase web latency

Offers minimal latency and maximum control due to its use of agents to deploy the WAF on web servers

Zero-Day Detection

Doesn’t offer effective protection

Doesn’t offer effective protection

Uses offline and online machine learning models and advanced threat prevention techniques to protect web apps against zero-day attacks

False Positives

Low return of false positives

Doesn’t detect a lot of false positives

Has an online machine-learning model dedicated to eliminating false positives

F5 Advanced WAF

F5 Advanced WAF is a comprehensive security solution that protects applications, APIs, and data from various threats using OWASP Core Rule Sets (CRS) and custom rules. Its notable features include load balancing, authentication, and edge networking capabilities. It also offers the following:

  • IP Detection

  • Blocking Features

  • Redundancy

  • DNS Security

  • Access Control

  • HTTP security

F5 Advanced WAF uses behavioral analytics, traffic heuristics, and layer 7 DoS protection to analyze traffic and protect web apps. It also uses a DataSafe feature to encrypt data and credentials at the application layer without requiring updates. This secures web applications against malware and keyloggers and renders leaked data useless.

Meanwhile, F5 Advanced WAF integrates smoothly with leading software vendors, public cloud providers (like AWS and Google Cloud), DAST and SAST providers (like Qualys and Trustwave), and SIEM, SOAR, and XDR providers (like IBM and Datadog).


Features of F5 Advanced WAF


  1. Proactive Bot and DoS Protection This feature effectively counters automated attacks and bots that consume app resources, steal credentials, and exploit compromised accounts. It achieves this by using behavioral analytics to accurately detect and mitigate DoS attacks, protect against web scraping and brute force attacks, and generally prevent bot-related damage to the web application before it occurs.

  2. Advanced App-Layer Protection and API Protocol Security Signatures and reputation-based security to combat evasive application-layer attacks are used as a part of this feature. The F5 Advanced WAF security team acknowledges that new APIs expand attack surfaces and threat thresholds. However, since they are a key factor in creating more dynamic, feature-rich web apps, F5 WAF protects APIs using API security policies, including real-time protection, anomaly detection, access control, schema validation, etc.

  3. Defense Against OWASP Top 10 Attacks F5 Advanced WAF uses positive and negative security models to protect against OWASP top 10 attacks. The positive security model uses validated user sessions, user inputs, and application responses to block OWASP top 10 attacks. On the other hand, the negative security model uses attack signatures to protect against these attacks.


Pros and Cons of F5 Advanced WAF

Pros

Cons

Offers effective load-balancing features

Very complicated initial setup and UI

Offers effective traffic management and also allows you to segment traffic when analyzing issues

SIEM integration feature is difficult to navigate

Has an ‘always on’ button that keeps you connected all the time

Need F5 training to understand their terminology and how to use the AWAF

NGINX App Protect

NGINX App Protect is a robust WAF solution designed to safeguard against various vulnerabilities, including command execution, buffer overflow, and SQL injection attacks. It offers two primary protection services:

  1. NGINX App Protect WAF

  2. NGINX App Protect DoS

This web application security solution operates natively on NGINX Plus. It can also be deployed in numerous ways, including as a module in NGINX Plus, with the NGINX Plus Ingress Controller, with the NGINX API Connectivity Manager, or as a service for microservices-based platforms. This makes it particularly beneficial for organizations managing multiple apps across cloud and hybrid environments.


Additionally, NGINX App Protect allows the use of policies and signatures to enhance app protection and aids organizations in achieving compliance. It's equipped to protect against layer 7 attacks and data exfiltration attacks.


Features of NGINX App Protect

  1. Platform-Agnostic One major feature of NGINX App Protect is its versatility across on-premises, hybrid, and multi-cloud environments. It integrates seamlessly with CI/CD pipelines and facilitates security automation throughout the app’s development phase. With its lightweight and high-performance nature, it scales your Kubernetes (K8s) apps effectively in the cloud. It's also deployable on load balancers, API gateways, or proxies within a K8s cluster, ensuring consistent security control across apps, microservices, containers, and APIs.

  2. DoS Mitigation A multi-layered defense strategy is used for DoS mitigation. It effectively counters common and new-generation DoS attacks (like slowloris, slowread, and flood attacks) using eBPF technology. This (eBPF technology) approach provides efficient and customizable network packet filtering and processing features that help mitigate DoS attacks. NGINX App Protect also offers fine-grained control over traffic and other high-performance DoS security measures.

  3. Scalable App and API Protections NGINX App Protect uses over 7500 advanced signatures to combat OWASP top 10 attacks and protect web apps and APIs. It does this by comparing incoming requests against high-confidence signatures. Furthermore, it actively evaluates and adjusts DDoS defense policies to prevent manual fine-tuning and to deliver cost-effective protection.


Pros and Cons of NGINX App Protect

Pros

Cons

Can be integrated into a variety of DevSecOps settings

Anomaly detection system lacks customizable options

Low false positives

Has a complex setup procedure

Doesn’t decrease web performance

Keeping up with its signature updates can become strenuous

open-appsec WAF


Are you looking for a way to block attacks on your web application before they happen? open-appsec uses machine learning to continuously detect and preemptively block threats before they can do any damage. Our code has also been published on GitHub, and the effectiveness of our WAF has been successfully proven in numerous tests by third parties.

The open-appsec WAF is an innovative, open-source solution that leverages machine learning to monitor, analyze, and block harmful web requests. This new strategy for securing web applications emerged in response to the limitations of traditional WAFs.

Traditional WAFs often faced issues with false positives and managing complex exceptions, largely due to their reliance on fixed rules, policies, and signatures. Admittedly, they offer users the flexibility to adjust these rules to create a unique security environment for their applications. Despite this and their proven security track record, traditional WAFs have a major shortcoming of being unable to identify unknown threats, making applications vulnerable to zero-day attacks.


As a result, the open-appsec team developed a more adaptable and precise approach to keep pace with the ever-evolving web threats. That is why, as highlighted earlier, the open-appsec WAF includes two machine-learning models that preemptively protect against known and unknown attacks. The first model is offline and supervised, while the second is online, works in real-time, and is unsupervised.


How the open-appsec Machine Learning WAF Approach Works

Phase One

All inbound requests are initially processed through the offline supervised machine learning model. This offline model has been trained using millions of harmful and benign requests, equipping it to discern a malicious request from a legitimate one.

It analyzes incoming requests and searches for indicators of a potential attack – this may include specific characters or patterns suggesting a request's malicious intent. Each request is then assigned a confidence score based on this analysis.

If the request is evaluated as legitimate, it is directed toward your web application. However, it is pushed to the second phase/model if deemed malicious. The primary goal of this initial offline model is to eradicate the possibility of false negatives, ensuring that no malicious requests are incorrectly labeled as safe.

Phase Two

This stage involves an online unsupervised real-time machine learning model whose principal objective is to eliminate chances of false positives. This second model scrutinizes requests flagged by the first model as potentially malicious against your application's structure and user behavior.

It conducts a further detailed analysis, testing these requests against various factors, including user reputation score, payload score, URL score, and parameter score. Following this evaluation, it either blocks the requests or permits them to access your web application.


Collectively, these two models not only strive to eliminate false negatives and false positives but also offer enhanced protection against threats (zero-day attacks). Hence, this progressive and comprehensive security strategy serves to protect your web applications against the ever-evolving landscape of cyber threats, providing enhanced reliability and peace of mind.


Try open-appsec in the Playground today.


Pros and Cons of open-appsec WAF

Pros

Cons

System maintenance is simple due to the absence of reliance on rules, policies, and signatures

A fairly new WAF

Uses machine learning models to defend your app from attacks and vulnerabilities

Has a medium-sized open-source community

Administrators can easily define security actions and results with its declarative system configuration

Fully open-sourced

Final Takeaway


Your choice of WAF depends on your requirements and specific use case, but here’s a summary of the special features of the web application security tools that we compared in this article.


Where F5 Advanced WAF is known for its excellent load-balancing abilities, NGINX App Protect integrates seamlessly with multiple DevSecOps environments. On the other hand, open-appsec is the best solution that protects against known and zero-day attacks.


Frequently Asked Questions


Is F5 BIG-IP a load balancer?


Yes. F5 BIG-IP is a suite of application delivery services and products, and one of its core features is load balancing. As a load balancer, it spreads network traffic among various servers, ensuring that no individual server is overburdened with demand. It also improves app performance and provides redundancy in case of server failure.


Is F5 BIG-IP an operating system?


F5 BIG-IP is not an operating system. Rather, it's a suite of application delivery services and products. It provides many services, including load balancing, application security, access control, and application acceleration.


What are F5 AWAF and ASM?


F5 AWAF and ASM refer to the same product, a web application firewall solution offered by F5. The former replaced the latter to become an app security tool designed to block many threats.


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