Attacks against web applications are increasing, especially automated ones. These web apps are exposed to the Internet, making them an easy target, and often act as a gatekeeper to valuable data or functionality.

Protecting web applications is a critical component of any organization’s cybersecurity strategy, and two of the most commonly used solutions for securing these applications are the web application firewall (WAF) and Runtime application self-protection (RASP). Knowing how these solutions work, how they complement one another, and what their pros and cons are is essential to identifying and blocking web application attacks.

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What is a Web Application Firewall (WAF)?

A web application firewall (WAF) is the original solution for protecting web applications against attack. A WAF is deployed at the network layer and provides protection to an organization’s entire suite of web applications.


WAFs can use a few different techniques to identify and respond to threats to web applications. WAFs will have a library of signatures used to detect known threats to web applications. These signature libraries are often complemented by anomaly detection that helps to identify abnormal web requests and responses that could be indicative of an attack.


The goal of a web application firewall is to provide generalized protection to all of an organization’s Internet-facing web applications. While WAFs can be tuned to provide individualized protection to different web apps, they can only observe and make decisions based upon the data visible to them within network traffic.

What is Runtime application self-protection (RASP)?

Runtime application self-protection (RASP) solutions are designed to provide more targeted protection to applications. Instead of protecting all of an organization’s web applications as a whole, RASP monitors and secures a single application.


RASP works by performing introspection on a particular application. By monitoring the inputs, outputs, and behavior of an application, RASP can identify even novel attacks based on how they impact the behavior of the targeted application. Runtime application self-protection  is designed to provide very targeted, granular protection to an application. By using introspection, RASP can detect unique threats; however, Runtime application self-protection must be run on the same device as the application itself.

Comparing WAF vs RASP

WAF and RASP solutions are both designed to provide protection to web applications against cyber threats. However, the two solutions accomplish this goal in very different ways.


WAFs are designed to provide generalized protection across an organization’s entire web application infrastructure. They have the ability to catch and block attacks early in their lifecycles but can only do so by monitoring web traffic. Without visibility into the applications that they protect, WAFs can miss some threats, but the attacks that they do catch never reach the targeted application.


RASP, on the other hand, is designed to provide very individualized protection to an application. By monitoring every aspect of an application’s execution, RASP can detect even unknown attacks based on their impacts to the protected application. However, RASP must be run on-device, which can have impacts on overhead and application performance.


As mentioned above, WAF and RASP are complementary solutions for application security, not competitive ones. WAF provides a first line of defense, filtering out many threats to web applications before they even reach the target application. RASP then uses the context provided by deep visibility into these applications to identify and block attacks that slip by the WAF. This combination minimizes the impact of easily-detectable threats while also providing protection against more sophisticated attacks.

Going Beyond WAF to WAAP

The combination of WAF and RASP is a good one largely because RASP has the ability to identify and block the threats that WAFs miss. WAFs are a legacy solution to application security that often generate large numbers of false positives and false negatives due to their limited ability to identify threats based solely on network traffic.


Protecting web applications against modern threats requires going beyond supplementing WAFs with RASP to replacing them entirely with a modern solution. The next generation of the WAF is automated Web Application and API Protection (WAAP).


WAAP solutions acknowledge the fact that companies are increasingly exposing web application programming interfaces (APIs) to the Internet. While these APIs have many of the same capabilities as traditional web applications, they work in different ways and have unique security requirements. WAAP solutions provide comprehensive protection for web applications and APIs alike.


Check Point’s CloudGuard AppSec is an industry-leading automated WAAP solution. It leverages machine learning and a patent-pending contextual artificial intelligence engine to identify and block threats to web applications and APIs. This enables it to detect a wider range of threats than a traditional WAF while achieving a much lower rate of false positive and negative threat detections. By leveraging contextual information and assigning each request a risk score, CloudGuard AppSec evolves with an organization’s applications and highlights the requests most likely to be malicious.


Check Point’s CloudGuard AppSec is the next generation of web application and API security. To learn more about its capabilities, request a demo. Then, you’re welcome to try it out for yourself with a free trial.

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