WAF vs. Firewall – Know What’s Right for Your Needs

Did you know more than 60% of all companies have suffered at least one cyberattack? That means having a wall between your data and the rest of the world is a must – otherwise, you can’t fend off cyberattacks. So, what’s the difference between WAF vs. Firewall?

A firewall protects your network, while WAF protects your websites. Both are necessary to keep cybercriminals at bay. Other solutions, such as next-generation firewall software, combine both solutions and include protection from other threats that may bypass firewalls and WAFs.

Can threat actors take down your defenses? Should you add another layer (or firewall) to your system? It’s difficult to take a stand against threat actors, especially when they come up with new attacks daily. Fortunately, setting up the right firewall will keep them out of your world.

WAF vs. Firewall: A Definition

  • WAF. A web application firewall (or WAF for short) helps protect your website from malicious attacks. A threat actor could try to hit your site with a DDoS attack, rendering it unusable – unless you had WAF protection to prevent that from happening. It can also detect other attacks, such as malicious injection attempts.
  • Firewall. A firewall provides the same type of protection for your network instead of your website: it’s the fortress surrounding your devices (e.g., computers, smartphones, IoT appliances, and more). One of the key things a firewall does is watch ports that threat actors use to access your network without permission.

What’s the Difference Between WAF and Firewall?

Your WAF and firewall protect two different areas of your system: the first will take care of your website, while the second will take care of your network. They both do the same work but defend different parts of your system.

Imagine you have a firewall but no WAF: you will protect your network but leave your website wide open for attacks. In other words, hackers can access your data using malicious injections, for example.

Imagine the opposite scenario: you protect your website but leave your network wide open for an attack. It takes one employee working from a coffee shop or similar to have hackers try to gain unauthorized remote access to your system, for example.

Who Needs a Firewall?

Everyone needs to use a firewall: from small-time users who must follow cybersecurity best practices to big businesses that have to protect their customers’ data. A firewall is your network’s first line of defense – and it should be a strong one!

Of course, a firewall isn’t the only thing you should use to keep your network away from harm. Malware detection software (e.g., an antivirus) is also a must, among other things, such as common sense (e.g., don’t open unknown emails or download unknown attachments).

What Does a Firewall Do?

Your firewall protects your network from unauthorized access. Threat actors often look for ports and other openings to attack your network, steal data, and install malware on your devices.

Think of your firewall as a wall between your house (network) and the rest of the world. Without it, you grant access to anyone who wants to walk inside and take what’s yours.

Types of Threats Firewall Will Stop

  • Malware Infections. We see more than half a billion new malware daily, and we often can’t help but be surprised when we witness how fast this industry evolves. Certain pieces of malware can jump from one computer to the other in no time – and from one router to another as well. Your firewall will be the first line of defense.
  • MITM Attacks. MITM stands for Man In The Middle. This attack carries that name because a threat actor will stand between the sender and receiver of data (i.e., you and whoever you’re talking to or connecting with). Having a firewall installed is one of the few measures you can take to prevent this attack. Another would be to always use secure internet connections.
  • Privilege Escalation. A threat actor can sneak their way into your company little by little. Granting them access to a small part of your network is enough for them to look for ways to continue moving forward. A firewall may deny them that small starting point they need.
  • Unauthorized Access. Hackers don’t have to sneak their way into your network: they can walk through the front door if they steal someone’s credentials. Cybercriminals are tech-savvy and know where to look for details to crack passwords or steal them outright via phishing. A firewall may stop them from wronging you even if they have the right login credentials.

Who Needs a WAF?

Anyone hosting a website should have a web application firewall to keep it safe from harm. It doesn’t matter if you’re a hobbyist or a huge corporation – threat actors will target anyone who stumbles on their way!

Your WAF will protect your site from an extensive number of threats, as we’ll explain below. However, we’ll give you a sneak peek: DDoS attacks are one of the worst things that could happen to your servers, and this type of protection software will keep them at bay.

What Does WAF Security Do?

Your web application firewall will detect and protect your website from malicious attacks. It could work as hardware, software, or a cloud-based solution. What you decide to use doesn’t matter – as long as your site is safe from threat actors.

This type of security solution will either work with machine learning to study traffic and see whether to allow or block it or a negative security model.

As we have mentioned in other articles, we prefer to blocklist everything and whitelist the good guys, so we recommend that strategy for your WAF or any other defensive measure you prefer.

Types of Threats WAF Will Stop

  • Broken Access. This type of attack is at the top of the OWASP Top 10, so you know it means trouble. Cybercriminals look for misconfiguration in apps and websites to try and gain access to places they shouldn’t. A WAF will detect and stop that from happening.
  • DDoS Attacks. Studies show the sheer number of DDoS attacks has increased by close to 50% between Q1 and Q3 2022. That scary figure shows how important it is to have a line of defense between your website and threat actors. Coordinated DDoS attacks can take your site offline for hours, days, and even weeks.
  • SQL Injection. One of the most prevalent attacks we know of. It’s also one of the first attacks threat actors learn. A SQL attack is simple yet catastrophic: it allows threat actors to access and modify your SQL database (unless it’s properly protected).
  • XSS. Another type of malicious injection that targets users instead of databases. Cross-site scripting (XSS for short) allows threat actors to compromise your website and attack its visitors. Your site becomes compromised after an XSS attack, making it a risk for your customers and clients (without them knowing it).

Should You Use WAF and Firewall Software Together?

Users should choose a firewall and WAF that complement each other. You don’t have to choose between either option. In fact, we encourage you to have both ready – because they defend different important parts of your system.

As you know, WAF takes care of website security, and firewalls take care of network security. That means they’re two different layers of defense.

However, they complement each other: your firewall will protect your network, where your servers reside; your WAF will protect your website, a likely entry point to your network.

What’s a Next-generation Firewall?

Users should replace their firewall and WAF with a next-generation firewall if they’re having trouble with the software they’re using. There’s no need to do a complete security overhaul if there are no threats looming by.

In other words, try not to fix what’s not broken, though that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t stay one step ahead of threat actors by installing a next-gen firewall. Is your firewall and WAF solution enough? Keep at it! Otherwise, start looking for NGFW vendors and research their products.

A security overhaul is often costly in time and money, so you should continue reading further before making a choice.


A firewall protects your network, while a web application firewall (WAF) protects your website. Both protection tools are important for any company and user, so it’s a good idea to use both. An alternative, using a next-generation firewall, is a good idea to solidify your protection efforts and better respond to cyberattacks.

Herman McCargo

Herman is a Microsoft Certified Security Engineer and Cybersecurity Specialist. He’s been in the technology field for over 20 years and has expertise working with the most critical technology infrastructures. He has a deep understanding of cyber risks, threat mitigation and prevention, and overseeing infrastructure.