The Problem with WAF (Again)

Jim Bird yesterday raised the same critique of web application firewalls (WAF) that we have seen since they were first introduced — they are non-trivial and not-perfect:

For some teams, especially teams that are not building out-of-the-box simple web apps, and Agile teams that are following Continuous Delivery with frequent deployments to production, or Continuous Deployment updating production several times a day, that’s a lot of work.

And WAFs add to operational cost and complexity, and there is a performance cost as well. And like a lot of the other appsec “solutions” available today, WAFs only protect you from some problems and leave others open.

I do not disagree in principle, but this is just another way of saying we want something more effective for less cost.

As long as we’re posting our wishes why not push the onus back onto developers? Can’t they just develop more useful and secure code for less cost?

It has to be simpler. It’s too hard to write secure software, too easy for even smart programmers to make bad mistakes – it’s like having a picnic in a minefield. The tools that we have today cost too much and find too little. Building secure software is expensive, inefficient, and there is no way to know when you have done enough.

There aren’t any easy answers, simple solutions. But I’m still going to look for them.

Can’t hurt to look, right? There has to be an easy assembly-line way to make coding more like making a picnic basket from McDonalds instead of all the complicated and messy work of cooking in a kitchen…even for a day in the minefields. Good analogy, Jim. That security problem was easy to solve in the real world, right?

Clearing minefields is a long, slow, time-consuming process, and there is no room for error.

Oh well, move along. Nothing to see here. Don’t look at Jim’s poor analogy blown to bits.

Interesting also that the latest and least costly mine detection systems could also be the most dangerous to a picnic…but I digress.

I smell a mine. No, wait, it's just your cheese.

Mines might be too extreme an example — risk of failure too catastrophic. What about just wearing special shoes on picnics to be healthier? Looks like they might also have run (pun not intended) into some technical problems.

The Environmental Protection Agency says they have settled with the manufacturer of Crocs over a case of unproven health claims.

Perhaps Henry Ford put it best, when he famously said the cost of practicing security was never justified:

Security is bunk. If you are safe, you don’t need it: if you are breached it is too late.

Ok, I confess I adapted that. He actually was speaking about the cost of exercise to stay healthy…

Exercise is bunk. If you are healthy, you don’t need it: if you are sick you should not take it.

On the contrary, the low cost of exercise (while you don’t “need” it) may in fact be part of the benefit. You invest while you are healthy as a preventative measure because if you try to use shortcuts or put it in later you will not achieve the same return on investment.

Back to the WAF, Jim might find that “a lot of work” spent on security for the firewall might actually be worth it in terms of understanding security of his apps better, improving them overall, as well as preventing breaches and known attacks. I wager he will find the cheap and easy cure for application security around the same time that he finds the cheap and easy cure for health.

Easy Street
Even if you find it, it might not go where you want today (Photo by me)

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