Secure Web Gateway (SWG): Features, Proxy and Cloudflare

by Dan Goodin
Blog 05 Jan 2023

Introduction

Secure Web Gateways (SWG) are the gatekeepers of the Internet. They serve as the first line of defense for your Internet security.

Specifically, a  secure web gateway can be used to secure a network or network segment and analyze traffic to detect threats. In this article, you’ll learn what an SWG is, how it works, and why an organization should consider deploying an SWG 

We’ll also cover some of the key features of secure web gateways and how they differ from proxies, before concluding with an insight into cloud-based solutions, including Cloudflare’s Secure Web Gateway (SWG) solution.

What is a Secure Web Gateway?

Secure Web Gateways (SWG) are a necessary part of any network connected to the Internet. They serve as a firewall for your network, preventing unwanted traffic from entering or leaving your network and protecting it from outside threats.

Web Security Gateway
Web Security Gateway icon

Think of a Secure Web Gateway as a security solution that protects your website from malicious traffic and DDoS attacks. It sits in front of your web server and filters out malicious requests so they do not reach your web server. But what does it mean?

First, let us talk about what a proxy server is. A proxy server is simply an intermediary between clients and servers. For example, if you use a proxy service on your computer, all HTTP requests will be sent through the proxy instead of directly to the target website. In this case, our SWG acts as a client by sending all HTTP requests through its system first before they reach their final destination: your actual web server, located somewhere on-site or in the cloud.

How does Secure Web Gateway work?

A Secure Web Gateway is a proxy server, which means it sits between your users and the Internet.

Secure Web Gateway can be as a filter 

It can be used to filter content and protect users from malicious websites, but it can also be used to protect sensitive data from being accessed by unauthorized users.

Example: If you have an employee who needs access to certain websites on his computer, you can use SWG as a firewall for this user. The user will be able to browse the Internet unhindered, without worrying about the content of the website or other employees with malicious intentions watching his activities.

You can also use SWG to filter content, which is useful if you want to protect your users from accessing certain websites. Example: If a user tries to visit a website with adult content, the web gateway will prevent him from doing so.

Secure Web Gateway can be as a monitor 

In addition, you can use SWG to monitor and control Internet usage. It is a good idea to monitor employee activity, especially if you use SWG to filter content. This is especially important if you have sensitive data on your network that needs to be protected from unauthorized users.

Why use Secure Web Gateway (SWG)?

The good news is that there are many solutions available to help companies comply with these regulations. The bad news is that many of these solutions can be extremely expensive. They can require extensive implementation and maintenance, and they may not even be compatible with your existing infrastructure. So why use Secure Web Gateway?

Because it can help you:

  • Accelerate the performance of all devices on your network, from desktops to mobile devices.
  • Ensure reliability and prevent downtime due to traffic spikes or malicious attacks on the network.
  • Save money by reducing the cost of deploying security appliances in remote offices with limited IT support.
  • Improve the customer experience by enabling universal access to websites, applications, and social networks across multiple devices without compromising security or performance – even when using public Wi-Fi hotspots!
  • Secure your network and comply with industry regulations – The challenges of running a business in today’s world are many, but one of the biggest headaches is complying with industry regulations.

PCI DSS (Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard) is a set of requirements designed to ensure that companies handling credit card data maintain a secure environment 

HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act) regulates how healthcare providers can share medical data with patients, physicians, and other healthcare professionals. Sarbanes-Oxley (Sarbox) is a set of regulations designed to protect investors from accounting fraud. The Securities and Exchange Commission( SEC ) has regulations that govern how publicly traded companies disclose financial information to the investing public.

Key Features of SWG

URL Filtering

URL filtering, also known as web filtering or content filtering, is one of the most basic security mechanisms available today.

URL filter icon
URL filter icon- Forbidden Site for Parental Control

This allows you to block malicious websites and prevent users from accessing them. This can be done based on keywords and phrases, IP addresses or subnets, or a combination of both using a blacklist or whitelist.

Web Application Firewall (WAF)

A Web Application Firewall (WAF) is an integrated component of an application delivery system. It monitors incoming HTTP requests in real-time, detects potential attacks, and blocks them immediately.  If necessary, it can block attacks even before they reach the main application layer of the server.

Web Application Firewall concept
Web Application Firewall with icon concept with round or circle shape

The WAF engine analyzes each request in detail by checking the source IP address (i.e. geolocation), user agent string (browser/device details), HTTP header payloads, and so on. This allows you to set very precise rules for which user agents are allowed or denied access based on any combination of the above criteria.

Data Loss Prevention (DLP) 

Data Loss Prevention (DLP) ensures that valuable and sensitive data doesn’t leave a company’s network.

Four ways of Data Loss Prevention
Four ways of Data Loss Prevention with icons in an Infographic

By monitoring data transfer and adhering to industry-standard compliance requirements, Data Loss Prevention prevents your organization from unintentionally losing sensitive and important data.

Secure Web Gateway (SWG) vs Proxy

A Secure Web Gateway (SWG) is a proxy server that adds additional security features to your network. It protects you from threats such as web malware, malicious websites, and DDoS attacks. Unlike a proxy server, which only allows users with specific IP addresses to access the Internet, an SWG also blocks incoming traffic from unknown sources. This makes it harder for hackers to access your data or devices – all without slowing down your connection speed!

The concept of proxy server operation
The concept of proxy server operation- plays the intermediary between the user’s computer and the Internet

The SWG service, included in Cloudflare’s free plan, provides advanced protection against modern web threats:

  • User authentication through two-factor or password authentication
  • A firewall that can block unwanted content
  • WAF (Web Application Firewall) monitors all requests passing through the gateway machine and stops malicious requests before they reach other servers on your network

Cloudflare also offers a free SSL certificate that uses Let us Encrypt to secure your website. This means that all traffic between your users and Cloudflare is encrypted using HTTPS, which reduces the risk of someone intercepting sensitive data like passwords or credit card numbers.

Cloudflare’s free plan is ideal for any website that needs security against DDoS attacks and other types of cyberattacks. It also includes a free SSL certificate, which means that users can visit your website securely using HTTPS instead of HTTP.

Cloudflare Secure Web Gateway

Cloudflare Secure Web Gateway is a cloud-based security solution for web applications. It provides a gateway to protect web applications from DDoS attacks, brute-force login attempts, and other threats.

  • The Secure Web Gateway is designed to detect malicious traffic before it reaches your origin servers or the application layer by using the following mechanisms:
  • Blocking malicious requests sent directly to a source server (e.g., SQL injection attacks against database servers)

Blocking malicious traffic at the edge of the Cloudflare network using HTTP security rules

Cloudflare’s web application firewall (WAF) protects against known attacks such as SQL injection and cross-site scripting. The WAF also protects against new, unknown attacks by analyzing incoming HTTP requests and blocking malicious requests before they reach your origin server.

Secure Web Gateway’s application firewall examines HTTP requests and responses for signs of malicious activity. The firewall rules are based on Cloudflare’s extensive experience with web application attacks, as well as input from customers and security researchers.

Application Firewall rule sets are automatically updated as new attack types emerge. The Secure Web Gateway’s intrusion detection system (IDS) uses network traffic analysis techniques to detect malicious activity. The IDS monitors Cloudflare’s network for suspicious activity such as unusual HTTP requests or user behavior that could indicate an intrusion attempt.

The IDS can send alerts to Cloudflare’s security team if it detects suspicious activity. The Secure Web Gateway (WAF) web application firewall checks HTTP requests and responses for signs of malicious activity. The firewall rules are based on Cloudflare’s extensive experience with web application attacks, as well as input from customers and security researchers. Application Firewall rule sets are automatically updated as new attack types emerge.

How do secure web gateways fit into a SASE model?

A Secure Access Service Edge (SASE) is used to provide a wide area network (WAN). In a SASE model, it’s important to have a secure web gateway that can protect against attacks on the web server and endpoints. The best option is to use both Cloudflare Secure Web Gateway and Cisco Umbrella, but if you need something cheaper, Cloudflare + Cisco Umbrella could be your solution.

How to sign up for a free Cloudflare account?

The first step is to sign up for a free Cloudflare account. Once you’ve done that, navigate to your dashboard and select “Security Settings” from the top menu. From there, scroll down until you see “Cisco Umbrella API Key” and click on it.

There you’ll be prompted to enter your Cisco Umbrella API Key (which you can find in your account settings). Once you have entered it, click on “Save Changes”.

Now go back to the top menu and click on “Security Settings” again. This time, select “Web Application Firewall” from the dropdown menu. After that, you’ll be prompted to enter your Cloudflare API key (which you can find in your dashboard). Once you’ve entered it, click “Save changes”.

The first step is to sign up for a free Cloudflare account. Once you’ve done that, navigate to your dashboard and select “Security Settings” from the top menu. From there, scroll down until you see “Cisco Umbrella API Key” and click on it.

There you’ll be prompted to enter your Cisco Umbrella API Key (which you can find in your account settings). Once you have entered it, click on “Save Changes”.

Then go back to the top menu and click “Security Settings” again. This time, select “Web Application Firewall” from the drop-down menu. Now, you’ll be prompted to enter your Cloudflare API key (which you can find in your dashboard). Once you have entered it, click “Save changes”.

Secure Web Gateway Services and Solutions (Cloudflare + Cisco Umbrella)

Cloudflare Secure Web Gateway is a full-featured security solution with advanced features to protect online organizations from all threats. Cloudflare + Cisco Umbrella is an integrated offering that provides web application firewalls (WAF), cloud threat protection, and better visibility into business traffic activity through the Cisco Umbrella ESM console.

Cloudflare + Cisco Umbrella combines the best of both worlds: advanced WAF services from Cloudflare with threat intelligence from Cisco Umbrella to give you unmatched protection against all types of web-based attacks and malware infections.

The combination of Cloudflare and Cisco Umbrella provides a holistic view of traffic originating from your organization. With this unified solution, you can ensure that all of your users are protected from malware and phishing attacks, as well as data breaches.

Cloudflare + Cisco Umbrella provides an integrated solution that offers the following: 

– Web Application Firewall (WAF) services from Cloudflare, including support for the OWASP ModSecurity Core Rule Set (CRS) and the Cloudflare Engine. 

– Advanced threat protection from Cisco Umbrella ESM with daily updates of global threat intelligence, URL reputation analysis, botnet detection, and more.

Conclusion

Secure Web Gateway (SWG) is a technology that allows you to secure your web traffic. You can use it as a standalone product or as part of a larger security solution. SWG can be helpful if you have employees who need access to internal network resources such as email accounts or applications hosted on other servers outside their local network. You can use it to ensure that only authorized users gain access through this gateway while keeping intruders out!

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