What is a Web Security Appliance?
Web Security Appliances Defined
A web security appliance, also known as a secure web gateway (SWG) appliance, is a technology that is designed to protect organizations and users from internet-related threats such as malware, viruses, spoofed websites, phishing attacks and other emerging cyber threats. Web security appliances can also help to prevent data leaks, control application usage, improve visibility into web activity and enforce security policy across the organization.
Web security appliances are deployed at the edge of the network, between users and the internet, to monitor and inspect inbound and outbound web traffic. Using established security policies, a web secure gateway appliance can identify potential threats or data leaks and block, quarantine or flag traffic while also alerting security teams.
How SWG Appliances Work
Web security appliances are proxy servers that make requests and receive responses on behalf of a client within an IT environment such as a user’s laptop or another server, as well as for web traffic entering the network. The SWG appliance inspects all inbound traffic and outbound requests, allowing it to pass only when it does not violate security policies.
Web security appliances perform a variety of security actions, including:
- URL filtering. Using a block list of websites that are known to be malicious or that are not sanctioned by the organization, SWG security appliances can prevent users from visiting sites that contain threats.
- Detecting malware. SWG appliances inspect traffic for malware by checking for code that is known to be malicious.
- Inspecting encrypted traffic. To search for threats hiding in HTTPS encrypted traffic, web security appliances decrypt traffic using the sender’s public key and re-encrypt it after inspection.
- Checking for viruses. Antivirus software within an SWG appliance can detect, block and remove software bugs like viruses, Trojans and adware.
- Preventing data leaks. SWGs enhance data loss prevention (DLP) efforts by searching outbound traffic for any signs of sensitive data like credit card information, Social Security numbers, trade secrets, intellectual property, personal health information and other confidential data.
- Controlling the use of web apps. SWG appliances allow administrators to create granular policies that allow, block or limit usage of certain web applications and widgets. This feature helps to ensure that data being shared between applications is private and that employees are only using sanctioned apps.
The Benefits of SWG Appliances
With a web security appliance, organizations and IT teams can:
- Gain greater visibility. SWG appliances monitor and log all web activity within an organization’s network. This gives IT teams greater visibility and control over web traffic, allowing them to understand how employees are using the web, how attackers are targeting the organization via the web and how policies can be created and enforced more effectively to increase security.
- Improve web security. By continuously monitoring web traffic, SWG appliances identify and block external attacks like malware and viruses as well as emerging threats. Web security appliances also block user access to malicious or suspicious sites and mitigate internal threats such as intentional or inadvertent data leaks.
- Streamline compliance. Web security appliances enforce policies designed to ensure compliance with regulatory frameworks like GDPR, PCI DSS, HIPAA and many others. By logging all web activity, an SWG appliance also makes it easy to demonstrate and prove compliance and to quickly respond to requests from auditors.
Drawbacks of Web Security Appliances
Web security appliances provide exceptional protection within a traditional network perimeter, where most users, data and applications are contained within a physical location. However, as organizations increasingly embrace cloud computing, IT resources may reside in data centers anywhere in the world. Similarly, the trend toward a work-from-anywhere workforce means that a large number of users are working outside the office, accessing cloud services and corporate IT resources from their personal devices over unsecured connections. In this modern IT environment, backhauling traffic to a physical web security appliance within a central data hub is too costly and introduces too much latency that results in poor user experiences. Additionally, installing, managing and upgrading appliances at every location is virtually impossible for IT teams to manage.
To overcome the challenges of appliance-based web security solutions, many organizations have turned to secure web gateway software deployed on-premises or in the cloud, or to secure web gateway services offered by a third-party cloud provider. These options provide the same functionality as a web security appliance, and they are easily deployed and can be managed from a central location, minimizing the burden on IT teams.
Forcepoint: A Next-Generation SWG
Forcepoint provides a next-generation secure web gateway as part of Forcepoint ONE, a cloud-native, all-in-one security platform. Forcepoint ONE SWG enables users to securely access any website or download any document while still counting on the high-speed performance they need to stay productive.
Forcepoint ONE SWG offers distinct advantages over competing products.
- High performance. Forcepoint SWG leverages the Forcepoint ONE platform, which has a history of 99.99% uptime since 2015. Roughly 300 points of presence around the world and fast peering with major cloud environments and applications deliver exceptional performance.
- High throughput. Forcepoint ONE SWG uses a distributed enforcement architecture that enables the bulk of web traffic to be exchanged directly between the user and the website, rather than routing traffic through a service in the cloud. The result is throughput that is nearly twice as high as other SWGs.
- Data loss prevention (DLP). Forcepoint ONE SWG includes full data loss prevention to block the theft of sensitive information and compliance-controlled data and intellectual property.