A secure web gateway (SWG) is a cybersecurity solution that monitors and blocks illegal web traffic from entering or exiting the network of a company.

The gateway serves as a checkpoint for the company, protecting it from malware, viruses, and suspicious and dangerous internet traffic. It functions as a filter, allowing users to access websites that are real, approved, and safe. A secure web gateway also protects businesses’ critical and sensitive data (user data, confidential files, and intellectual property data) from exfiltration (i.e., prevents unauthorised data from leaving an enterprise’s site). This system is capable of protecting users regardless of the client’s location, operating system, or application.

Secure web gateways are available in hardware, software, or as a virtual appliance. The gateway is either located on the organization’s network boundary or in the cloud. In both circumstances, it serves as a conduit between the internal personnel of the organisation and the internet.

SWGs play an important part in today’s world, owing to two factors: expanding remote task forces and the rise in cyberattacks as a result of it. Workers have started accessing unprotected endpoints on untrusted public networks as corporations embrace remote workforces. This has not only made organisations vulnerable, but it has also resulted in a significant increase in cybercrime across industry verticals. Today, practically anyone can get their hands on sophisticated spyware that may rapidly damage an organization’s digital basis.

Secure web gateways, which operate as a security filter for inbound and outbound internet traffic, prevent such data intrusions. The technology also ensures that firms maintain corporate and regulatory policy compliance criteria to keep confidential information out of the hands of hackers.

Key Components and Processes

A secure web gateway adds layers of security to a company’s network. The system is made up of the following components.

1) Web proxy
All outgoing traffic must pass through a secure web gateway in order for it to work. This means that the gateway can proxy web requests between internal organisational endpoints and external internet-based websites using TCP ports (80 and 443).

2) Policy enforcement
Secure web gateways aid in the enforcement of policies that define who, what, where, when, and how internal users interact with the web. These policies impose limitations on online usage quotas, approved web apps, content, time, and other factors. In a nutshell, the imposed regulations use a SWG to govern web traffic (both inbound and outbound).

3) Malware detection
Web page content can be dynamically scanned for harmful programmes using artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) technology. Some gateways are set up to completely block such dangerous sites, while others are set up to just block the malicious code and transmit a malware-free web page to the intended user.

4) Traffic inspection
An SWG is critical in traffic inspection since it analyses all web traffic moving through the company. It filters content that violates business policies, such as restricting access to unencrypted content from any site. These inspection policies can also be tailored to fit the needs of the organisation.

5) Data loss prevention (DLP)
The data loss prevention functionality examines outbound web traffic for unusual trends. Outgoing traffic is scanned for sensitive user data such as credit card information, user address, medical information, intellectual property, and other information. As a result, the gateway prevents crucial corporate information from being stolen.

6) URL filter
URL filtering is a powerful security solution for preventing access to harmful websites. To keep malware at bay, a gateway can use databases of known harmful sites and their categories. It can help prevent malicious payloads from being downloaded.

7) Sandboxing
Some secure web gateways use network environment emulation to run a duplicate of a questionable website. This aids in the detection of malware in an emulated framework. Several highly sophisticated malware can be identified, detected, and blocked using this technology.

5 Key Benefits of Implementing a Secure Web Gateway for Enterprises

A secure web gateway adds another defensive layer to an organization’s defence against evolving, advanced cyber threats. The gateway enables users to move their remote devices, applications, and workloads to the cloud while also ensuring the security of web traffic traversing the enterprise’s network.

A typical SWG gives the following benefits:

1) Detection and prevention of emerging threats
Web traffic generally avoids firewalls, network guards, and other security measures. However, because a secure online gateway works through a proxy, it can instantly identify possible risks, unprotected data, and dangerous code hidden inside web content. In most cases, the gateway proxy examines the full session’s data before taking action to resolve ambiguities. This strategy removes the chance of an attack hurting the network through policy breaches, which could jeopardise continuing operations.

SWGs continuously monitor online traffic (24/7) and dynamically add evolving attack signatures into the pool of detection capabilities. To produce threat profiles, the gateway uses up-to-date web intelligence to associate and correlate files, data, emails, and endpoints. Such intelligence provides a comprehensive method to uncovering attacks on a given company.

2) Exposure of encrypted traffic threats
Decrypting secure sockets layer (SSL) communication necessitates a large amount of memory and processing power. It has the potential to degrade the overall performance of most security measures. According to NSS Labs, Inc. research, next-generation firewalls that support SSL decryption have showed a considerable decrease in overall performance (81% performance loss). As a result, such firewalls and other security solutions permit SSL communication to pass through without being inspected.

However, as SSL web traffic grows, around 50% of web material is encrypted. Overall, a significant portion of web traffic is not evaluated for cyberattacks, threats, compliance, or policy violations. According to research, attackers employed encryption to mask malware in over half of all cyberattacks. For more control over encrypted web traffic, sophisticated gateways include an SSL inspection facility.

3) Better visibility and monitoring
The internet is too active to keep up with new websites, as fresh web content and web links are added every second. These are novel attack vectors that pose a risk to an organization. It is tough to combat such emerging threat actors since they are unknown. Furthermore, most web traffic avoids firewalls and other security measures.

An SWG system, on the other hand, monitors every minor activity that occurs on a company’s network. It also logs events that occur in on-premises, public, and private clouds. Such monitoring and logging capabilities improve visibility and control over all web traffic. It enables enterprises to understand how they are being targeted by attackers and assists them in developing stronger security policies that are in accordance with their business requirements.

4) Compliance with regulatory requirements
A secure web gateway gives a company granular control over its network, applications, and data. This enables you to apply policies to specific data in accordance with regulatory requirements. As a result, the gateway classifies online traffic based on properties and fields such as HTTP, HTTPS, application name, and so on. This classification enables policy enforcement over data in accordance with standards such as the Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI), the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), and others. The gateway’s granularity supports in risk management and improves the organization’s compliance efforts.

5) Maximized security investments
A secure web gateway connects with other security solutions in an organization’s ecosystem. It extends the security layer across organisational contexts, including on-premise and cloud-based environments. The gateway inspects and forwards authentic traffic that complies with the organization’s regulations.

When online traffic violates policy requirements, the solution implements policies that meet the enterprise’s commercial and security objectives. As a result, a secure online gateway enhances the organization’s existing security investments by extending its security posture across many verticals.

Top 10 Best Practices for 2021

By using the top ten best practises outlined in this section, businesses can leverage the benefits of secure web gateway solutions in 2021.

1) Select an appropriate SWG deployment strategy
To realize the benefits of a secure web gateway solution, an organization must establish clear business and security objectives. Before deciding on a SWG deployment model, organizations should assess the benefits and drawbacks of each. Physical on-premise appliances have been around for a while, but enterprises across industries are increasingly turning to virtual appliances.

Cloud-based SWG services are growing more popular, as ease of adoption is critical for any corporate organisation. More businesses are also adopting cloud-based online security gateway services to enforce live URL lookups, provide monitoring services in hybrid installations, and perform effective real-time analytics of web traffic crossing the cloud.

2) Effectively manage shadow IT
Users frequently install a plethora of unwanted applications on their devices or gain remote access to them over the cloud. As a result, the enterprise’s network is very vulnerable to hundreds of illegitimate applications. It increases the network’s attack surface and makes it more vulnerable to data security breaches. A smart web gateway solution, on the other hand, can provide improved insight into the organization’s network. It detects, responds to, and manages shadow IT in the organization’s network.

A high-quality secure web gateway should monitor, track, and identify all network-connected apps. It should also use real-time analytics to identify and prohibit higher-risk applications. Blocking can occur completely or partially, for example, downloads can be stopped but the gateway can still allow uploads.

3) Inspect encrypted web traffic
Encryption is a solution for protecting against cyberattacks that spy on, tamper with, or otherwise interfere with web traffic in transit. Transport layer security is a standard that handles web traffic encryption (TLS). TLS creates a secure tunnel between separate endpoints and monitors the traffic that passes across it.

However, as seen in ransomware attacks, thieves utilise encryption to disguise suspicious behaviours that can fully block access to files. Secure web gateways, on the other hand, operate through proxy servers. These proxies allow you to have precise control over web traffic while also inspecting HTTPS-encrypted data.

The gateway proxy converts encrypted data to plaintext, analyses the decrypted information, and then re-encrypts and delivers the web content over a secure connection. The proxy can check URLs for malicious content and provide increased visibility into risks or assaults that occur via encrypted connections. It also protects the TLS encrypted data’s confidentiality and integrity. As a result, a secure web gateway should be able to analyse encrypted traffic in order to provide better coverage and protection.

4) Integrate SWG with other traditional endpoint security controls
Organizations must ensure that existing endpoint security protections are fully operational before adopting a secure web gateway. This will give additional protection for the organization. When a SWG adds a new device to the network, it is critical to assess the organization’s network architecture to ensure that gateway implementation is simple.

Furthermore, enterprises must document the data of network security equipment. This involves identifying the risks that security devices mitigate as well as the filters they employ to enforce security rules and policies. This is done to avoid situations when neither the standard security endpoint device nor the SWG can protect against a specific cyber threat.

The gateway protects the network perimeter from intruders. When attackers breach the security restrictions, they might go further into the network and access the organization’s sensitive data. When the perimeter is breached, companies should use security measures like “zero trust network access” and “multi-factor authentication” to manage access control. This restricts user access to only the programmes and data that they have been granted access to.

5) Manage usage and establish security rules
Any firm must keep track of how its personnel utilise social networking sites. Although such sites are excellent for company development, they also expose the corporation to security risks that might impede productivity. With a SWG, implementing complicated rules to enforce security regulations becomes easier since web gateways provide visibility and a clearer view of web traffic. The gateway allows for real-time visualisation of programme usage as well as tracking bandwidth usage and websites visited by users. These factors enable businesses to better regulate online usage and implement security regulations in order to boost overall business productivity.

Secure web gateways provide you more control over your data, allowing you to apply rules to specific applications rather than applying a ‘allow’ or ‘deny’ rule to all of them.

6) Employ protocols for reviewing and investigating alerts
A secure web gateway generates notifications when either of the rules is changed or a threshold is achieved. Such alarms can be responded to quickly and effectively if adequate procedures and protocols are in place. When dealing with several concurrent occurrences, prioritisation can be extremely beneficial. This means that high-value incidents involving business-critical data should be handled and investigated with priority.

The success of a secure online gateway can be determined by calculating the expenses of events and the resulting notifications. Furthermore, managers can control false warnings and adjust security policies by constantly tracking SWG interfaces that map web traffic.

7) Update policies from productivity to protection
A secure web gateway is generally deployed to improve user productivity by blocking unauthorized or unproductive sites. However, almost 90% of malware is sourced from trusted and top-rated websites. Several popular sites are vulnerable to injection attacks that can eventually lead to malware downloads from unrated hosts, thereby infecting systems.

Many web gateways have policies that allow access to unrated hosts that enable downloads. Hence, to broaden the gateway protection and increase productivity, SWGs need to have updated policies regularly. This may include blocking downloads from unrated hosts and sites with suspicious reputations and behavior. Such a method will block the access path for malware, thereby closing any possible injection points.

8) Ensure centralized management
With remote work dominating the corporate ecosystem, SWG administrators must save administrative costs. Organizations must be aware that web gateways must enable quick access to top administrative duties, i.e., GUI-based access. To handle a big customer base, it should have built-in load balancing and flexible deployment.

Furthermore, under the SWG architecture, role-based administration allows for task delegation to users, assuring ease of use for administrators. Gateway management becomes simple and scalable with centralised management (dashboard) of deployed servers.

9) Provide better application control
Controlling web applications at the application level enables enterprises to oversee the use of public internet-based applications. As a result, for improved customer coverage and protection, a secure web gateway should identify, regulate, and reject several applications. To give a complete perspective and granular control over applications, a SWG should categories diverse apps based on kind, usage, cost, and so on.

P2P applications are another type of application that enterprises must be cautious about. These are primarily used to share music, movies, games, and various other types of files. They are, nevertheless, well-known for distributing pirated software. As a result, such applications must be monitored or banned at the gateway. To provide complete P2P coverage at the web gateway, SWGs must include approaches such as intrusion prevention system, endpoint protection firewall or application, and device control.

10) Optimize reporting capabilities
When it comes to the usability of SWG solutions, reporting features are critical. This can be aided by interviewing data stakeholders and deciding on the attributes that will be represented in the reports. A law firm, for example, confirms that it wishes to explore lost productivity. Once you’ve identified a specific requirement, you can store that report as a template and use it across departments with minimal changes based on the need.

You can also use the template to determine the timeline for recurring reporting operations. As you begin examining various business units, you may find it necessary to take certain basic report templates and adapt them to meet your individual requirements.

Takeaway

To protect users from cyberattacks and threats, a secure web gateway implements and enforces corporate-acceptable online usage standards. It is difficult to protect mobile users from possible risks as businesses adopt remote work and utilise mobile workforces. This is because organisations have multiple applications on-premises while others are in the cloud.

A VPN allows remote access to on-premise applications. However, when users access cloud applications, the VPN is disconnected, leaving the systems vulnerable. This is why many businesses are installing SWGs. It monitors web traffic 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and provides safe internet access while users are separated from the VPN.