What Is a Secure Web Gateway?
A secure web gateway (SWG) protects users accessing the Internet against various web-based threats. This network security device blocks suspicious traffic, which may result in network intrusion or malicious software (malware) infection.
Secure web gateways are available in various forms, including software, virtual appliances, and hardware. These devices can sit in the cloud or at the network’s perimeter, serving as a proxy between the public Internet and internal users. It serves as a barrier that prevents users from interacting with malware, malicious websites, and web traffic designed as part of a cyberattack.
Security challenges you can mitigate with SWG
SWGs are key components of a layered security strategy, helping mitigate two main cybersecurity threats—the increasing adoption of remote work and the increased amount and sophistication of cyberattacks.
Remote work is not new, but it has been widely adopted since COVID-19 began spreading worldwide. Remote workforces have become the new reality for many organizations, allowing employees to continue working regardless of their location.
Unprepared organizations have allowed employees to use unsecured devices on unknown public networks, exposing the organization to risks. As a result, the attack surface increased, and cybercriminals are taking advantage of this situation.
Further worsening the situation is the popularity of Crimeware as a Service offerings, which enable anyone to access high-quality malware that can be easily used to launch attacks. As a result, cyberattacks continue to increase at an alarming speed.
How SWG helps improve security
SWGs serve as security filters, working to block any malware encountered by user-initiated Internet traffic. It helps protect organizations from data breaches, continuously enforcing network-related regulatory compliance standards and corporate policies. Additionally, SWGs enable you to protect users regardless of the operating system, application, and location.
How Does a Secure Web Gateway Work?
An SWG works as a hardware device or a software component installed at user endpoints or the edge of a network. Once it starts working, all traffic between users and other networks passes only through the gateway. The gateway is in charge of monitoring this traffic for web threats like malicious code, user and non-user attempted URL connections and all web application usage.
The gateway filters or checks website URL addresses against various stored lists of approved and known websites. It explicitly blocks all websites not on the approved lists. You can also use it to explicitly block known malicious sites. Enterprises maintain these lists in a secure gateway database that applies the list filters to all inbound and outbound traffic.
Additionally, it can check data flowing out of the network, blocking all restricted data sources, such as sensitive and confidential data on user devices or the network, from leaving the network. The gateway can also restrict application-level controls to known and approved functions, for example, by blocking uploads to Software as a Service (SaaS) applications like Salesforce and Office 365.
You can deploy SWGs in hardware appliances to filter all inbound and outbound traffic. However, many organizations choose to deploy cloud-based SaaS SWGs to increase flexibility and reduce costs—the cloud offers many opportunities for cost optimization. Organizations with existing hardware SWGs typically combine the two options, using hardware SWGs at large physical sites and cloud SWGs for traveling employees and remote locations.
Cloud-Based Secure Web Gateway: A Modern Approach to Securing Users
Physically installed SWG solutions don’t always work in a modern distributed environment emphasizing remote access. A current delivery model is not necessarily enough for a digital transformation project with a new SWG. The problem with the reactive security approach (i.e., detecting and remediating threats) is that attackers can always find a new way to evade detection or move laterally from the infected endpoint.
Remote users expect to browse freely and access sites like YouTube and Facebook from their devices, which they also use for work. A legacy SWG solution usually uses blanket policies to allow or block access to specific sites, preventing access to many unclassified sites that may be critical for business processes.
This traditional approach does not always successfully distinguish between malicious and useful websites. It also generates IT tickets when users stumble across an access block—users often bypass the block anyway, defeating the purpose of the security measures. For example, a user can try to access a blocked website via a different, unprotected device, and malicious actors could steal their credentials from there.
When choosing an SWG to support your digital transformation, look for a purpose-built SWG for cloud environments. Ensure the solution can address known and unknown threats and will remain effective in the future.
Leveraging SASE to provide SWG capabilities
A secure access service edge (SASE) is a cloud security framework that combines SD-WAN capabilities with network security functions like SWG, firewall-as-a-service (FWaaS), zero trust network access (ZTNA), and cloud access security brokers (CASBs). SASE can provide 5G connectivity to support a modern company’s dynamic security and access requirements.
A SASE security model provides the following important benefits:
Cloud-based SWG as a step toward SASE
Most enterprises will likely adopt SASE over the coming years, but they’ve already changed how they work and the types of environments they use. Businesses that rely on distributed cloud environments and accommodate a remote workforce must ensure security, but SASE adoption can be time-consuming and disruptive.
Cloud-based SWG solutions are a good starting point, offering many SASE benefits while being easier to manage. When evaluating various SWG offerings, it is important to consider how the solution fits into future SASE adoption plans. Look for a cloud SWG framework that integrates with other SASE components to provide a unified security strategy.
In addition to ZTNA and CASB, the SWG solution should integrate with cloud security capabilities like data loss prevention (DLP) and remote browser isolation (RBI). Deep integrations allow remote users to work without worrying about security or seamless access to the data and tools they need. The IT team can create policies, view all SASE components, and manage security centrally.
In this article, I explained the basics of secure web gateways and showed how the transition of SWG to the cloud will promote the adoption of SASE. Whether you adopt SWG as an on-premise component, a standalone cloud-based service, or as part of a full SASE framework, it will be an essential component of end-user security in the years to come.
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