Many people don’t know the full difference between firewalls and secure web gateways. This is perhaps understandable, as the two largely serve the same purpose. After all, both are intended to keep enterprise networks safe from malicious threats.

However, the ways these two technologies function, and their ultimate purpose within the cybersecurity architecture, makes it essential for stakeholders to know their differences. Without an acceptable level of understanding here, enterprises can leave themselves wide open to threats.

Here’s what you need to know about secure web gateways versus firewalls.

Firewalls Are Important, But Not Enough Alone

Firewalls have been around for a long time. For many people, when they hear the term, they automatically associate it with a generic sort of cyber defense. And that’s basically the truth of firewalls. They’re great tools for protecting against low-level network threats delivered on the packet level. In other words, firewalls are highly effective at scanning traffic data as it flows on your networks. But this isn’t the only concern for organizations looking to protect their networks in today’s world.

What Is a Secure Web Gateway?

Secure web gateways take things a step farther. A simple way to think about the differences between firewalls and secure web gateways is based on what they’re actually scanning. Whereas firewalls are giving you packet-level protection, a secure web gateway is working on web- and application-level security.

This is becoming increasingly important for a few reasons. For starters, the introduction of cloud network infrastructures, along with the resulting proliferation in applications, has created a host of new attack surfaces for criminals. These can be exploited by targeted and advanced threats, which are more difficult to detect, and also typically far more devastating, than threats that can be delivered through packets.

Moreover, the web in general is becoming an increasingly complex attack surface. Threats can be hidden on websites that might seem innocuous to those connecting on enterprise networks. But these can silently embed themselves into networks or devices, and allow nefarious parties to quietly collect sensitive data over extended periods of time. They can even infect unprotected applications and potentially discover highly sensitive information residing there. Research from IBM says it takes 280 days on average to identify and stop a breach. Clearly, enterprises need to act as quickly as possible in order to protect themselves from threats on applications and the web.

What Are the Important Features of Secure Web Gateways?

Now that you see the differences between firewalls and secure web gateways, as well as why each is important to an organization, it’s time to dig into more specifics. These are a few ways a secure web gateway can help protect your enterprise from cyber threats:

  • User Authentication – Secure web gateways are built around the idea of authenticating users, as well as creating unique filtering policies. This way, you’re able to control who can connect to the web through your network, as well as what kinds of sites.
  • URL Filtering – This is one of the most essential aspects to secure web gateways. Essentially, the gateway is like a bouncer with a guest list. Only certain kinds of URLs are allowed to get into the party on your networks. This is incredibly important to modern network security because threats like malware can be hidden on websites accessed by your employees. Cutting the connection before it even happens can alleviate potentially massive cyber problems without even having to deal with them.
  • Certificate Validation – Much of the traffic on the web is encrypted nowadays. This can create issues when trying to protect against online threats if the important danger signs are hidden. Secure web gateways use TLS interception and certificate validation to stop threats from circumventing your defenses with encryption.

Secure web gateways are essential for any organization serious about cybersecurity. Considering the risks associated with breaches, it’s a danger to customer- and corporate data to not deploy a secure way gateway.