What is a Secure Web Gateway (SWG)?

A single malware attack can cost your organization upwards of $2.5 million. Learn how to filter out malicious threats using a secure web gateway (SWG).

A secure web gateway (SWG) prevents unauthorized traffic from entering an organization’s network.

SWG software filters out unwanted malicious intrusions from your company’s network and monitors internet traffic while enforcing corporate and regulatory policy compliance. 

A SWG can be utilized to track data coming in and out of the company network and monitor employee behavior.

Websites can be blocked and applications like social media can be limited in use or blocked altogether. 

Restricting website access among employees does have a valid purpose. 74% of organizations in 2021 experienced a form of malicious activity which spread from one employee across the network.

And as of January 2021, Google detected around 600-800 malware-infected sites per week.  

The costs can add up, especially if a malicious attack spreads and goes undetected. The average time to detect and contain a data breach is 280 days according to a recent IBM report.

This is where a secure web gateway can work side by side with other cybersecurity programs to give you the ultimate form of internet protection across your network.

Using a secure web gateway will ensure you have secure internet traffic coming in and out of your networks.

With companies also utilizing cloud-based services, data is more at risk of a security breach than if it was stored on a hardware server in a singular office.

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Why is a Secure Web Gateway so important?

The essential function of a SWG is to protect your data and users. Cybercriminals have gotten more sophisticated in recent years, so it is important to implement a web filtering gateway now more than ever.

Web filtering restricts users from accessing certain URLs or websites by preventing their browsers from loading pages from these sites. 

Social networking sites account for 8.71% of malicious URLs with the most impersonated sites by cybercriminals being Facebook, Microsoft, Apple, Google, and Dropbox.

All big names that employees frequent on a daily basis, whether for business or personal activities.

This becomes more of a challenge for remote workers and unsecured Wi-Fi settings that transmit sensitive data unencrypted. The risk of a potential attack grows exponentially here. 

Having a SWG is also essential since most businesses are doing away with the traditional office setting.

More employees are working remotely, and may not even be in the same country as the main office, but the data must still be protected.

In fact, when your data is stored virtually in the cloud, it is at even more risk for being tampered with as opposed to being on an office hardware network.

According to Gartner, a secure web gateway must, at a minimum, include URL filtering, malicious code detection and filtering, and application controls for popular web-based applications.

The most common website security attack is Cross-site scripting (XSS) which accounts for 40% of all attacks. XSS works by inserting a piece of malicious code into a vulnerable website or application. A secure Firewall as a Service can help avert these types of attacks.

How Does a SWG Work?

So, how does SWG software work? Well, the basic function of a SWG is to manage incoming and outgoing internet traffic to your network.

It monitors data according to the policy and rules you create with your administrator to adhere to your company guidelines. 

When you set up a SWG, you will need to create a list of websites that are considered violations that employees should not be accessing on the company network.

If someone tries to go to a blocked website, the SWG is alerted and the website is unable to be accessed. You can also set up alerts to be sent so you know which employees are trying to access websites that you have blocked. 

Setting up DNS Filtering is critical and can help blacklist certain sites that may cause potential harm if accessed by an unauthorized user.

Once DNS Filtering is activated, it prevents your system’s DNS Resolver from identifying, retrieving, and displaying unwanted websites according to your definitions. 

This is important for blocking websites that can potentially cause a data breach, as well as blocking other sites that can decrease productivity such as social media or explicit sites not meant for the workplace.

A secure web gateway ensures safety, along with helping you keep everyone on track. The gateway will check and filter website URLs against your stored database of approved websites to ensure appropriate access (whitelisting).

The nice thing about using a SWG is that you can either get it as hardware, software, or cloud-based. A SWG typically runs on a proxy, which is when a device is represented online, such as a SWG website.

You can run the software from anywhere without worrying about a hardware home base.

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What Are The Benefits of a Secure Web Gateway?

Utilizing SWG servers will benefit your business in many ways. It will help with data loss prevention, prevent data breaches, and provide protection for employees even if they are working remotely. It also will help employees to stay connected even when they are working in various locations.

Not only does a SWG protect you from cyber threats and other kinds of data breaches, but it will also help with productivity.

Having the ability to block distracting websites will keep your employees from accessing things they shouldn’t, even if they are working remotely.

Employee data theft has cost organizations over $11.45 million since 2016. Malicious insiders typically seek financial gain by selling your personal information to outside parties. 

However, employee negligence remains a greater concern as they account for 90% of data breaches.

Although their intention is not malicious, they inadvertently put the company at great risk with just one wrong click which could lead to serious consequences, both financially and via damaged reputations.

Why Your Organization Needs a SWG

As workplaces continue to shift towards remote workplace settings, a secure gateway is more important than ever.

Having employees in different locations and even countries makes it more difficult to protect them from cyber threats.

As the digital world continues to grow and change, so do those who are out there wanting to get into your data and wreak havoc.

When employees work from home, they are accessing their company network through the cloud, which puts them at more risk.

Accessing cloud applications disconnects employees from the VPN which exposes them to more risk. SWGs are used by organizations to provide secure internet access when users are disconnected from their cloud VPN service provider.

Organizations will have to set parameters and policies on what employees can access, regardless of location or device.

SWG Features

Data Loss Prevention (DLP)

Data loss prevention is a set of software tools and processes combined and implemented to ensure that any regulated data is not stolen, misused, or made publicly accessible.

Not all SWG software offers next-gen DLP features, so you will have to research and find one that does if it is necessary to your business needs. 

Next-Gen DLP allows for the creation of rules within your network that define violations and identify anomalies. Having the defined rules in place will allow your SWG to send alerts when the violations occur, which can prevent threats before they even happen.

This type of data loss prevention also captures all potential and actual violations and puts them into a log for later use. Having this information in one comprehensive dashboard will help you in the future when creating new policies.

If you opt for a more advanced set of features, you will get solutions that offer full forensic data to analyze and use for future policies and cybersecurity. This type of software has had to rapidly increase sophistication to keep up with the ever-changing landscape of cyber threats.

Data loss can be a very costly issue for a business. In fact, the average cost of a data breach has skyrocketed to $6.71 million.

Working in the medical field and storing electronic medical records can be a field day for a cybercriminal. Healthcare leads the field in terms of cost per data breach at $9.23 million per incident.

From health records to payment information and everything in between, you could have quite a few lawsuits on your hands, so it’s very important to keep that information protected as securely as possible.

This also includes adhering to the latest HIPAA compliance regulations. As the cybersecurity landscape continues to evolve, next-gen DLP solutions will offer a broader, and more complex ability to create rules and policy management within the framework.

Companies of all sizes can monitor user activity and analyze individual behavior to see who is most at risk and modify accordingly. A next-gen system can also identify anomalies much more efficiently than a traditional DLP system.

URL Filtering

A URL is the string of text that you see in your search bar when you are visiting a website. It is also the same combination of text in a hyperlink that you click on in an article or on another website. While they may seem like they are regulated and always safe to click on, this is not the case. 

SWG software helps by filtering URLs to ensure only safe ones are accessed within your network.

URL injection attacks occur when a hacker has created new pages on an existing website. These pages contain malicious code and redirect an unsuspecting victim to a malicious site. This is where URL filtering comes into place. 

In order to use URL filtering, your administrator will have to set up a list of websites that employees should not be able to access. These websites include adult content, gambling sites, or social networks.

On top of those listed websites, the SWG will monitor for malicious URLs to make sure they don’t slip through the cracks and cause harm to your system.

If one of the users attempts to access a blocked URL, the SWG will send an alert to your IT team, or whoever is in charge of the SWG. This will create a data log, and hopefully, it will not happen again afterward.

Application Control

Application control gives administrators the ability to block certain applications and widgets from being used by employees on the network through SWG software.

For example, this can mean limiting social media applications like Facebook and Instagram. Blocking applications from the network ensures that the data being used is private and secure and stays within the organization.

Blocking social media applications will also help with productivity and keeping employees on track.

Social media can be used for information sharing that may not be detected, so it’s best to use it on a limited basis or eliminate it entirely. It is also a way for people to potentially hack in through social media sharing.

Using a secure web gateway will help you monitor what applications your employees are using. It will also filter content, such as explicit websites. The best part is it is all customizable to your business needs.

Real-Time Traffic Inspection

SWG software provides users with real-time traffic inspection. That means that network activity is being monitored in real-time, and alerts are being sent as soon as a violation occurs.

This efficiency provides companies the ability to prevent security breaches and any issues before they occur. If there is a delay in traffic monitoring, you might not know about an issue until it is too late and the damage has been done.

It is a top priority to detect the problem before it occurs, so real-time traffic inspection is an absolute must for businesses to protect their data.

It will also help you detect when an employee may be violating policies in time to prevent them from doing so. The SWG can block any content not deemed appropriate or that does not meet policy guidelines.

SSL/TLS Decryption

According to Google, 94% of all traffic passing through their servers is encrypted. Encryption is used to keep sensitive data safe, but it can also harbor things like malware.

Malware uses SSL/TLS sessions to hide and get into your networks. SWG software can help detect malware before it can do any damage to your systems.

Secure Socket Layer (SSL) and Transport Layer Security (TLS) are cryptographic protocols that regulate the transmission of data between clients and servers. TLS is an improved version of SSL, but the two work side by side to give you optimum decryption abilities.

Using SSL/TLS decryption routes incoming network traffic to the SWG software for inspection, as well as data going outbound into the internet from your network.

Not only does using SSL/TLS decryption protect you from potential malware threats, it also can be used to detect if inside employees are sharing sensitive data outside the company.

SSL/TLS decryption will also protect you against phishing. Threatlabz research states that “in the last six months of 2018, 1.7 million threats were blocked in encrypted traffic, and phishing attacks within SSL grew by 400% compared to 2017.”

Anti-Malware Scanning

SWG software scans network traffic for malware. This means that the data being passed through is examined to see if it matches the codes for malware. Sometimes, a SWG will send a potentially dangerous code into a controlled environment to see what it does. If it is malware, the gateway is blocked.

Most websites today are encrypted with HTTPS, which is the common beginning of a URL you see in your web browser.

Traffic is strongly encrypted under HTTPS that even if an attacker somehow manages to bypass information or performs packet sniffing, all they will see is a long string of undecipherable scrambled characters.

Secure Web Gateways vs Firewall – What Are The Differences?

Secure web gateways and firewalls may sound similar, but there are key differences between the two. SWGs function at the application level while firewalls function at the packet level.

Packets are small amounts of data. Each packet typically contains on average 1,000 – 1,500 bytes per packet.

Packets are further broken down into three parts: Header (containing the instructions), Payload (body of data), and the Trailer (footer). 

Firewalls have been a staple in the cybersecurity world for a long time now. Network traffic travels in and out of the firewall and is inspected for authenticity.

If unauthorized content is found, it is flagged and blocked from entering the gateway.

Firewalls and SWGs have similar functions, but both serve different purposes. Think of a firewall like the one denying entry or exit of the network using rules.

The secure web gateway looks at the overall traffic to detect malicious issues. Firewalls and SWGs can be used in a hybrid model as a team to fight against cybersecurity threats.

Secure Web Gateway vs CASB

A CASB and a SWG both serve different purposes. A cloud access security broker or CASB is a cloud-based software or on-premises software that acts as an intermediary between cloud applications and users. The main function of a CASB is to secure an organization’s sensitive data. 

A CASB is a proxy that works within the cloud network and is especially beneficial to companies with remote employees who have cloud web security. It can access and analyze data within the applications that are being used to increase protection.

As with all technologies, CASB companies have had to ramp it up to increase protection as cloud web security threats become more sophisticated. Next-gen CASB has been developed to protect your data more thoroughly within the cloud.

If you are deciding between a secure web gateway or a CASB, the two can work together to give you the most possible internet protection out there. Each will pick up things the other technology may have missed.

What Are Cloud Based Proxy Services?

A proxy server provides a bridge between users and the internet, also referred to as the intermediary. Cloud-based proxy services are based inside the cloud instead of having physical hardware.

This is becoming much more common within businesses that have remote employees. 

Gateway proxy software works by managing security virtually, so you can expand your network to remote employees securely. When everyone is spread out to different locations, you need a solid web proxy appliance that fits your needs.

Traditional proxy appliances can be very costly and difficult to deploy. They also pose latency issues due to the routing traffic which also creates a poor customer experience.

A cloud-based proxy, on the other hand, has all the benefits of a traditional proxy with a fraction of the costs and the ability to scale as an enterprise grows.

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How Much Do Secure Web Gateway Services Cost?

When it comes to SWG services, the cost can vary tremendously depending on the vendor and the amount of users and servers.

TrustRadius states that you can anticipate paying anywhere from $3 to $5 per user for a basic package, and $5 to $8 per server. Most companies will offer a free trial period to make sure they have everything you need for SWG services.

Enterprise Web Filter Comparison

If you’re looking for SWG software, there are many options to choose from on the market. Each one offers different features, so it’s all about finding one that is best suited for your needs.

It would be a good idea to consult with a professional to discuss the type of sensitive data you are trying to protect to find the perfect SWG for your business.

For a comprehensive web filter appliance comparison, the secure web gateway Gartner list is a great place to start. You can see the Gartner list of reviews here.

There are lots of options to choose from, so be sure to do thorough research as this is a very complex field to navigate especially if you aren’t much of a technology person.

How Do Secure Web Gateways Fit Into The SASE Framework?

Security Access Service Edge or SASE is a security framework that combines SD-WAN and networking security functions into a single cloud-delivered platform.

SASE is a combination of different technologies utilized to protect a network from threats and malware. Mainly in the virtual storage data world of the cloud.

So, how do SWGs fit into this framework?

When you implement SWG for your enterprise gateway security, it will fit into the SASE framework by complying with policies put in place.

Gartner states that by 2025, 60% of enterprises will have explicit strategies and timelines for SASE adoption.SWG software fits into the SASE framework by adhering to cybersecurity compliances and allowing companies to customize their policies to ensure data safety.

Using a SWG gives you the features needed to work within the SASE framework and keep your business safe.

Join The SASE Revolution: Moving Beyond The Traditional SWG with Perimeter 81

Secure Access Service Edge (SASE) is a blueprint for better business security and involves the combination of software-defined edge networking, user-focused authentication, and access control integration across the cloud.

Perimeter 81’s SASE architecture incorporates all the functionalities of SWG security and enforces company policies to protect employees from accidental malware infection when surfing the web or when working remotely.

Discover how the SASE model can help transform your organization’s security posture.

SWG FAQ

What is a Secure Web Gateway?
A secure web gateway (SWG) protects users from online security threats and prevents unauthorized access to websites by enforcing company policies.
How do Secure Web Gateways work? 
A secure web gateway is a software or hardware-based security solution which acts as a barrier between users to filter out malicious internet traffic.  
What are the benefits of a SWG?
-Enforces compliances and regulations
-Prevents malware and detects compromised devices with a multi-layered security framework
-Secures remote workers from external threats 
-Restricts access to high-risk websites and applications
What is the difference between a Secure Web Gateway and a Firewall?
A secure web gateway is similar to a firewall, however, they differ in the fact that an SWG inspects web traffic at the application level whereas firewalls function at the packet level.

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