What Is Web App and API Protection (WAAP)?

Web app and API protection (WAAP) refers to an integrated set of security services that work together to mitigate security risks from APIs and web applications.

WAAP Meaning

WAAP solutions protect against application security risks from vulnerability exploits, bots, automated attacks, denial of service, fraud and abuse, and insecure third-party API integrations. 

Integrated security controls allow organizations to improve visibility with actionable insights that can stop specific attacks as well as identify coordinated threat campaigns that span multiple threat vectors.

What Are APIs and API Gateways?

Application programming interfaces (APIs) are the most common way to connect users, applications, and services to each other in a modern IT environment. Most modern apps are built using APIs—software interfaces that enable applications or services to communicate and allow for interactivity between products and services in the form of requests and responses. However, more APIs means more attack surface. As APIs become more common and are distributed across microservices architectures, additional infrastructure is needed to ensure scalability and security.

For microservices‑based applications, an API gateway acts as a single point of entry into the system and is responsible for request routing, composition, and policy enforcement. It handles some requests by simply routing them to the appropriate backend service, and handles others by invoking multiple backend services and aggregating the results.

API gateways also have built-in security features to protect APIs from common threats and also provide critical security functions, including managing the access control, authentication, and authorization for your APIs, ensuring that only authenticated and authorized users can access them.

An API gateway can be deployed in front of a Kubernetes cluster as a load balancer (multi-cluster level), at its edge as an Ingress controller (cluster-level), or within it as a service mesh (service-level). For API gateway deployments at the edge and within the Kubernetes cluster, it’s best practice to use a Kubernetes-native tool as the API gateway. Such tools are tightly integrated with the Kubernetes API, support YAML, and can be configured through standard Kubernetes CLI.

Using an API gateway alongside a WAAP solution can provide additional security layers that complement each other.  For instance, an API gateway primarily focuses on managing and securing access to APIs while a WAAP solution protects web applications and APIs from a wide range of security threats, including OWASP Top 10 vulnerabilities, DDoS attacks, and bot traffic, and offers advanced features such as threat intelligence and behavior-based anomaly detection.  

Why Is Web App and API Protection Important?

Engaging customers with compelling and secure digital experiences is a business imperative and key focus for security and risk leaders. The risk vs. reward calculus that attempts to balance security and usability has never been as difficult, important, or lucrative as it is now in the modern digital economy. 

Unprecedented choice, low customer tolerance for friction or failure, and increasing regulatory implications are changing the perspective of security from a cost center to a competitive digital differentiator. Additionally, applications are increasingly decentralized and distributed, deployed across heterogeneous and multi-cloud architectures, and integrated within complex software supply chains and CI/CD pipelines. 

WAAP diagram 1

Figure 1: Apps are increasingly decentralized and distributed

The growing sophistication of bots and automated attacks and proliferation of API endpoints from increased mobile app usage and modern app development dramatically expands the threat surface and introduces unforeseen risks from third-party integrations.

The industrialized attack lifecycle begins with automation and ends with account takeover and fraud.

WAAP diagram 1

Figure 2: Application attacks are persistent and sophisticated


A WAAP solution represents the evolution of the WAF market into adjacent areas, specifically bot management, API security, and DDoS mitigation.

A WAF that integrates with cloud-based DDoS scrubbing centers historically qualified as WAAP, whether the WAF was a hardware or virtual appliance in a data center, private cloud, or public cloud. However, the market is at an inflection point where many organizations will prefer cloud-based WAAP platforms, in the form of as-a-Service security.

There are several drivers that are increasing interest in cloud-based WAAP platforms:

  1. The need for specialized bot management technology to deter fraud and abuse
  2. API discovery and enforcement controls that can mitigate risk from third-party integrations
  3. Continuous policy maintenance via APIs, development frameworks, and CI/CD pipelines
  4. Automated protections and false positive remediation using human-powered AI

Appliance-based WAFs that integrate with cloud-based security services that focus on business outcomes will continue as viable, even preferred, options in highly regulated industries like Banking and Financial Services (BFSI).

How to Evaluate a Cloud WAAP Service

Effectiveness and ease of use are often cited as key buying criteria for WAAP.

Best-in-class WAAP helps organizations improve their security posture at the speed of business, mitigate compromise without friction or excessive false positives, and reduce operational complexity to consistently protect hybrid, multi-cloud architectures from critical vulnerabilities, business logic abuse, and unforeseen risk. 

Key capabilities include:

  • Universal observability across cloud-native infrastructure and the full application stack
  • Dynamic API discovery and enforcement
  • Resilience during attacker retooling, escalation, evasion

How Does Web App and API Protection Work?

WAAP solutions mitigate the risk of compromise, data exfiltration, account takeover, and application downtime by integrating various security controls to protect applications, including:

  • Web Application Firewall (WAF)
  • Bot Management
  • API Security
  • DDoS Mitigation

WAAP solutions are available in several form factors:

  1. Physical/virtual WAF appliances that integrate with cloud-based security services
  2. Microservices-based WAF instances that integrate with cloud-based security services
  3. Cloud-based WAAP platforms with integrated WAF, Bot, API, and DDoS security controls

WAAP solutions also include client-side security to detect malicious scripts/skimming (such as Magecart attacks), security controls to prevent attacks through malicious aggregators, and account protection that prevents account takeover from manual fraud.

Application Infrastructure Protection (AIP) solutions further strengthen app security and improve remediation through dynamic vulnerability discovery and cloud workload security—preventing exploitation and abuse of underlying infrastructure via integration with WAAP controls.

How Does F5 Handle Web App and API Protection?

F5 WAAP solutions fit natively into any architecture, cloud, and operating model, providing security and risk teams with universal visibility and consistent policy enforcement to protect legacy and modern apps from core to cloud to edge. F5 WAAP solutions offer flexibility and choice with respect to deployment model and operating model.

F5 Distributed Cloud WAAP provides unparalleled observability coupled with a large real-world data lake and machine learning algorithms enables F5 customers to adopt AI-based Value-Added Services (VAS), for example, Authentication Intelligence, which optimizes legitimate customer transactions by improving personalization and removing friction to increase retention, conversion, and loyalty.

WAAP diagram 1

Figure 3: F5 Distributed Cloud Web App and API Protection Platform

F5 NGINX also offers several options for deploying and operating an API gateway depending on your use cases and deployment patterns. Universal tools include F5 NGINX Plus, which can be deployed as lightweight, high-performance API gateway across cloud, on-premises, and edge environments.

Kubernetes‑native tools include NGINX Ingress Controller, which manages app connectivity at the edge of a Kubernetes cluster with API gateway, identity, and observability features.