From ASM to Advanced WAF: Advancing your Application Security
As of April 01, 2021, F5 has officially placed Application Security Manager (ASM) into End of Sale (EoS) status, signifying the eventual retirement of the product. (F5 Support Announcement - K72212499 ) Existing ASM, or BEST bundle customers, under a valid support contract running BIG-IP version 14.1 or greater can simply reactivate their licenses to instantly upgrade to Advanced WAF (AdvWAF) completely free of charge.
Protecting your applications is becoming more challenging every day; applications are getting more complex, and attackers are getting more advanced. Over the years we have heard your feedback that managing a Web Application Firewall (WAF) can be cumbersome and you needed new solutions to protect against the latest generation of attacks. Advanced Web Application Firewall, or AdvWAF, is an enhanced version of the Application Security Manager (ASM) product that introduces new attack mitigation techniques and many quality-of-life features designed to reduce operational overhead.
On April 01, 2021 – F5 started providing free upgrades for existing Application Security Manager customers to the Advanced WAF license. Keep on reading for:
- A brief history of ASM and AdvWAF
- How the AdvWAF license differs from ASM (ASM vs AdvWAF
- How to determine if your BIG-IPs are eligible for this free upgrade
- Performing the license upgrade
How did we get here?
For many years, ASM has been the gold standard Web Application Firewall (WAF) used by thousands of organizations to help secure their most mission-critical web applications from would-be attackers. F5 acquired the technology behind ASM in 2004 and subsequently ‘baked’ it into the BIG-IP product, immediately becoming the leading WAF product on the market.
In 2018, after nearly 14 years of ASM development, F5 released the new, Advanced WAF license to address the latest threats. Since that release, both ASM and AdvWAF have coexisted, granting customers the flexibility to choose between the traditional or enhanced versions of the BIG-IP WAF product. As new features were released, they were almost always unique to AdvWAF, creating further divergence as time went on, and often sparking a few common questions (all of which we will inevitably answer in this very article) such as:
- Is ASM going away?
- What is the difference between ASM and AdvWAF?
- Will feature X come to ASM too? I need it!
- How do I upgrade from ASM to AdvWAF?
- Is the BEST bundle no longer really the BEST?
To simplify things for our customers (and us too!), we decided to announce ASM as End of Sale (EoS), starting on April 01, 2021. This milestone, for those unfamiliar, means that the ASM product can no longer be purchased after April 01 of this year – it is in the first of 4 stages of product retirement. An important note is that no new features will be added to ASM going forward.
So, what’s the difference?
A common question we get often is “How do I migrate my policy from ASM to AdvWAF?” The good news is that the policies are functionally identical, running on BIG-IP, with the same web interface, and have the same learning engine and underlying behavior. In fact, our base policies can be shared across ASM, AdvWAF, and NGINX App Protect (NAP).
The AdvWAF license simply unlocks additional features beyond what ASM has, that is it – all the core behaviors of the two products are identical otherwise. So, if an engineer is certified in ASM and has managed ASM security policies previously, they will be delighted to find that nothing has changed except for the addition of new features.
This article does not aim to provide an exhaustive list of every feature difference between ASM and AdvWAF. Instead, below is a list of the most popular features introduced in the AdvWAF license that we hope you can take advantage of. At the end of the article, we provide more details on some of these features:
- Secure Guided Configurations
- Unlimited L7 Behavioral DoS
- DataSafe (Client-side encryption)
- OWASP Compliance Dashboard
- Threat Campaigns (includes Bot Signature updates)
- Additional ADC Functionality
- Micro-services protection
- Declarative WAF Automation
I’m interested, what’s the catch?
There is none! F5 is a security company first and foremost, with a mission to provide the technology necessary to secure our digital world. By providing important useability enhancements like Secure Guided Config and OWASP Compliance Dashboard for free to existing ASM customers, we aim to reduce the operational overhead associated with managing a WAF and help make applications safer than they were yesterday - it’s a win-win.
If you currently own a STANDALONE, ADD-ON or BEST Bundle ASM product running version 14.1 or later with an active support contract, you are eligible to take advantage of this free upgrade. This upgrade does not apply to customers running ELA licensing or standalone ASM subscription licenses at this time. If you are running a BIG-IP Virtual Edition you must be running at least a V13 license. To perform the upgrade, all you need to do is simply REACTIVATE your license, THAT IS IT! There is no time limit to perform the license reactivation and this free upgrade offer does not expire.
*Please keep in mind that re-activating your license does trigger a configuration load event which will cause a brief interruption in traffic processing; thus, it is always recommended to perform this in a maintenance window.
- Choose “Automatic” if your BIG-IP can communicate outbound to the Internet and talk to the F5 Licensing Server.
- Choose Manual if your BIG-IP cannot reach the F5 Licensing Server directly through the Internet.
- Click Next and the system will re-activate your license.
After you’ve completed the license reactivation, the quickest way to know if you now have AdvWAF is by looking under the Security menu. If you see "Guided Configuration”, the license upgrade was completed successfully.
You can also login to the console and look for the following feature flags in the /config/bigip.license file to confirm it was completed successfully by running:
grep -e waf_gc -e mod_waf -e mod_datasafe bigip.license
You should see the following flags set to enabled:
- Waf_gc: enabled
- Mod_waf: enabled
- Mod_datasafe: enabled
*Please note that the GUI will still reference ASM in certain locations such as on the resource provisioning page; this is not an indication of any failure to upgrade to the AdvWAF license.
*Under Resource Provisioning you should now see that FPS is licensed. This will need to be provisioned if you plan on utilizing the new AdvWAF DataSafe feature explained in more detail in the Appendix below.
For customers with a large install base, you can perform license reactivation through the CLI. Please refer to the following article for instructions: https://support.f5.com/csp/article/K2595
F5 Advanced WAF is an enhanced WAF license now available for free to all existing ASM customers running BIG-IP version 14.1 or greater, only requiring a simple license reactivation. The AdvWAF license will provide immediate value to your organization by delivering visibility into the OWASP Top 10 compliance of your applications, configuration wizards designed to build robust security policies quickly, enhanced automation capabilities, and more. If you are running ASM with BIG-IP version 14.1 or greater, what are you waiting for? (Please DO wait for your change window though 😊)
Appendix: More details on select AdvWAF features
One of the most common requests we hear is, “can you make WAF easier?” If there was such a thing as an easy button for WAF configurations, Guided Configs are that button. Guided Configurations easily take you through complex configurations for various use-cases such as Web Apps, OWASP top 10, API Protection, DoS, and Bot Protection.
L7DoS – Behavioral DoS Unlimited
Behavioral DoS - (BaDoS) provides automatic protection against DoS attacks by analyzing traffic behavior using machine learning and data analysis. With ASM you were limited to applying this type of DoS profile to a maximum of 2 Virtual Servers. The AdvWAF license completely unlocks this capability, removing the 2 virtual server limitation from ASM. Working together with other BIG-IP DoS protections, Behavioral DoS examines traffic flowing between clients and application servers in data centers, and automatically establishes the baseline traffic/flow profiles for Layer 7 (HTTP) and Layers 3 and 4.
DataSafe *FPS must be provisioned
DataSafe is best explained as real-time L7 Data Encryption. Designed to protect websites from Trojan attacks by encrypting data at the application layer on the client side. Encryption is performed on the client-side using a public key generated by the BIG-IP system and provided uniquely per session. When the encrypted information is received by the BIG-IP system, it is decrypted using a private key that is kept on the server-side. Intended to protect, passwords, pins, PII, and PHI so that if any information is compromised via MITB or MITM it is useless to the attacker.
DataSafe is included with the AdvWAF license, but the Fraud Protection Service (FPS) must be provisioned by going to System > Resource Provisioning:
OWASP Compliance Dashboard
Think your policy is air-tight? The OWASP Compliance Dashboard details the coverage of each security policy for the top 10 most critical web application security risks as well as the changes needed to meet OWASP compliance. Using the dashboard, you can quickly improve security risk coverage and perform security policy configuration changes.
Threat Campaigns (includes Bot Signature updates)
Threat campaigns allow you to do more with fewer resources. This feature is unlocked with the AdvWAF license, it, however, does require an additional paid subscription above and beyond that. This paid subscription does NOT come with the free AdvWAF license upgrade. F5’s Security Research Team (SRT) discovers attacks with honeypots – performs analysis and creates attack signatures you can use with your security policies. These signatures come with an extremely low false-positive rate, as they are strictly based on REAL attacks observed in the wild. The Threat Campaign subscription also adds bot signature updates as part of the solution.
Additional ADC Functionality
The AdvWAF license comes with all of the Application Delivery Controller (ADC) functionality required to both deliver and protect a web application. An ASM standalone license came with only a very limited subset of ADC functionality – a limit to the number of pool members, zero persistence profiles, and very few load balancing methods, just to name a few. This meant that you almost certainly required a Local Traffic Manager (LTM) license in addition to ASM, to successfully deliver an application. The AdvWAF license removes many of those limitations; Unlimited pool members, all HTTP/web pertinent persistence profiles, and most load balancing methods, for example.