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NGINX WAF alternatives: App Protect vs. ModSecurity vs. open-appsec

Written by: Rubaiat Hossain

Nginx is a well-liked net server software program that will also be used for caching, load balancing, and reverse proxying. Its asynchronous, event-driven structure makes Nginx a good selection for high-traffic methods, which is the explanation a whole lot of DevOps engineers and net builders select to make use of it. Nonetheless, having a high-performance net server is barely useful whenever you shield your net app accordingly.

That is the place net software firewalls (WAFs) come into play. WAFs sit between your net app and its site visitors, they usually filter out malicious HTTP requests. A strong WAF answer can forestall varied layer 7 assaults, together with the OWASP Top Ten, bot attacks, and zero-day attacks.

Since Nginx has totally different use instances, defending your software is determined by how and the place you employ it. It is really helpful that you’ve a dependable WAF answer since they block most dangerous requests within the first place. On this article, you may examine three instruments—ModSecurity, F5 Nginx App Protect, and open-appsec—based mostly on their lively growth, superior security measures, and open supply dedication that will help you determine which device is best for you.


ModSecurity is an open supply WAF that has been developed since 2002. It is proved to be an ideal success, and builders internationally use it.

Lively Improvement

Earlier than addressing ModSecurity’s lively growth, it is necessary to outline what the time period lively growth means right here. On this article, when a device is reviewed based mostly on its lively growth, it is in reference to this system having a steady growth effort and a dedicated group.

Efficient July 1, 2024, Trustwave SpiderLabs, the builders behind ModSecurity, announced the end-of-life (EOL) assist for this WAF. The open supply group ought to proceed the event of ModSecurity, because the code is freely obtainable and plenty of initiatives use it. Nonetheless, industrial assist will not be obtainable after the EOL date.

ModSecurity v3 has additionally launched main modifications in how ModSecurity works. The complete WAF is just not packed collectively anymore. As an alternative, the only libmodsecurity engine is paired with a connector module that interfaces the appliance with the server. Totally different connectors can be found based mostly on the server and are hosted as impartial packages. Which means that there is a separate ModSecurity v3 Nginx Connector venture.

Superior Safety Options

Superior security measures of a WAF are the functionalities that set it aside. As a public-facing element of the web, trendy WAFs require strong protection mechanisms to guard from quickly rising new threads and malicious actions.

ModSecurity provides many highly effective options, equivalent to steady inspection of HTTP streams, dependable blocking capabilities, and a strong rule engine complemented by an easy rule language known as SecRule. What units ModSecurity aside is its flexibility. You should use its options any method you see match, from real-time software monitoring to full site visitors logging, and URL encoding to net app hardening—the scope of creativity is limitless.

Its strong HTTP blocking capabilities and versatile rule engine enable ModSecurity to patch vulnerabilities with out touching the appliance itself. This apply is named digital patching, and it will possibly shield any app utilizing communication channels like HTTP. Nonetheless, it ought to be famous that signature-based answer are reactive by nature, that means that always signatures aren’t obtainable till after vulnerabilities have been recognized for a while and exploits are put into circulation.

ModSecurity additionally excels in logging HTTP requests. Since most net servers log a number of items of data by default, ModSecurity’s efficient logging capabilities make it a profitable alternative from a safety standpoint.

Open Supply

ModSecurity is an open supply venture, with its codebase open for third-party contributions. It has an active GitHub community of open supply builders who preserve the venture and repair points. You’ll be able to simply fork this WAF and tune options your self. Nonetheless, with its backing group saying ModSecurity’s finish of assist, you may count on little to no lively growth from the seller sooner or later.

Nginx App Shield

Nginx App Shield is a premium WAF answer that seamlessly integrates with Nginx and supplies sturdy options for DevOps groups. F5 has acquired Nginx and is actively growing its paid choices. Because of this, Nginx App Shield ought to be viable for these seeking to safeguard enterprise methods and information.

Lively Improvement

You’ll be able to count on new options and updates to be added once every few months to Nginx App Shield for dealing with newer threats, and assist is obtainable on demand. Coupled with Nginx’s extensive documentation and lively group, discovering assist ought to be easy for builders.

Superior Safety Options

Nginx App Shield is a succesful WAF answer that may shield trendy net purposes, APIs, containers, and microservices. Nginx App Shield follows the identical role-based entry management coverage utilized by ModSecurity. It advantages from the safety guidelines derived from different F5 safety options and excels at stopping common layer 7 assaults. Like ModSecurity it’s based mostly on signatures and so normally reactive to zero day attacks as signatures aren’t obtainable till after vulnerabilities have been recognized for a while and exploits are put into circulation.

This WAF answer aligns with trendy software program structure and steady integration, steady deployment (CI/CD) rules. The platform-agnostic nature and declarative insurance policies utilized by Nginx App Shield enable engineers to deal with innovation somewhat than worrying about safety proper from the very starting.

The Nginx Controller App Security permits to handle declarative configuration recordsdata for App Shield in a centralized method. It makes managing Nginx App Shield easier than ModSecurity, which, although immensely versatile, lacks central management.

Open Supply

Nginx App Shield is a closed supply answer. To make use of the WAF product, you may want to enroll in a premium providing from F5 Nginx that features NGINX Plus or NGINX Ingress Plus and a licence for App Shield. U.S. Listing Costs begins at $362 per thirty days for Nginx Plus for Single Occasion and Customary Help, plus $620 per thirty days for the App Shield Add-On for Single Occasion.

Though the enterprise nature of Nginx App Shield ensures immediate assist and in-depth documentation, the absence of an open supply mannequin prevents DevOps engineers or builders from auditing the code themselves and diving deeper into the options.


open-appsec is a modern-day WAF answer that leverages machine studying (ML) to detect and forestall unknown “zero-day” assaults in addition to customary recognized assaults.

Lively Improvement

open-appsec is underneath lively growth, and the code is open supply and public. This transfer permits for normal characteristic updates and bug fixes by open supply builders. The core open-appsec WAF engine is developed in C++ and is obtainable via GitHub.

Further safety elements are written in C and Go and are available. The builders are actively including new options and changes to the ML-based menace engine. As well as, the open supply codebase is up to date commonly and provides thorough documentation, making it an acceptable alternative for securing modern-day Nginx methods.

Superior Safety Options

open-appsec provides a number of superior security measures, of which the flagbearer is its ML-based threat detection engine. The ML-powered core automatically prevents OWASP Top Ten and zero-day attacks with out requiring any tuning or configurations. The clever WAF engine repeatedly analyzes consumer conduct and transaction profiles to detect and mitigate threats earlier than escalation.

This shift towards proactive menace mitigation from the reactive approaches utilized by customary rule-based WAFs makes open-appsec a worthy WAF answer for the longer term technology of net apps.

Furthermore, open-appsec’s seamless integration with trendy CI/CD instruments permits builders to spend much less time securing apps and extra time delivery new builds. It is also a breeze to automate. You should use declarative infrastructure as a service (IaaS) or APIs to maintain heavy duties.

As well as, open-appsec wants little handbook administration. It is an install-and-forget answer that preemptively prevents newer threats and reduces the assault floor considerably in comparison with conventional WAFs like ModSecurity, which require handbook rule enforcement to cease the newest threats. Customers of paid options like Nginx App Shield should additionally look ahead to vendor-supplied signaure/guidelines for newer vulnerabilities.

Open Supply

open-appsec supplies a completely open supply answer that may be audited by third events or prolonged by particular person builders. As beforehand said, the venture is hosted on GitHub and has undergone rigorous auditing by impartial safety consultants.

The code is simple to learn and perceive. You may as well compile open-appsec with customary compilation instruments, and it makes analyzing program conduct easy utilizing conventional code evaluation instruments.

This WAF answer additionally meets the [security standards of the Open Source Security Foundation (OpenSSF), which indicates the high quality of the source material. The advanced machine learning model of this tool is also open source and available for download by anyone.


Nginx is one of the most widely used software for serving web content, proxying, and load balancing. However, you still need to secure your Nginx-consuming web apps from threat actors and malware. A solid WAF should be your first layer of defense, as they block harmful requests at the application layer.

In this article, you reviewed ModSecurity, Nginx App Protect, and open-appsec based on their active development, advanced security features, and open source principles.

ModSecurity is a robust solution that offers an advanced rule engine and an open source codebase. But it lacks active development commitments from the vendor. In contrast, Nginx App Protect is actively being developed and offers intelligent features and CI/CD integrations. However, it doesn’t offer any open source edition.

open-appsec is the only WAF in this list that not only is under active development but also offers the solution as open source software. These, coupled with its advanced ML-based threat detection engine, make open-appsec a viable solution for modern web apps.

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