Today’s web application firewalls are not up to the challenge of securing cloud systems according to security company Qualys which has set out its alternative vision based on building a new generation using open source development.

Called project ‘IronBee’, the company and launch partner Akamai will spend the coming months trying to get other important vendors in the security space to contribute their expertise and code to the ambitious collaboration.

Based on the Apache v2 license, IronBee ambition is to build a state-of-the-art core http engine that will be portable across a range of deployment modes and modular enough that each contributor will be able to build their own part without having to devote time to understanding the whole.

At first sight it looks like a big ask for an industry that has up to now thrived on proprietary technology.

According to Qualys, however, as well as being hugely expensive, the proprietary development approach of today’s web app firewalls (WAFs) is sinking under the sheer weight of having to secure multiple web databases, apps, legacy systems and browsers.

Porting this model straight to the cloud would not only create insecurity but could lead to lock-in where customers find it difficult to migrate between providers using different systems.

“Due to the proliferation of cloud computing and web applications, it is quite obvious that no single company alone can fight the sophistication of attacks we are now facing,” said Qualys CEO, Philippe Courtot,

“We are now enthused to introduce IronBee as an open source project so we can leverage the collective intelligence of the community to develop a cloud-based WAF with a diverse rule set that can help protect us all against cyber attacks,” he said.

Qualys has already carried out a year of preparatory work on IronBee and “40-50 percent” of the necessary development effort to create a version 1 which could turn up embedded in web servers as early as Q3 or Q4 of 2011.

A white paper outlining IronBee is available from the project website.