NetworkTigers discusses next-generation firewalls and how they can protect against advanced threats.
Firewalls have been in operation since the advent of networking, protecting your system from complex and sophisticated threats requires additional security measures that supplement a firewall’s primary purpose. Streamlining your security architecture, next-generation firewalls consolidate many of the features found in other network components and combine them with the tried and true traffic monitoring functionality administrators already know.
Traditional firewall vs. next-generation firewall
- Traditional firewalls inspect network traffic and filter it based on the state of the packet, port number, IP address, and protocol. If any of these parameters line up with a characteristic that has been banned, the firewall will block the activity. Many firewalls also include VPN features for additional security.
While this degree of safety has formed the foundation of cybersecurity, traditional firewalls are basic devices that lack a number of modern features many administrators depend on to keep their systems safe from today’s threat actors.
- Next-generation firewalls (NGFWs) pack in the functionality that has made firewalls a network security mainstay for decades but then go above and beyond to provide more granular options that offer a deeper, more nuanced look at your network traffic and more control over it.
NGFWs are more flexible than traditional ones. They quickly integrate into established systems and even communicate with outside sources, updating their filtering specifications to automatically and proactively scan and block potential threats.
Next-generation firewall features
The following features and abilities define next-generation firewalls, making them an evolutionary technological advancement.
Unlike traditional firewalls that filter incoming and outgoing traffic based on the same rules and restrictions, next-generation firewalls offer application awareness. Application awareness allows your firewall to make decisions based on traffic’s behavior to or from an application as opposed to its IP address.
In doing this, NGFWs prevent threatening activity that might have slipped through outside defenses from wreaking havoc from within your network. Suppose you imagine the security provided by traditional firewalls as a suit of armor around your system. In that case, the application awareness afforded by NGFWs is more akin to an internal immune system.
This level of surgical insight allows an admin to put zero-trust policies in place that have particular access and lateral network movement requirements.
Deep packet inspection
Like application awareness, deep packet inspection allows an NGFW to filter traffic based on even more configurable specs. Whereas traditional firewalls check out a packet’s IP header to inspect its characteristics and path, NGFWs can peek into the data packet itself to see if anything malicious or suspicious lurks below the surface.
Intrusion prevention system
NGFWs feature an intrusion prevention system (IPS) that can monitor network traffic while scanning for behavioral patterns or anomalies that signal a potential threat or attack. This provides a tremendous degree of protection, as it allows the firewall to block a threat that is not yet identified or fully materialized based solely on the effect it may have on the way traffic moves within your system.
External threat intelligence integration and connection
NGFWs can receive data feeds from security vendors, threat intelligence platforms, and government agencies about new and emerging threats. This degree of real-time automation means that an NGFW can stop a zero-day attack in its tracks the moment it receives instruction on what said the attack might look like.
This continually updated set of rules is a level of security automation that could make the difference between a successful attack appearing mysteriously to destroy or paralyze your system and an alert that puts out the fire before an administrator even recognizes one was starting.
In addition to receiving threat updates, an NGFW shares its data across connected platforms and network security tools for further fortification.
Web filtering and content inspection
To exercise more control over network safety, NGFWs can implement web filtering and content inspection that limits users’ ability to visit external websites. This feature can both secure and speed up your network by:
- Minimizing the threat of malware by blocking websites or platforms that are known to harbor potentially dangerous software or exploit kits. This reduces the risk of your system becoming compromised due to human error.
- Boosting bandwidth by limiting users’ access to sites and social networks that are unnecessary for work.
- Increasing worker productivity by blocking e-commerce, video, or other sites that may distract employees.
- Blocking harmful content by restricting users from visiting controversial or potentially offensive sites or platforms.
Is a next-generation firewall the right choice for your business?
In general, the added protections and integrations offered by NGFWs provide superior cybersecurity. Because of this, it’s hard not to recommend them across the board.
However, there are some considerations to make when deciding what kind of firewall will best suit your needs and work within your budget:
Next-generation firewalls cost more to purchase and operate
As expected, the additional features in an NGFW come at a price. Like antivirus software, NGFWs require constant updating to stay on top of new and emerging threats. This requires a firewall security subscription, and this cost must be considered in addition to the upfront price of the hardware itself. Remember that you can save money by purchasing refurbished firewalls from a trusted dealer.
Next-generation firewalls are more complicated
The granular nature of an NGFW’s features means more configuration, monitoring, and maintenance than a traditional firewall. If your network is small or your IT crew is minimal, this additional problem-solving may pose an obstacle that stretches your staff thin or is simply overkill for the security you require.
Next-generation firewalls have higher processing power demands
NGFWs work hard and therefore require a great deal of processing power. Improperly configuring your NGFW, or not using one robust enough to handle what you ask, can result in slowdown and bottlenecks.
Remedying this issue by disabling particularly intensive features undercuts the advantages of having them in the first place. Because of this, it’s critically important that you purchase a unit that has the power to perform the functions that make it a superior option without any resulting sluggishness.