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Understanding firewall security policy

NetworkTigers discusses firewall security policy.

As cybercriminals continue to plague network administrators in all sectors, creating and maintaining an appropriate firewall security policy remains critical to limiting systemwide vulnerabilities and preventing threat actors from achieving destructive network penetration. 

What is a firewall?

A firewall is a security component that monitors incoming and outgoing network traffic. A firewall can allow or block specific traffic based on a series of predetermined, customizable rules. 

Firewalls aren’t new. The first firewalls were created in 1988 and included primitive features appropriate for the networks being built. Unlike many other forms of technology, firewalls have kept pace with the ever-increasing complexity of modern networking, meaning that they are still a necessary part of any system’s security.   

Today’s firewalls allow administrators to make minute, granular adjustments to traffic filters and manage vast amounts of incoming and outgoing data. While hardware firewalls are still employed, modern software and cloud-based options are used to regularly and repeatedly examine network activity for anomalies or potentially malicious actors.

What is a firewall security policy?

Despite modern network complexity, firewalls maintain a fundamental task: permitting or denying traffic. Network administrators need to make careful decisions about what determines whether access is allowed or forbidden at any given time. This ruleset is called a firewall security policy and needs to be designed with a network’s specifics in mind, as there is no one-size-fits-all option.

A robust firewall security policy keeps an organization safe and operationally efficient. In addition, the detailed logs and records kept as a result of proper implementation are invaluable tools that can help security professionals, law enforcement, and cybersecurity insurance providers understand how a breach occurred and from where it came. 

Overview: how to create an appropriate firewall security policy

Every organization’s security demands are different. The following steps provide a basic understanding of what to expect when creating a firewall security policy. 

Within each of these steps, a myriad of company and industry-specific considerations and technicalities need to be addressed to ensure custom-tailored security and potential compliance with regulations associated with critical infrastructure.

Make high-level traffic considerations

Administrators must first consider what types of traffic their network will be subjected to. In this process, a risk analysis should be conducted to understand what kinds of traffic are necessary, how they should be examined and secured, and the conditions under which permission is denied or granted. 

Making careful determinations about what traffic is blocked keeps an organization safe from intrusion. It prevents its network from being bogged down by traffic it doesn’t need to operate. 

Determine what type of firewall best suits a network’s needs

Administrators have a wide range of options at their disposal when it comes to choosing a firewall. From traditional hardware options to firewalls offered as a software service, it’s important to implement a solution that will cover all the bases without blowing the budget.

Enterprise companies and organizations that are often in the crosshairs when it comes to criminal activity should naturally install fully-featured firewalls that can be monitored by IT teams capable of using them to their fullest extent.

Small business owners, however, are less likely to need the most robust options and can utilize firewalls with fewer capabilities, provided that they are configured appropriately by a knowledgeable IT administrator with an acute understanding of how to get the most out of the equipment.

Create detailed, efficient rulesets

Once a thorough analysis has been conducted, traffic rulesets must be created. These rules should be optimized for security as well as performance. The more detailed and specific they are, the better and safer a network will function. 

A firewall’s location also determines rulesets within a network, as the types of traffic encountered will vary significantly depending on what areas, devices, applications, etc., the firewall is placed between.

Establish a firewall security policy management plan

A firewall is only as effective as an organization’s ability to inspect its findings and manage its operation. It is not a set-it-and-forget-it component. 

Rulesets regarding traffic allowances and permissions need to be updated regularly as an organization’s requirements shift. These changes can be related to everything from business operations and new hires to implementing updated security policies, applications, and hosts.

Firewall performance also needs to be checked, as changes can potentially overwhelm components and limit their ability to function as expected.

Traffic logs and alerts must be examined to identify and locate potentially threatening activity. Traffic activity that is mistakenly blocked or resulting in false alarms needs to be identified to ensure efficient operation in addition to actual threats.

Finally, patches and updates need to be continually installed as issued to ensure that the firewall itself does not become a security liability.

Because firewall administration can significantly impact a network’s safety and functionality, this type of ongoing maintenance needs to be performed using a formal procedure by an administrator or team that has a deep understanding of how even seemingly minor modifications may result in downstream issues.

Set yourself up for continued safety

Firewall security policies are living protocols. Because cybersecurity is continually evolving and criminals are always eager to pounce on new vulnerabilities, an organization taking its hands off the wheel even briefly can result in a security breach or the injection of ransomware or spyware into its system.

While establishing the foundation of a network’s firewall rulesets puts an organization on the right path, it’s essential to understand that the cyclical nature of monitoring and administration means that every set of parameters is subject to modification. Like any safety protocol, an effective and meaningful firewall security policy must be designed to be agile, malleable, and easy to amend as needed to keep pace with the demands of any given day.

Derek Walborn
Derek Walborn
Derek Walborn is a freelance research-based technical writer. He has worked as a content QA analyst for AT&T and Pernod Ricard.

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