For most IT organisations, firewalls are the primary component of their security strategy. Traditional firewalls as we know them provide protection based on specific ports and protocols and can provide protection based on source and destination IP address. These firewalls are popular because they are relatively simple to operate and maintain, generally inexpensive and have good throughput.
However, with new, sophisticated threats being launched faster than ever since the introduction of the COVID-19 pandemic, traditional firewalls are becoming less and less capable of adequately protecting corporate networks. Protection based on ports, protocols, IP addresses is less and less reliable as these traditional firewalls see a given port as corresponding to a given service (such as TCP port 80 corresponding to HTTP) which is simply not the case anymore due to the increase in web-based applications.
Moreover, as the number of devices connected to the Internet is increasing, the more data that is online leading to more opportunities for attacks; legacy security systems are becoming too complex to manage. Businesses need updated rules for controlling their website and application usage within a network.
Next-generation firewalls (NGFWs) are deep-packet inspection firewalls that move beyond port/protocol inspection and blocking to add application-level inspection, intrusion prevention, and bringing intelligence from outside the firewall. They are a more advanced version of the traditional firewalls. A NGFW should not be confused with a stand-alone network intrusion prevention system (IPS), which includes a commodity or non-enterprise firewall, or a firewall and IPS in the same appliance that are not closely integrated.
Next-generation firewalls can identify applications regardless of port, protocol, evasive techniques, or SSL encryption and provide real-time protection against a wide array of threats, including those operating at the application layer. This provides increased security as we are able to identify the specific applications that are running on port 80 since we are looking at the application and not just the port. As well as detecting applications they can also limit or even block their usage and the features within them.
Benefits of Next Generation Firewalls include:
In addition to all the functionalities of traditional firewalls, next-generation firewalls also include integrated intrusion detection systems (IDS) and intrusion protection systems (IPS) that detect attacks based on traffic behavioral analysis, threat signatures or anomalous activity. This functionality helps perform deeper inspection and improve packet-content filtering of network traffic up to the application layer.
2. Visibility and User Identification
NGFWs can link IP addresses to specific user identities, enabling visibility and control of network activity on a per-user basis. This gains visibility into who specifically is responsible for all application, content, and threat traffic on the network
3. Content Identification
NGFWs can scan content to prevent data leakage and stop threats with detailed, real-time traffic inspection. This content identification includes Threat prevention, URL filtering and file and data filtering.
4. Threat Protection and Mitigation
Unlike traditional firewalls, NGFWs include antivirus and malware protection that's continuously upgraded automatically whenever new threats are discovered. The NGFW device also minimizes the avenues of attack by limiting the applications that run on it.
It then scans all the approved applications for any hidden vulnerabilities or confidential data leaks, as well as mitigates risks from any unknown applications. This also helps in reducing bandwidth usage from any useless traffic, which isn't possible with traditional firewalls.
5. Advanced Policy control
Traditional firewalls work on a simple deny/allow model. In this model, everyone can access an application that is deemed to be good and nobody can access an application that is deemed to be bad. This model simply doesn’t work anymore. Today’s reality is that an application that might be bad for one organisation might well be good for another. What NGFWs allow is granular levels of control to allow the good aspects of an application to be accessed by the appropriate employees while blocking all access to the bad aspects of an application.
In conclusion, traditional firewalls are no longer able to protect organisations from modern, sophisticated threats. Next generation firewalls have the capabilities to offer actionable intelligence and controls that allow standard firewall features, integrated network intrusion prevention, application awareness and extra firewall intelligence.
NGFWs can also be a low-cost option for companies looking to improve their basic security because they can incorporate the work of antiviruses, firewalls, and other security applications into one solution. With the number of features that an NGFW provides, it is undoubtedly becoming a useful technology in cybersecurity.
To learn more about Next Generation firewalls and the current threat surface, join Smarttech247 and Palo Alto Networks on August 13th at 3pm for our Enterprise Security Fireside Chat.
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