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Should Cybersecurity Teams Consider Next-Generation Firewalls?

Cyber attacks and hacking methodologies are growing in complexity over time. This concern has led many enterprises to look toward more advanced capabilities to enhance their cybersecurity. One solution they have found is utilizing next-generation firewalls.

Traditionally, a regular firewall follows predefined Web protocols. It doesn’t have the intelligence to distinguish various types of Web traffic. This limitation forces the system to only allow or disallow traffic, depending on a given set of built-in criteria.

As such, the protection it provides for specific protocols, ports, and IP addresses is no longer enough. Enterprises need sturdier security that’s not tied down to predefined settings. Today’s firewalls require more advanced rules to control website access and app usage within corporate networks hence the development of so-called next-generation firewalls (NGFWs).

What Are Next-Generation Firewalls?

NGFWs are network security devices that can do more than their predecessors—traditional firewalls. While standard firewalls typically provide stateful inspection of network traffic, NGFWs offer intrusion prevention, app awareness and control, and cloud-delivered threat intelligence.

Besides controlling access, an NGFW can block more sophisticated threats such as advanced application-layer attacks and malware. It should have the following features:

  • An integrated intrusion prevention system (IPS)
  • Standard firewall capabilities, including stateful inspection
  • Access to cloud-based threat intelligence sources
  • Application awareness and control features
  • Upgrade paths that consider the addition of data feeds in the future
  • Strategies to counteract dynamic security threats

Why Are NGFWs Necessary in Modern Cybersecurity?

An NGFW is essential to reinforce security in response to the increasingly growing and advancing threat landscape. That said, here are the main reasons why NGFWs are a necessity today.

Rising Cybercrime

As the cybercrime volume continues to rise, the tactics and technologies that cybercriminals use are also becoming more complicated due to reasons stated in an SSL Store report that include:

  • One in 50 emails has some malicious content.
  • Ransomware attacks against enterprises rose 12% from 2018.
  • Around 10% of all dangerous emails contain malware such as trojans, ransomware, and spyware.
  • Mobile ransomware have grown in number by 33% from 2018.

Also, app usage has increased dramatically in the past years. Such dependence on apps brings with it more vulnerabilities. Fortunately, NGFWs can monitor for vulnerabilities down to the application layer.

Traditional Firewalls Can Cripple Response Time

The main parameters that can reduce the amount of time spent on handling threats are simplicity and automation. Companies who still use traditional firewalls are thus wasting time dealing with unnecessary complexities.

An NGFW combines enterprise firewall capabilities with stateful packet inspection and intrusion prevention in a single device. These features allow it to perform better and increase its accessibility overall. Besides that, the automation capabilities built into NGFWs minimize the number of manual tasks needed, thus improving remediation speed.

Cloud Protection Is Now a Necessity

Despite offering increased security, using cloud solutions such as infrastructure-as-a-service (IaaS) offerings doesn’t mean organizations should neglect firewall utilization. Companies are sure to have physical computers and servers that would remain vulnerable to endpoint threats without a firewall. However, why should anyone choose an NGFW over a regular firewall?

The reason for this is simple. NGFWs have features that protect not only systems in-house but also those used outside the office by remote workers. They can also be configured to work alongside bring-your-own-device (BYOD) policies. While regular firewalls limit security to a single location, NGFWs can protect cloud-based and hybrid networks. Additionally, NGFWs eliminate traditional firewall blind spots through identity awareness and application-level control for increased threat visibility.

Things to Look for in an NGFW

Here are primary considerations when choosing the right NGFWs.

Advanced Breach Protection and Security

The main job of any firewall is to stop breaches from happening. However, since preventive measures aren’t foolproof, a firewall needs to have advanced abilities in detecting evasive malware. As such, you want your NGFW to:

  • Be able to prevent threats from even entering your network
  • Have a topnotch, built-in IPS that discovers and stops hidden threats
  • Have built-in website categorization capability to enforce policies on billions of domains
  • Have built-in malware protection that analyzes file behaviors continuously to detect and eliminate even unknown threats

Complete Network Visibility

A security system can’t protect a network from something it can’t see. As such, an ideal firewall is one that sees all potential threats. Your NGFW should provide a holistic view of all activities and comprehensive awareness to determine:

  • When and where a threat originates from, what it is currently doing, and where else it may be
  • Threat activity across devices, networks, hosts, and even users
  • Communications hidden in file transfers, that run on virtual machines (VMs), and more
  • All websites users are accessing and applications they are running

Flexible Deployment and Management Options

Regardless of your organization’s size, your firewall needs to meet requirements that include:

  • Capability to be deployed on-site or hosted in the cloud
  • Can be configured for specific use cases
  • Can run on a variety of throughput speeds
  • Has other customizable features to fit specific customers’ needs

Fast Detection Time

Studies show that the average time to detect threats currently ranges from 100 to 200 days. That is too long. With an NGFW, security teams can:

  • Discover threats as quickly as possible
  • Detect breaches a few hours or minutes after they occur
  • Prioritize legitimate alerts for quick action
  • Maintain consistent policies with the aid of automatic enforcement

Product Integration and Automation

Finally, your NGFW should not be cooped up by itself. It needs to have the ability to coordinate and work with other programs in your security architecture. As such, it should:

  • Be able to integrate seamlessly with other tools and processes
  • Automate cybersecurity tasks such as policy management, impact assessment, and user identification
  • Share threat data, contextual information, event data, and more with other endpoint, Web, email, and network security tools

Network Sandboxing

Network sandboxing offers protection against malware by providing firewalls the ability to run suspicious files in an isolated sandbox. From there, the files are meticulously observed to determine if they are harmful or not.

This feature is fast becoming a mainstream NGFW requirement. It’s worth checking out a product that already has or will soon have it.

Various Threat Intelligence Sources

Threat intelligence sources can provide NGFWs with lists of malicious signatures, IP addresses, and other threat indicators. Such data can be fed to the firewall to detect threats and stop attacks before they even happen. A good source of threat data is a website contact and categorization database or API.

You may want to check if your NGFW product accepts threat intelligence from third-party sources. Some products only work with solutions their vendors produce, which may be limited.

Quick Questions to Ask an NGFW Vendor

Finally, here are some critical questions to ask your potential NGFW vendor before moving forward with a purchase:

  1. What is the peak firewall traffic throughput if all features are enabled/disabled?
  2. What is the cost of a basic device?
  3. How much will the device cost with my requirements enabled?
  4. Can I have features changed on demand and how much would that cost?
  5. What applications is the firewall aware of? Can awareness be customized to fit other programs?
  6. What other security features do you offer?
  7. What type of reporting does your product provide?
  8. What are its annual update and maintenance costs?
  9. How much skill is required to set up its security capabilities?
  10. How often does its application list get updated?

* * *

An NGFW is a critical piece of infrastructure for companies today to fight against the rising tide of cybercrime. Its capability to simplify workloads through automation and integration can definitely help security teams perform at their best.

It’s essential to keep in mind, however, to favor an experienced and reliable provider when making your decision. Make sure you choose a product that has as many of the features listed above to maximize your company’s security.

By WhoisXML API, A Domain Research, Whois, DNS, and Threat Intelligence API and Data Provider

Whois API, Inc. (WhoisXML API) is a big data and API company that provides domain research & monitoring, Whois, DNS, IP, and threat intelligence API, data and tools to a variety of industries.

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