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How To Fully Benefit From a NGFW (Next-Generation Firewall)

As all cybersecurity professionals know, cybercriminals are becoming increasingly sophisticated and skilled at breaching networks and compromising systems on most networks if given the opportunity. Businesses and organizations are starting to adopt more advanced solutions in an effort to combat the escalation of technical cybercrime, and one of those methods includes Next-Generation Firewalls.

However, there is more to getting the full benefits from an NGFW than simply copying across your old firewall configurations onto your new NGFW. In this article, we will explore how to get the best from your new firewall and what security considerations you should be mindful of if you want to fully leverage the security capabilities of an NGFW.

Let’s Understand What the Difference is Between Legacy and Next-Generation Firewalls

Firewalls are an excellent defense against intrusion on a network. Legacy firewalls tend to focus on traffic-based filtering that is based on source and destination IP addresses, port numbers, and specific protocols. This approach was adequate for defending networks that faced occasional attacks from a limited and specific sources. However, things have changed.

Modern firewalls must be able to withstand sustained and automated attacks coming from multiple sources and using many different attack vectors. Malicious traffic is getting harder to reliably detect using older defensive techniques, which is why your firewall needs an added layer of intelligence.

NGFWs are the result of modern and complex cyber threats that have surfaced in recent years. NGFWs are able to address complex and dynamic cyber threats while maintaining the reliability and security that IT infrastructure needs to operate. Some examples of NGFW's advanced features include Deep Packet Inspection (DPI), Intrusion Prevention Systems (IPS), application identification and control, content filtering, and advanced network controls that enhance security. In other words, while traditional legacy firewalls are limited to inspect the traffic at layer 3 and 4, NGFW are able to inspect traffic at all layers of the OSI model.

Some of these NGFW appliances are integrated into the cloud and offer unparalleled threat detection as they are always updated and can identify, download and update the latest application signatures in real time.

Features to Activate When Deploying a Next-Generation Firewall

Now that we have a slightly better understanding of what a Next-Generation Firewall’s features are, let’s look into them and find out more about what they do and why you need them on your network.

Application Identification and Control

One of the most important differences between legacy firewalls and NGFWs is their ability to inspect and manage network traffic based not only on the applications that are running on the network but also on the users that are running them.

Traditional firewalls tend to operate at Layer 2 through to Layer 4 of the OSI model and generally don’t inspect packet payloads. NGFWs are able to not only identify and classify applications that are running on the network, but they can even identify anomalous activity from non-standard ports and encrypted traffic.

This means that organizations now have unparalleled visibility of their networks and offer clear insights into how applications are being used (or misused) on the network. Granular enforcement means that policies can be put in place that will deny, allow or restrict access to specific applications, aligning to the security and company policies that are in place within the organization.

Not only does this allow businesses to prioritize business-critical applications, but it also allows for risky applications to be blocked and for bandwidth-hungry processes to be limited if deemed to be a lower priority. Application and Identification Control blocks advanced malware and application-layer attacks that have traditionally been able to escape undetected by legacy firewalls.

Content and URL Filtering

Content and URL filtering is another feature that NGFWs have successfully integrated into their capabilities. They can use packet filtering and stateful inspection that is intelligent and contextually aware, making forbidden content much harder to make it onto your network.

Contextual awareness makes it less likely for the NGFW to trigger false positives while being more accurate. By implementing these filters at the application level, NGFWs can make better decisions about allowing or denying traffic based on the content filtering rules.

Content and URL filtering can scan and inspect data and block viruses, malware, and any other threat that might not be detectable with legacy firewalls. Content filtering is also very good at detecting outbound content, which helps to prevent data leaks, and is an integral part of an organization's Data Loss Prevention plans.

Content filtering helps organizations keep a strong security posture while maintaining standards that relate to specific industries and markets.

Intrusion Prevention System (IPS)

NGFWs monitor traffic on the network and prevent unauthorized access by incorporating IPS functionality, which makes networks far more secure and keeps cyber criminals out. IPS is essential for network security teams that cannot afford to allow intrusions onto sensitive network infrastructure.

The Intrusion Prevention System of an NGFW monitors the network for intrusion attempts and other suspicious and malicious activities. IPS relies on traffic inspection, signature-based detection, anomaly-based detection, and inline prevention.

The main advantage of having an NGFW with IPS enabled is that it provides you with an all-in-one solution that will inspect and control the traffic on your network for applications, users, and threats.

Integration with Cloud-Based Threat Intelligence

Cloud-Based Threat Intelligence is one of the biggest advantages of NGFWs over legacy firewalls. Cloud-Based Threat Intelligence databases can obtain the latest updates on known threats, vulnerabilities, and suspicious and malicious IP addresses.

NGFWs have access to and can leverage this data and information by updating their security policies and signatures. Another benefit is that behavioral analysis that can be performed in a sandbox environment with suspicious items such as files and traffic.

This makes NGFWs much better at filtering traffic as they make more informed decisions with the latest threat data. If you want to prevent and mitigate attacks more often and with better accuracy, then Cloud-Based Threat Intelligence will be the right choice for your firewall setup.

To get the most out of your future NGFW, you will need to implement newer, better configurations if you are going to prevent the latest threats from affecting your operations. You cannot simply copy over your existing firewall rules and then hope for the best. New features, thresholds, and capabilities are available, and they must be used if you are going to remain secure.

Organizations can significantly improve their network security by activating and properly configuring features such as application identification and control, content filtering, URL filtering, intrusion prevention systems, and cloud-based threat intelligence.


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