Sunday, November 27, 2022

Why is Firewall-as-a-Service (FWaaS) Important?

A firewall-as-a-service (FWaaS) provides overarching network access protection, control, and monitoring across modern IT infrastructures. See below to learn all about why companies are using FWaaS as a network security solution:

Why use a FWaaS solution?

What are the benefits of FWaaS?

Beyond the core aaS benefits, FWaaS enjoys specific improvements such as:

Cloud speed

Local firewall appliances can be constrained by local appliance limitations such as memory and processor capabilities. FWaaS deploys as many resources as needed and thus delivers the faster performance needed to match the performance cloud applications. 

Flexible cloud scaling

FWaaS cloud architecture grows and shrinks as needed to provide right-sized architecture for all needs.

Local hardware deploys with fixed maximum capacities:

  • Often must be purchased much larger than needed to accommodate future growth and thus wastes money
  • Can be overwhelmed by traffic or packet inspection requirements at peak use, even if the appliance size meets the average needs
  • Can become a bottleneck for traffic, especially with bandwidth-constrained connections to the internet. Technically, this is an issue with local architecture, not the firewall appliance itself, but this is an inherent issue with locally deployed resources

FWaaS vendors deploy:

  • Unlimited computing power to examine packets and filter malicious data
  • Unlimited scalability to meet future needs whether they increase or decrease
  • Direct connections between remote users and cloud resources to eliminate local network network bandwidth constraints
  • The cloud scale and data of all customers to provide robust training for AI and ML algorithms to deploy better security for all customers.

Global reach and control

Local appliances only control local networks, whereas remote offices have their own local appliances that may be inconsistently deployed and difficult to manage remotely. 

FWaaS enables a concentrated group of firewall experts to configure, deploy, monitor, and maintain consistent security policies for all offices and remote workers in a centralized manner. In addition, FWaaS can be deployed consistently within cloud resources closer to global offices to minimize delays in network packet transmission

Increased flexibility

Appliance-based firewall upgrades and network restructuring require considerable labor and time to design and implement:

  • Physical appliance replacement or reconfiguration
  • New software installations (and possible downtime)
  • New firewall rules that need to be implemented on each physical appliance one at a time

By comparison, FWaaS installs upgrades instantly, new features are added with the click of a mouse, and new security rules deploy in a few seconds. 

Modern network architecture support

Local firewalls use decade-old architecture technology to protect legacy local networks well. FWaaS expands coverage to modern IT architecture:

  • Cloud-first FWaaS provides better coverage for cloud-based solutions (SaaS, PaaS, IaaS, etc.) by enabling secure direct connections between users and resources without local network choke points.
  • FWaaS integrates naturally with software-defined wide area networks (SD-WAN) to provide integrated security as well as scalable architecture.
  • FWaaS provides a fundamental component for secure access service edge (SASE) solutions and often will be packaged as a feature with a SASE product.
  • FWaaS can provide consistent coverage and rules for geographically dispersed remote users, resources, and networks.
  • FWaaS protects multiple cloud deployments and SaaS solutions with consistent deployment so long as the FWaaS vendor supports that cloud.
  • FWaaS easily supports and protects bring-your-own-device (BYOD) devices with standardized policies and protection.

Security and performance improvements

Local firewalls can lead to security and performance weaknesses:

  • Local hardware can be overwhelmed with deep packet inspection requirements and slow down network traffic.
  • Some firewalls cannot inspect Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) encrypted traffic, while others simply slow down traffic because they perform poorly.
  • Local firewalls can expose the network to attack because of delays to implement patches or the latest security intelligence updates.
  • Some remote users or resources may bypass firewall appliances to access cloud resources directly to avoid performance issues and expose themselves to security risks.

FWaaS uses cloud-native scale to deploy resources as needed to: 

  • Perform consistent packet inspection without performance delays even for SSL traffic.
  • Keep network security capabilities fully updated with immediate integration of security intelligence and vulnerability patching.
  • Security can force all traffic to flow through FWaaS solutions without user or operational complaints about performance bottlenecks.

Simplified network architecture

Local IT staff deploy local firewall solutions for a new office. However, this often results in an IT architecture of many different brands and models that can complicate deployment, training, management, and consistency.

FWaaS simplifies network architecture by allowing resources to connect to a standardized solution with consistent security controls and configurations.

Why are firewalls critical?

Firewalls typically provide the first line of defense for a resource. IT managers historically deployed firewalls to protect networks, but firewalls evolved significantly to expand protection in several ways.

In terms of capabilities, firewalls began to incorporate other technologies to provide unified threat management (UTM) or improved threat detection from deeper packet inspection in next-generation firewalls (NGFW).

In terms of deployment, we now use firewalls embedded in operating systems to monitor traffic for specific applications and containers and as web application firewalls (WAF). Of course, to truly understand the importance, we also must understand the threats addressed by firewalls and FWaaS.

Threats defended by firewalls and FWaaS

In general, firewalls block malicious traffic and viruses before they can reach the network, application, server, or website.

FWaaS specifically defends a dispersed IT network that can contain a variety of geographically dispersed local networks, remote users, data centers, and cloud resources such as software-as-a-service (SaaS) applications, platform-as-a-service (PaaS) resources, or infrastructure-as-a-service (IaaS) infrastructure.

Specifically, FWaaS and firewalls typically:

  • Block malicious web traffic such as bad bot activity, malware, packets that indicate intrusion activity, IP address spoofing, and traffic from identified malicious websites 
  • Perform network inspection and monitoring to detect, alert, and block malicious traffic between network resources, including cloud resources

More advanced firewalls and most FWaaS also deploy advanced features that enable additional capabilities:

  • Internet Protocol security (IPsec)-enabled firewalls defend against data corruption, denial-of-service (DoS) or distributed denial-of-service attacks (DDoS), data theft, man-in-the-middle (MitM) attacks, network attacks from untrusted computers, unauthorized attempts to control network-connected devices, untrusted communication, and user-credential theft.
  • Advanced firewall products can also block Domain Name System (DNS) attacks or spoofing, outgoing sensitive data, zero-day attacks with assistance from artificial intelligence (AI) or machine learning (ML) algorithms.
  • Secure Sockets Layer virtual private network (SSL VPN)-enabled devices block unauthorized remote connections to the network and protect remote users against attacks or information sniffing.

Why the as-a-service model is important?

All as-a-service offerings share common benefits stemming from their business model. Most organizations enjoy:

Concentrated expertise

As-a-service vendors’ experts do the heavy lifting on the back end to create a superior technology with a user-friendly interface. Customers need less expertise internally to configure and deploy the technology.

For FWaaS specifically, organizations can use a dramatically smaller number of firewall experts internally to configure and deploy firewalls for the entire organization. In addition, the infrastructure of the firewalls themselves will be deployed, configured, and maintained by firewall experts with experience and technical capabilities beyond the economic reach of most organizations.

Ease of support

Simplified processes make aaS solutions fast and easy to purchase, deploy, maintain, and support. Some aaS solutions allow for many, if not all, of these tedious and time-consuming IT tasks to be eliminated entirely. For FWaaS, the advantages manifest as:

Purchasing

FWaaS do not require six-figure appliances and financing that needs approval from the finance department. Many FWaaS solutions can be purchased in minutes with a credit card and an email address.

Deployment

Deployment becomes simplified and requires less resources and expertise. Whereas physical appliances need to be shipped and delivered, and virtual appliances need to be downloaded and installed, FWaaS is instantly available. Moreover, physical and virtual appliances deployed locally or in the cloud all require internal experts to deploy correctly, secure, and connect with the rest of the IT infrastructure.

FWaaS guides users through their options and mainly requires IP addresses to be entered correctly. Even a single internal firewall expert can establish a set of baseline configurations that can be consistently deployed across a wide variety of resources. Customers that need additional help or customized deployments can engage the FWaaS experts to guide customization or even perform the setup.

Lastly, distributed locations often need their own dedicated appliances to secure the local network. Each of these appliances (virtual or physical) must be sized to current growth expectations and require future upgrades if the location’s needs increase. FWaaS scales automatically, and additional firewalls can be consistently and rapidly deployed with mouse clicks.

Maintenance

FWaaS providers take on the full responsibility of maintenance requirements and updates.

Local firewalls require alert IT teams to watch for the latest updates, manage network downtime, and correctly apply updates and patches promptly to prevent attacks. Comparatively, FWaaS providers handle all maintenance in the background with minimal downtime using virtual appliance failover.

Additionally, local firewalls require constant updates for malware intelligence. The lists of the latest websites to block, additional malware signatures, or revised AI algorithms must be continuously obtained and added. Some processes can be automated, but some delays or downtime in the update process are inevitable. With FWaaS, providers keep all firewalls continuously and fully updated with the latest intelligence to block malicious websites and traffic.

Support

Power failures, device failure, and other network problems related to firewalls need to be managed and supported by internal teams. When moving to FWaaS, the customer and infrastructure support is offloaded to the vendor, which uses redundant architecture to minimize downtime and failure without any additional financial or staff resources required from the customer.

Economies of scale

As-a-service vendors buy larger architecture and hire a more expensive staff of experts than any single company could reasonably afford. The aaS vendors then sell it on a fractional cost basis to their customers.

For FWaas, customers gain the advantage of reduced prices and a shift from capital expenses (CapEx) to operating expenses (OpEx) by switching to a monthly or annual consumption subscription. 

Moreover, FWaaS competes against NGFW and UTM appliances, which require significant upfront costs to acquire so often customers buy more than what they need to prevent purchasing additional equipment before the end-of-life of their expensive appliance. Switching to the FWaaS subscription model dramatically lowers initial costs and allows customers to pay only for the capabilities and capacity they need at any given time.

While some organizations might dramatically increase their use of firewalls with FWaaS and find their costs actually increase, typically, this will reflect an unmet need of the organization more than a failure to recognize cost savings.

Flexible consistency

As-a-service solutions enable a select group of experts to configure a standardized solution that can be deployed through the internet to all parts of the organization. 

Local firewalls often will be set up by local staff that may not have the best expertise in the organization or may apply inconsistent security policies or make mistakes in configuration or integration.

FWaaS allows the organization to deploy consistent security policies developed by the organization’s experts. FWaaS deploys with consistent configurations based upon preset templates. Organizations can decide when and how to deploy protections based on the processes and assets to protect and where in a cloud-based data chain to place protections.

Bottom line

FWaaS solutions provide profound advantages over traditional firewall solutions, even advanced UTM and NGFW appliances. However, potential customers may hesitate to adopt FWaaS because of

  • Perceived loss of control over the underlying hardware
  • The concentration of too many security “eggs” in one basket
  • The concern that firewall settings can be seen by FWaaS providers and become a security risk
  • The concern that FWaaS technology is too new, and vulnerabilities have yet to be exposed and fixed
  • The concern that FWaaS technology requires training on the subtle differences and settings for the technology compared to local firewalls
  • The perception that current firewalls have many years of life in them and that cost savings might not be realized

These valid concerns will surely be addressed over time. Just as most other cloud solutions have gained acceptance, FWaaS solutions will prove to be an important feature for the operational and security architecture for most organizations as they move forward.

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