This firewall policy guide is a beginner’s guide to creating a clear and practical firewall policy for organizations in any industry.
This guide covers all the key elements of creating a firewall security policy and also offers some great firewall policy examples for inspiration.
Writing a firewall policy is a necessary part of security documentation today, and can be challenging. But it doesn’t need to be confusing.
For more information, also see: Why Firewalls are Important for Network Security
Core Elements of a Firewall Policy
A firewall policy is a document outlining the configuration of an organization’s firewall, including an overview of rules and procedures and who is required to follow them. Before writing a firewall policy, organizations will first need to determine how their firewall will be set up and the architecture and technologies it will use. The National Institute of Standards and Technology has published guidance on effectively configuring firewalls that may be helpful for this process.
The specific contents of a firewall policy will vary from one organization to another. For instance, a large corporation will likely have a longer, more detailed firewall policy than a small business. However, there is a basic firewall policy template that can be used by any type of organization.
The first section of a firewall policy is the policy’s purpose. This is a brief statement of one or two paragraphs that explains what the firewall policy is intended to do. It often also includes a short description of what a firewall is, although technical terms are always explained in a later definitions section.
The purpose of a firewall policy is generally to ensure that firewalls are deployed and configured in a universal way across an organization. The firewall policy may also be intended to increase organizational awareness about firewall and security standards.
Audience or Scope
The audience or scope is an important section of the basic firewall policy template. This section specifies who the policy applies to as well as the technical extent of the policy. Firewall security policies may have an audience section and a scope section or just one or the other. They can often be combined into one section.
For instance, the audience for a business’s firewall policy would be everyone working for the business as well as those using the business’s network. This would include every department in the business, all of the employees, anyone responsible for setting up and maintaining network firewalls, and all of the devices and equipment connected to the business’s networks.
The definitions section of the standard firewall security policy template is designed to make sure all readers understand what the policy means. Firewalls are part of a larger network security framework, so a firewall policy necessarily includes many technical terms.
However, most of these terms are likely unfamiliar to the average reader. Examples include terms like “firewall,” “host,” or “network device.” Even more general terms like “electronic equipment” should be defined.
The goal of the definitions section is to ensure everything outlined in the firewall policy is crystal clear. There should be no doubt about what any section of the policy means due to the use of undefined terms. This way, readers are less likely to misunderstand the policy and violate it by mistake.
Additionally, in the event that someone does intentionally violate the firewall policy, they can’t claim ignorance because all of the necessary terms are explained in the definitions section.
Policy and Procedures
The bulk of the firewall policy template is the policy and procedures section. This is where an organization lays out in detail all of the various requirements they have for the way that firewalls must be set up and configured. This section will differ the most from one organization to another.
The policy and procedures section should include information on firewall configuration requirements, specific rules that firewalls must use, and requirements for changing and auditing an organization’s firewalls. Additionally, this is a good place to go over elements of an organization’s data privacy strategy that apply to firewall configurations.
For instance, identity and access management are crucial for ensuring an organization’s data is protected from prying eyes. Firewall security policies need to indicate who is allowed to create and control firewalls on the organization’s networks. If unauthorized staff is permitted to create and configure a firewall, it could result in serious security vulnerabilities.
The next section in a standard firewall policy template is compliance requirements. Some firewall policies do not include this section. It may only be necessary for certain industries where specific cybersecurity standards are legally required. In this case, the compliance requirements section will outline specific procedures required by those regulations.
Some organizations may also include a compliance requirements section for internal use. For instance, an organization might have its own cybersecurity and privacy standards enforced by IT leadership. In this case, the compliance requirements section will go over the procedures needed to ensure compliance with those internal regulations.
Change and Exception Requests
Finally, the last section in the standard firewall policy template covers instructions for change and exception requests. In the event that someone in the organization does need some change to be made to the firewall, they will need to know how to properly submit that request.
This last section of the firewall policy should include all the necessary information on such requests, including who to contact, the necessary forms to fill out, and any requirements or limitations for firewall changes and exceptions.
For more information, also see: What is Firewall as a Service?
3 Examples of Great Firewall Policies
By using the standard firewall security policy template outlined above, an organization can create a functional policy. For those creating a firewall policy for the first time, it may be helpful to see a few examples of well-written policies.
While businesses often do not make their policies accessible online, many universities and educational institutions do. These example policies offer some great inspiration for the kind of language and layout a firewall policy should typically include.
Northwestern University: Interactive Webpage Firewall Policy
The official firewall policy of Northwestern University is a great example of a modern firewall policy. In the past, firewall policies were often published as PDF documents designed to be printed out on paper. There is nothing wrong with this format, but Northwestern’s more modern approach has a few benefits worth noting.
First, this policy follows the standard layout, including all the key sections mentioned above. The page takes advantage of web design to make the policy easy to navigate with bolded, colored headings. Additionally, since this firewall policy is designed as a web page, Northwestern is able to link directly to necessary forms posted elsewhere on their website. They also conveniently link directly to contact information for IT personnel, a helpful feature for readers.
University of Connecticut: Short and Succinct
Not all firewall policies need to be numerous pages long. Sometimes a brief summary of key details is all that is needed. The University of Connecticut’s firewall policy is a good example of a short and succinct policy. They are able to cover all of the key sections of the standard firewall policy template in a brief, single-page document.
One thing to note in this particular policy is the short definitions section. In this case, the University of Connecticut seems to be assuming readers already have some basic knowledge of firewall terminology or have the security background to look up unfamiliar terms.
For some organizations, this approach works perfectly fine. Organizations simply need to be aware of who will most likely be using their firewall policy. If that audience is mainly technical personnel, a shorter definitions section is often reasonable.
Portland City Firewall Policy: A Basic Government Policy
Every organization that uses network technology should have a firewall policy, including government organizations. The city government of Portland has made its firewall policy available online and it offers a perfect example of a basic government firewall policy. This is a good place to start for local administrators or local legislative organizations.
The Portland City government uses the basic PDF layout for its firewall policy. This conventional approach is often used in government organizations since the policy often is still printed out for distribution in offices. Notice that slightly different language is used in this policy compared to non-government policies. For example, “Administrative Rule” is used in place of “Policy and Procedures.”
The Portland City government has also added a brief section on “Intrusion Detection and Prevention.” This section is valuable to include for any type of organization. While not strictly necessary, it is helpful for indicating to readers that the organization is taking steps to actively protect its networks from intrusion.
For more information, also see: Artificial Intelligence in Cybersecurity
Firewall Policy Guide: Creating Your Own
The examples and overview above offer a starting point for crafting a clear and practical firewall policy. Luckily, the process is usually relatively straightforward. For those looking for an easy place to get the ball rolling, the starter firewall policy template below can be used by any kind of organization.
Lead with a concise statement about the goal of the firewall policy. For example:
“This policy is designed to protect [ORGANIZATION NAME]’s network and information systems from malicious digital activity by regulating firewall configuration.”
This section may also include a brief description of what a firewall is and an overview of its key elements.
The audience section does not need to be long, but it does need to cover everyone impacted by the policy, as well as any relevant devices and systems the policy applies to. For example:
“This policy applies to all [ORGANIZATION NAME] users, departments, and business units as well as any connected devices, systems, and applications.”
It may be helpful to write the definitions section last, even though it appears early in the firewall policy template. This section should include any technical terminology mentioned in the rest of the document.
So, write up the whole policy and then go back through and identify any and all terms that the average reader might not be familiar with. Include these terms and their definitions in the definitions section of the policy. Examples of common terms included in the definitions section include IP, VPN, firewall, and firewall network.
Policy and Procedures
The bulk of the firewall policy will be the policy and procedures section. The specific contents of this section are completely dependent on each organization’s unique firewall and security circumstances. Examples of details commonly outlined in this section include:
- Who is responsible for configuring and maintaining network firewalls
- What inbound and outbound traffic firewalls must allow or deny
- The consequences of using unauthorized devices or equipment
- Who may access the organization’s firewalls
- Who may change firewall rules, software, hardware, and other configurations
- The methods used to filter traffic through the organization’s firewalls (i.e. packet filtering, application proxy, etc.)
This section is not strictly necessary. The only organizations that generally have to include a compliance requirements section are those subject to legal cybersecurity requirements.
This section functions much like the policy and procedures section above. It should list in detail any additional procedures or rules required to ensure compliance with relevant cybersecurity and privacy regulations.
Change and Exception Requests
This section of the firewall security policy template details the procedure for submitting a request for changes and exceptions to anything in the policy and procedures section above. Include the contact information of the IT personnel responsible for processing these requests. Additionally, make sure to list and/or link to any necessary forms that must be included with change and exception requests. For example:
- The timeline for submitting, processing, and executing change and exception requests (i.e. the necessary steps to submit a request, the process for approving or denying requests, and when approved requests can be expected to go into effect).
- Necessary change and exception request forms.
- Contact information for IT personnel, such as IT support or a security helpline.
For more information, also see: Data Security Trends
Bottom Line: Utilizing the Standard Firewall Policy Template
The firewall policy template and firewall policy examples discussed above offer a starting point for anyone creating a policy for their organization. These policies are a key part of security documentation. Every organization should have a firewall policy today, but the guide above makes it easy to write up a concise, practical policy for any type of organization.
On a related topic, also see: Top Cybersecurity Software