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What is a Next-Generation Firewall?

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A next-generation firewall (NGFW) is the third generation of firewall security technology. It builds on the previous versions, combining the basic capabilities of traditional firewalls in monitoring a device’s connection to the internet with more advanced tools, such as application-level traffic monitoring, deep packet inspection, and intrusion prevention systems (IPSs).

A next-generation firewall is designed to combat modern network security threats that have risen with the digitization of organizations. A NGFW tends to be more context-aware when scanning the incoming and outgoing network traffic for suspicious or malicious activity. See below to learn all about a next-generation firewall:

What Is A Next-Generation Firewall?

How Does A Next-Generation Firewall Work?

In principle, NGFWs don’t differ that much from their traditional counterparts. They sit at the outermost part of your network, monitoring and scanning the traffic exchanged between the users, devices, and applications in the network with servers, websites, and devices through the public internet.

An NGFW improves on this feature by implementing comprehensive control and visibility over applications and user devices. Additionally, they provide Layer 7 application filtering when inspecting the contents of transferred data packets.

Some NGFW offerings are capable of network-wide access management, as well as behavior management and analysis using artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML).

See more: What is a Firewall? Definition, Features, and Types

What Are The Types Of Next-Generation Firewalls?

There are 3 types of NGFWs depending on the method of delivering the security and control capabilities of the solution:

Software-Based NGFW

Software NGFWs don’t require a dedicated part of the network’s physical resources. Instead, they run similarly to any application within the network; using your CPU and RAM resources as needed.

This type needs to be installed and configured for each network device either individually or collectively. It’s generally easy to install on any type or size of computer network.

Hardware-Based NGFW

Hardware firewalls are physical devices that all the incoming and outgoing network traffic gets routed through it for monitoring and scanning purposes.

Instead of being housed directly on your network’s infrastructure, this type relies on its physical resources and doesn’t weigh down your network’s flow.

Cloud-Based NGFW

A cloud-based NGFW, also known as hosted NGFW, is a software-based firewall that’s deployed on an off-premises cloud to minimize pressure on network resources or demand technical management.

The hosted cloud can be owned by the network owner or rented for storage and computing space. Similarly, cloud-based solutions can sometimes be categorized as Firewall-as-a-Service (FWaaS), where a third-party hosts and deploys the firewall solution to your network with little involvement on your end.

See more: Types of Firewalls Explained

Steps To Configure A Next-Generation Firewall

There are many steps to building the correct firewall for the organization. This includes vendors, the level of security a network requires, and the type of firewall. However, most companies need help setting up a firewall if they choose to not use a third party.

1. Secure The Next-Generation Firewall

A company must immediately decide on who in the company should have access to the firewall. This could be a chief of technology (CTO), a cybersecurity expert, or a networking expert from the company.

Whether a company uses a third-party firewall or uses their own, at least one internal member of the company must have access.

Once there is an employee with this role, they should follow the following steps:

Steps To Secure The Company’s Firewall

  1. Update the firewall
  2. Delete or rename default user accounts
  3. Change all default passwords
  4. Create an effective password
  5. Make the employee and vendor have access to separate accounts
  6. Limit access

Once all of these steps are completed, the company’s firewall is secured.

2. Identify Next-Generation Firewall Zones And IP Addresses

All data and assets need to be grouped by low, medium, and high sensitivity and their functions. The meanings are as followed:

  • Low sensitivity: Public access data and assets
    • Public: This classification is similar to low sensitivity. Public access is available without security controls. This information is not a large concern.
  • Medium sensitivity: Internal access, but if accessed by the public, not catastrophic
    • Internal: This classification is meant for internal use only. However, if this information is exposed, it will not be detrimental to the business.
  • High sensitivity: Protected data that if accessed outside of the organization is detrimental
    • Restricted: If this data is leaked, it is detrimental to a company. If leaked, it can cause a loss of customers and money and lead to legal, and regulatory consequences.

Once the assets are grouped, they can be grouped into zones.

However, web services, such as email or VPNs, and IP addresses must be in their dedicated zone. This keeps the company organized and safe.

3. Establish An Access Control List (ACL)

With firewalls, each member who can access firewalls needs their own logins and passwords. When creating an ACL, it is important to include the following factors:

Factors Of An Access Control List

  • A sequence number
  • Name
  • Comments
  • Statement/rules
  • Protocols
  • IP destinations
  • Log of recorded devices

An ACL requires trusted employees to assist in different areas of the firewall. Keeping track of who and what they do is vital.

4. Test The Next-Generation Firewall Configuration

Testing the firewall is a necessary step to ensure the firewall is blocking the needed traffic. It is recommended to use a security assessment. Commonly used assessments include:

  • Vulnerability assessments
  • IT audits
  • IT risk assessment
  • Penetration tests

5. Set Up Next-Generation Firewall Management

Setting up a firewall requires follow-up care every six months or quarterly. This includes revisiting the setup and future configuration to make sure that the firewall and data are protected from any cyberattacks.

Once a firewall has been installed and configured, a company is protected from open ports that may give cybercriminals access.

See more: How Do Firewalls Work? Basic Firewall Fundamentals

What Are The Key Features Of A Next-Generation Firewall?

The features included in any NGFW offering can vary depending on the vendor. It’s important to understand what an NGFW can do for your network and seek out vendors that provide the level and features of security you’re after.

Following are a handful of the features you’re likely to find at several NGFW solutions on the market:

Comprehensive Network Visibility

Through monitoring the behavior and interactions of the user devices and applications, an NGFW is capable of providing a complete image of the network in real-time. The data can be analyzed for finding and solving bottlenecks and ensuring operations run efficiently and securely.

The Juniper Networks SRX Series NGFW is one of the best on the market in terms of comprehensive network visibility. It monitors and feeds data from applications, edge devices, and data centers, reporting on their movements and activities.

Centralized Control Over Network Traffic

Unlike traditional firewalls, NGFWs can be nuanced in their approach to access control. You can determine the applications and user devices that have access to network resources and the limits of their communication with servers outside the network.

Palo Alto Networks’ Panorama is one of the best centralized access management and control solutions in NGFW on the market. It enables network admins to easily control which applications can traverse through the network and the types and volumes of data they can move and access.

Multi-Layer Network Protection

NGFWs are capable of preventing threats by securing your network on multiple levels. Application-level protection monitors the activity and behavior of the applications inside the network, ensuring they don’t behave maliciously or access areas of the network without authorization.

The CloudGen NGFW by Barracuda Networks comes equipped with Layer 7 application profiling features, allowing for advanced web filtering that protects your networks from malware and malicious behavior on more than just the endpoints.

Policy Setting And Enforcement

Defining and enforcing security policies is an essential part of network security that many NGFW solutions offer. They are a straightforward way to set parameters for user and application behavior within the network, establishing a baseline for the security and privacy standards in the network.

Fortinet’s FortiGate has a built-in tool for security policy management and network-wide enforcement. The same can be extended to your network’s intrusion prevention tool in place.

See more: 5 Top Next-Generation Firewall Trends

Why Is A Next-Generation Firewall Important?

Setting up security tools at the outer parameter of your network is an essential part of an effective network security strategy. Countless tools fall into the categories of Endpoint Detection and Response (EDR) and Network Detection and Response (NDR) with varying areas of expertise and levels of importance. However, firewalls stand out as one of the most indispensable network security solutions.

With security technology constantly evolving to combat the myriad of highly-sophisticated cyber threats, so did firewalls. Now that traditional firewall software is no longer effective on its own, businesses and companies are advised to employ a Next-Generation Firewall (NGFW) solution.

What Are The Top Next-Generation Firewall Providers?

A couple of the leading vendors in the market and their offerings include:

Fortinet’s FortiGate

Fortinet is a multinational cybersecurity company based in Sunnyvale, California. It’s known best for developing and selling cutting-edge network security tools from physical firewalls to antivirus software and various endpoint security components.

FortiGate is Fortinet’s NGFW offering designed for protecting networks of all sizes. It’s highly scalable and can be extended to protect a company’s remote offices and branches, in addition to off-premises data centers and cloud servers.

Fortinet was named a Leader in the 2021 Gartner Magic Quadrant for firewalls and continued to receive the highest evaluation scores in the 2022 Critical Capabilities report.

Barracuda Networks’ CloudGen

Barracuda Networks is a security and computer networking company based in Campbell, California. It helps organizations build and secure their networks, providing protection tools from malware, hackers, and email-based threats.

Barracuda’s CloudGen Firewall is an all-in-one solution that encompasses a wide range of security features and capabilities. It promises reliable connectivity between network components in addition to advanced web filtering, remote access control, and VPN integration.

In 2022, SC awarded Barracuda the prizes for the Best Email Security and the Best Cloud Security solution.

See more: 6 Top Firewall Software To Protect Your Network

What Is The Size Of The Next-Generation Firewall Market?

The market is booming with a wide variety of NGFW offerings by a large number of vendors in the technology and computing networking industries.

The global NGFW market was valued at $3.17 billion in 2021, according to Global Newswire. It’s expected to reach an estimated value of $5.07 billion by 2028, trailing a Compound Annual Growth Rate (CAGR) of 6.5% throughout the market analysis period.

Bottom Line

NGFWs are the present and future of firewall technology in network security. They offer a number of features, capabilities, and tools that protects your network from modern cyber threats and secures all possible avenues of attack.

There are many features and resulting benefits to implementing the right type and offering of NGFW, depending on your network’s infrastructure and your security tools and capabilities.

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