What Are Next Generation Firewalls (NGFW)?

Getting on the Internet without any protection is like giving out your bank password – it makes you and your business completely vulnerable. Thankfully, we have defense mechanisms at our disposal such as anti-virus software and the ever trusty firewall.

But with online threats growing increasingly sophisticated, are they enough to keep you or your business safe?

That’s where more advanced systems like next generation firewalls, or NGFW, come in. What are NGFWs, exactly? How will it help improve the security of your network compared to a traditional firewall?

What is a Next Generation Firewall?

A next generation firewall, or NGFW for short, is a radical improvement over the standard firewalls commonly used by networks. But what does that mean, exactly? Let’s delve into a more detailed definition of an NGFW by first describing what a traditional firewall does.

Firewalls have been the standard tool for network security since they were first introduced in 1994. Think of firewalls as the gatekeeper that monitors traffic to and from your network based on a set of rules. If data traffic violates these rules, the firewall blocks it automatically. This is called stateful inspection and is the fundamental purpose of a firewall. A firewall’s protocol mostly relies on checking IP addresses against a blacklist of addresses that are considered harmful.

While firewalls are very effective and have protected networks for more than two decades, they remain very limited in scope. With online security threats becoming more evolved, traditional firewalls can find it hard to keep up.

Enter the NGFW firewall. A NGFW builds upon a standard firewall offering a much more robust cybersecurity solution with more intelligent features. It moves beyond merely monitoring ports and addresses and gets into deep packet inspection and intrusion prevention.

Next-gen firewalls can now block advanced threats like malware and other online attacks. It also has application awareness so that it can monitor and block software that poses a security risk. Intrusion prevention systems (IPS) also actively monitor the network for any suspicious activity that might be exploiting vulnerabilities in the network.

What’s the Key Difference between Standard and Next Generation Firewalls?

We’ve touched upon a more general difference between these two technologies, but let’s get into more detail.

By definition, next generation firewalls have the same basic capabilities as a traditional firewall. That means using both dynamic and static filtering to keep a watchful eye on incoming and outgoing traffic to the network, ensuring every connection is legitimate. They also need to map IP addresses by translating port and network addresses. Both NGFW and regular firewalls support VPNs.

The similarities end there, and it’s also where the more exciting capabilities of NGFWs begin.

Next-gen firewalls get more specific in that they can now monitor packets on a per-application basis. This is also referred to as an NGFW layer 7 firewall because applications are located in Layer 7 of the OSI model. They have full control over apps and software running in the network, using whitelists and signature matching to help identify safe vs malicious applications.

But the most innovative aspect of next generation firewalls is that they can adapt to deal with threats that don’t exist yet. NGFWs do this by leveraging intelligence sources online and creating an upgrade path for them to improve. This flexibility and adaptability are what make next-gen firewalls such powerful network defense systems both now and for years to come.

Benefits of a Next Generation Firewall

The main benefit of using a next generation firewall is that it gives a more robust, well-rounded protection against every major online threat. Malware, something that firewalls aren’t able to block, are now automatically stopped in their tracks by an NGFW. Sophisticated threats like Advanced Persistent Threats (APTs) are also within the deterring capabilities of an NGFW.

Its application-level monitoring is a game-changer, as it enables the use of legitimate Internet applications while suppressing undesirable ones, regardless of the computer’s IP address. For companies, it also gives the administrator a finer control on what applications people in the organization are using.

Next-gen firewalls are also very efficient. It combines the capabilities of various security software like anti-virus and firewalls into one powerful package. Thus, it can be a very low-cost solution for companies looking to boost their security. It also has a simpler and smoother operation because you only need to deal with one interface instead of many.

Ultimately, NGFWs are quickly becoming the minimum requirement for Internet safety, now and for the foreseeable future. Hackers and malicious attackers are advancing at an alarming pace. But because of their flexibility and intelligent design, next gen firewall services have an excellent chance of responding to threats we haven’t even seen yet.

What are the Essential Features of a Next Gen Firewall?

With more security developers creating their own next gen firewall offerings, it’s crucial to evaluate each one to make sure they’re doing the job for your organization. Here are some of the things you need to consider when shopping around for an NGFW:

  • Robust Security Features
    First, every next gen firewall you consider is evaluated primarily on the strength of its security. It must be able to detect potential breaches and prevent further attacks like malware or SQL injections. Some of the techniques that are essential for NGFWs include sandboxing, behavior analysis, URL filtering, and intrusion prevention systems (IPS).

    Second, a good NGFW never relies on a single defense. Your front line will never be able to stop all threats 100% of the time. Hence, a capable firewall should also be able to detect any threats that make it past your initial defenses and stop them quickly before they can do any damage.

    Third, an NGFW should be able to utilize the latest intelligence data to change itself over time.

  • Detection and Reaction Time
    When it comes to network security, time is always of the essence. A next generation firewall should be able to detect and react to threats within seconds, not the industry standard of 100 – 200 days. If a breach happens, NGFWs should also let you know within minutes or hours of the event.

    Beyond speed, next gen firewalls should be able to prioritize which issues are alerted to you so you can react to top priority threats.

  • Integration with Your Security System
    As your primary security tool, a next generation firewall should be able to work well with the other components of your network architecture.

    Look for firewalls that can work seamlessly with other security tools in your network and share crucial information with them. NGFWs should be able to automate critical security tasks like identifying users and managing network policies.

  • Flexible Configuration
    A next gen firewall should be flexible enough to fit the needs of your network, whether you’re a small business or a large enterprise. Likewise, it should be able to deploy on a wide variety of environments, from on-premise to the cloud. Administrators also need to be able to customize every part of the firewall and install only the features they really need.

  • Network Visibility
    Your next gen firewall needs to monitor every inch of your network at all times to detect and stop threats from any angle. To achieve this, an NGFW needs both comprehensive visibility and contextual awareness of every application, server, file transfer, communication, and data storage in your network, without exception. That way, it can be aware of any potential breaches from users, devices, and other networks.

    NGFWs should also have a comprehensive view of any threats that make it past its wall – where they’ve been, where they are now, and what they’re doing.

  • Other Features
    Other useful features you can consider include geolocation, which allows you to control and redirect traffic based on physical location. Support for reverse proxy servers and web gateways are also essential.

Protect Yourself with NGFW and Fusion

Next generation firewalls are a step towards a powerful security system for the modern Internet age, but you know what’s even better? Having a single system that covers every aspect of network security imaginable. That’s what Fusion Connect’s Unified Threat Management (UTM) is all about.

UTM is a multi-layered centralized system that simplifies the management of your network’s security. It combines the best aspects of next gen firewalls, anti-virus software, malware protection, content filtering, and more. It then adds fast deployment, an interactive reporting system, and simplified licensing to create the ultimate, comprehensive security solution.

Want to add a next gen firewall into an already robust security system? Simply use any of our Fortigate standalone firewall equipment.

Fusion Connect Offers the Best Solutions in Network Security

Ready to reap the benefits of having next generation firewall and Internet security in your enterprise? Contact us today to learn more about how our network solutions and managed security services can be a game-changer for your organization.

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