What are network firewalls?
Network firewalls are the first round of defense against a wide range of external threats. Firewall policies filter incoming traffic to protect the network ecosystem from cyberattacks. Network traffic that doesn’t meet filter criteria gets blocked. Security teams continually optimize their organization’s firewall configuration to address new and emerging threats.
Network firewall security challenges
Network infrastructure is more complex than ever before. In the early days, your network firewall sat at the perimeter of your data center. Today, you may have a variety of firewalls operating on-premises, in public and private clouds, in a software-defined network, or a multi-cloud hybrid environment.
Security leaders face four main challenges when implementing, maintaining and improving firewall performance:
- Complexity – The more individual firewall solutions your network relies on, the harder it is to analyze, configure, and scale firewall-related workflows.
- Visibility – The traffic flows over your network are complex. Lack of visibility over traffic flows makes managing firewall policies more difficult.
- Automation – Network firewalls have hundreds of security policies. Spread over multiple devices, manual management is difficult and time-consuming. Automation of network security management is the solution.
- Compliance – Proper configuration of your network security devices is a common regulatory requirement. Make sure you can demonstrate compliance.
1. Managing firewall configuration in a complex environment
Since early networks were mostly on-premises, managing firewall configuration changes in real-time was simple. Once the cybersecurity team identified firewall changes they wanted to make, a single employee could upload those changes to the organization’s Cisco PIX device and call it a day.
Today’s networks simply don’t work that way. They are designed to be scalable, supporting a wide range of endpoint devices and cloud-based applications with a much wider attack surface than ever before. Security teams must protect their networks against a more sophisticated set of attacks, including malware that leverages zero-day vulnerabilities and other unknown threats.
At the same time, they must accommodate both users and attackers equipped with modern security tools like VPNs. The modern organization must deploy a wide range of firewalls, including hardware devices physically connected to local routers, software firewalls for hybrid cloud environments, and next-generation firewalls equipped with analyzers that can proactively detect unknown threats.
Security leaders need to streamline visibility into firewall configuration, orchestration, and management through a single pane of glass. This ensures optimal firewall performance for both on-premises and cloud security solutions, while freeing team members to spend more time on higher impact strategic security goals.
2. Firewall deployments can compromise visibility into security processes
Modern organizations with complex network configurations often don’t enjoy deep visibility into their security processes and event outcomes. Many third-party managed security vendors don’t offer in-depth data about their processes at all. Security leaders are often asked to simply trust that vendors provide enough value to justify premium pricing.
But losing visibility into security processes makes it extremely challenging to improve those processes. It puts security leaders in the uncomfortable position of defending security outcomes they don’t have adequate data to explain.
In the event of a negative outcome, it’s almost impossible to explain exactly what went wrong and why. If a particular firewall policy is ultimately responsible for that outcome, security leaders need to know.
Effective firewall security management isn’t possible without deep visibility into firewall policies, and how those rules impact day-to-day business operations in real-time. Obtaining this kind of visibility in a complex network environment is not easy, but it’s vital to long-term success.
3. Manual configuration changes are costly and error-prone
Increasing configuration errors are another knock-on consequence of the trend towards bigger and more complex networks. Where early network security professionals only had to update firewall rules for a handful of devices, now they must accommodate an entire stack of solutions made by different manufacturers, with complicated interdependencies between them.
Most organizations rely on multiple providers for their full firewall stack. They may use Cisco hardware, Checkpoint next-generation firewalls, Tufin firewall management software, and Firemon asset management all at the same time. Managing and troubleshooting this kind of deployment without comprehensive firewall security management software is difficult and time-consuming.
Security misconfigurations as a whole are responsible for more than one-third of all cyberattacks. This demonstrates the urgent need for security leaders to automate the process of configuring, updating, and validating firewall changes on complex networks.
AlgoSec provides security leaders with a robust set of tools for automating network security policy updates and firewall changes without requiring organizations to dedicate additional employee-hours to time-consuming manual processes.
4. Don’t forget to document policy changes for compliance
Security policy management is an important part of overall security compliance. Adhering to the latest security standards published by reputable organizations allows security leaders to meaningfully reduce cybersecurity risk.
Documents like the NIST Cybersecurity Framework provide clear guidance into how organizations should address core functions in their security strategy, which includes deploying and updating firewalls.
In particular, NIST Special Publication 800-41 describes the guidelines for firewall policies, requiring that they be based on comprehensive risk assessment for the organization in question.
The guidelines also require that organizations with multiple firewalls sharing the same rules (or common subsets of rules) must have those rules synchronized across those firewalls. Importantly, all these changes must be documented.
This requirement adds significant risk and complexity to network environments that rely on manual configuration processes. Even if you successfully implement changes the right way, reporting discrepancies can negatively impact your organization’s regulatory position.
AlgoSec generates compliance reports for NIST SP 800-53 as a built-in feature, available right out of the box. Organizations that use AlgoSec to automate firewall security management and policy changes can ensure compliance with stringent security standards without having to commit valuable security resources to manually verifying reports.
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Firewall security management FAQs
Understanding the network security devices in your network is crucial to maintaining your network’s security.
What are some common network security devices?
Network security devices include application and network firewalls, which are the most popular network security devices. However, your network may have other devices such as intrusion detection and protection systems, antivirus scanning devices, content filtering devices, as well as pen testing devices, and vulnerability assessment appliances.
What is an application firewall?
An application firewall controls access from an application or service, monitoring or blocking the system service calls that do not meet the firewall’s configured policy. The application firewall is typically built to control network traffic up to the application layer.
What is a firewall device and how do firewalls work?
A firewall is a network security device that monitors network traffic and decides whether to allow or deny traffic flows based on a defined set of security rules. Firewalls can be physical hardware devices, software, or both.
What is network security management?
Network security management lets network administrators manage their network, whether on-premises, in the cloud, or a hybrid network, consisting of physical and virtual single and multi-vendor firewalls.
What are some challenges in network security management?
Network administrators need to get clear and comprehensive visibility into network behavior, automate single and multi-vendor device configuration, enforce global network security policies, view network traffic, and generate audit-ready compliance reports across their entire network. Network administrators must continuously deploy security policies across the network. Yet, there may be thousands of firewall policies accumulated over the years. Frequently, they are cluttered, duplicated, outdated, or conflict with new rules. This can adversely affect the network’s security and performance.
Additional firewall security features
How AlgoSec Helps with Network Firewall Security:
End-to-end network visibility
Get visibility of the underlying security policies implemented on firewalls and other security devices across the network. Understand your network’s traffic flows. Gain insights into how they relate to critical business applications so you can associate your security policies to their business context.
Find unused firewall rules
Enabling unused rules to be included in a policy goes against best practices and may pose a risk to the organization. The AlgoSec platform makes it easy to find and identify unused rules within your firewall policy.
Associate policy rules with business applications
Firewall rules support applications or processes that require network connectivity to and from specific servers, users, and networks. The AlgoSec AppViz add-on automatically associates the relevant business application that each firewall rule supports, enabling you to review associated firewall rules quickly and easily.
Manage multi-vendor devices across your entire hybrid network
Each firewall vendor often has its own management console, but your network is made up of multiple devices from an assortment of vendors.
Ensure continuous compliance
Simplify and reduce audit preparation efforts and costs with out-of-the-box audit reports for major regulations including PCI DSS, HIPAA, SOX, NERC, and GDPR.
Network firewall security tips
Conduct a network security audit
Periodically auditing your network security controls are critical. Network security audits help to identify weaknesses in your network security posture so you know where your security policies need to be adapted. Firewall audits also demonstrate that you have been doing your due diligence in reviewing security controls and policy controls.
By building and implementing a micro-segmentation strategy, networks can be broken down into multiple segments and made safer against potential breaches by dangerous cybercriminals and hackers.
Conduct periodic compliance checks
Your network firewalls are a critical part of many regulatory requirements. Ensuring that your network firewalls comply with critical regulations is a core part of your network security posture.
Periodically evaluate your firewall rules
Following firewall rules best practices, you should periodically evaluate your firewall rules. Identify and consolidate duplicate rules, remove obsolete or unused firewall rules, and perform periodic firewall rule recertification.