The firewall has long been a key first line of defense for any business when it comes to securing their networks against threats. It's essentially the border wall that blocks malicious intrusions into a network. And not having an effective one is the digital equivalent of leaving your front door wide open, along with a note saying 'please steal from me'.
There are some arguments that in today's hugely-complex, ever-evolving environment, a firewall is no longer the effective protection it once was. But while it's true that it can't protect a business from the latest threats on its own, it’s still an essential part of your perimeter defenses and access control solutions.
However, not all firewalls are created equal. So, when it comes to choosing a next-generation tool to help keep your company safe, what factors should you be looking for in order to see the best results? Here are five key things you need to be taking into account.
Strong threat protection
Many people may assume that effective protection against threats should be a given for any firewall, but with so many of the latest generation of attacks designed specifically to get around firewalls, it's vital that you choose a solution that is up-to-date and able to deal with emerging tactics used by hackers.
There are a range of enhanced offerings that can be included with next-generation firewalls, such as sandboxing, tools to detect and block advanced emerging threats, and global threat protection. Whether these will be worthwhile depends on the business - some may have other solutions that can meet the same needs, others may not deem it practical - but it's important that firms are aware of all the options that are available.
Control of your applications
Many port-based firewalls are not actually capable of offering full visibility or control of each application and end-user that is accessing your network, and may provide limited options for tailoring solutions to the needs of your firm. For example, many businesses choose to set up their firewall to block social media applications, such as Facebook. But what about the sales and marketing department for whom this is a vital resource?
An effective firewall should therefore be able to apply policies to individual users that allow and prohibit specific applications based on need, without compromising security for the rest of the business.
Real-time alerts and reporting
Being able to spot an attack in progress is vital in today's environment. But it would be a mistake to think that this is an area that the firewall should not play a role. There are now a range of options that can give real-time updates on any attack in progress, which will help businesses react more effectively and spot any weak links in their security systems that can be exploited.
On a wider level, effective reporting is essential in developing a single, big picture of your environment that gives you the flexibility to make changes and upgrades as and when they're needed, and be proactive in tackling emerging threats.
Today's IT security solutions demand a layered approach that incorporates a range of technologies, including antivirus and antimalware software, intrusion detection and prevention systems, encryption solutions and more. As a primary guardian of your network, next-generation firewalls will be expected to interact with many of these systems, including network monitoring tools, authentication servers, access control products and external web and email security solutions.
However, different firewall offerings may have differing levels of interoperability with these tools, so it will be vital for businesses to ensure they opt for a solution that is easy to sync up with their other security products.
Affordable total cost of ownership
Finally, one factor that must not be overlooked when it comes to firewall offerings is the total cost of ownership. Businesses that focus their attention only on the upfront expenses related to purchasing and deploying products may be in for an unpleasant surprise if they fail to take into account ongoing expenses, such as licensing and support.
However, if businesses make cost their only priority and end up with a budget solution that doesn't offer the robust protection their company needs, they could be increasing their exposure to data breaches, which can be hugely costly both financially and reputationally. Therefore, it's important to do a thorough cost-benefit analysis to determine which solution offers the best combination of protection and value.