8 Next-Gen Firewall Features and What They Do


Tech Insights for ProfessionalsThe latest thought leadership for IT pros

Tuesday, August 4, 2020

Advanced firewalls are an essential part of your security systems. But are you fully utilizing all their features?

Article 5 Minutes
8 Next-Gen Firewall Features and What They Do

Firewalls have been a key tool in any business' security defenses for many years, but are you actually making the best use of your solutions?

Next-generation firewalls offer a much wider range of features than legacy solutions, and can do a lot more than just inspect traffic going in and out of your network and blocking suspicious activity.

Instead, next-gen firewall software provides a much deeper level of control and protection. But they can only work effectively if you fully understand the range of features they offer and know how to deploy them effectively. While there are a wide range of firewall types and options to choose from, and not all may offer the exact same feature sets, here are a few key options that you should look out for when choosing and deploying a next-gen firewall.

1. Bandwidth control

Bandwidth control, or traffic shaping, allows you to dictate which parts of your network and which activities should be prioritized. Bandwidth is a precious resource for any firm, and it's one that’ll be increasingly in demand as businesses become more digital. So being able to effectively manage this is a must.

Not all activities need the same bandwidth. So with the right controls, you can give greater priority to services like video conferencing and VoIP, for instance, in order to guarantee high performance, or shut down cloud storage sync services that could otherwise clog up the network.

2. Logging

Logging provides you with real-time information about what's going on throughout your network, which can prove vital in protecting against intrusions. For instance, an effective logging feature can identify suspicious activity such as repeated login attempts from the same IP address - allowing you to put rules in place to block connections. It can also spot malicious activity within the network and see if someone is using your system as a platform to launch other attacks, such as botnets.

3. Dynamic user groups

In a normal business operation, it's reasonable to assume that people in similar roles or groups will display similar behavior on the network. This means anomalous activity can be spotted quickly and adapted to.

Where dynamic user groups come in is if such an issue is spotted, remedies such as updated policies can be applied across an entire group, whereas legacy situations would require the IT team to address issues individually, which can be very time-consuming.

4. Credential theft prevention

Fraud attempts that try to steal valuable information such as corporate login details or payment card data are a major issue for all firms, with more than two-thirds of data breaches relating back to credential theft and social attacks like phishing, according to Verizon.

Often, mitigation depends on user education and relying on your employees to look out for red flags. However, credential theft prevention adds another layer of protection against these issues by ensuring people can't reuse personal credentials for corporate logins. It works by scanning username and password submissions to websites - such as Facebook and Twitter - and comparing them to lists of official corporate credentials. It can then block the use of any company login details.

5. Network segmentation

Network segmentation works by separating a single physical network into a number of virtual networks, which use the same infrastructure and can’t have traffic pass between them.

For example, an organization such as a hospital may segment its network so medical devices are on one side and patient record files on another. This means that, even if a hacker does gain access to the network via a poorly-secured IoT device, they won’t be able to move within the network to find sensitive personal details.

6. Sandboxing

If users download a file or an application from an external source, sandboxing allows it to be checked for threats without putting the network at risk of malware. It creates a replica of the end-user environment that’s completely isolated from production, in which it can open, scan and assess a file for suspicious activity in a contained environment. If it passes the tests and is confirmed as safe, only then is it passed on to the end-user.  

7. Policy optimization

Firewalls run on policies and rules, governing what gets through and what doesn't. But as time goes on and new rules are added, they can quickly become unmanageable. Often, administrators are unwilling to remove old rules because of fear they may reintroduce vulnerabilities, and the result can be some enterprises have millions of firewall rules in operation, which may conflict with each other, lead to overly-aggressive blocking and make it impossible to manage.

Policy optimization tools can help automate the management of these rules by migrating legacy post-based rules to application-based rules that can permit or deny traffic based on what application is being used, clean up duplicated policies and select which rules are given precedence.

8. Malware and virus filtering

Finally, being able to conduct malware and virus detection and filtering at the firewall level can make life much easier for administrators and end-users alike. Advanced solutions can communicate to every endpoint, using active monitoring to immediately flag any compromised systems that can be blocked or restricted until the issue is rectified.

It shouldn't be used as a replacement for a comprehensive antimalware package, but it can allow IT teams to remotely monitor their networks and adjust security settings so employees aren’t interrupted by network security issues.

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