NGFW, or next-generation firewalls, are hardware appliances that defend your network against advanced threats. They differ from traditional firewalls in providing security intelligence visibility down to the application and user level.
These features also help to protect against modern cyber threats by identifying evasive techniques. In addition, NGFW can offer unified threat management (UTM) capabilities for a single device.
Deep Packet Inspection (DPI)
Deep packet inspection is used by many firewalls as well as standalone intrusion detection systems (IDS). Using either pattern or signature matching, DPI examines the contents of data packets to identify new threats to the system. The network is alerted if the data fits a profile, and the packets can be blocked or rerouted.
Network security professionals can use DPI to spot usage trends, block malware, prevent data leaks and more. This critical function enables enterprises to better understand and monitor traffic on their networks to stop risks from spreading.
Some privacy and net neutrality advocates do not favor DPI as it has access to the contents of unencrypted data packets, which could potentially be used for nefarious purposes such as eavesdropping or state-sponsored censorship. Despite these concerns, DPI continues to be the most effective way to detect threats that other methods, such as heuristic analysis and behavioral-based analytics, may otherwise miss. The challenge is that DPI needs to be able to decrypt and analyze packets, which can make it harder as more applications and websites enable end-to-end encryption.
Intrusion Prevention System (IPS)
Unlike an IDS, which only alerts of a threat and requires human intervention, an IPS can detect, recognize and stop threats independently. Typically, an IPS will monitor network traffic in real time and compare it against known attack patterns to identify suspicious behavior. Depending on the solution, an IPS can then block suspicious behavior or take other actions, such as recording information about the event and reporting it to a security administrator.
A common IPS is a network-based IPS, which typically monitors all traffic entering and exiting the corporate network for anomalous activity. However, host-based IPS solutions (HIPS) can also be deployed on key systems within the web for more targeted detection and response to internal threats.
Many NGFWs incorporate IPS and antimalware features, protecting them against advanced ransomware, social engineering and malware attacks. Additionally, NGFW capabilities offer granular application awareness regardless of port and integrated threat intelligence to protect against unknown threats. The unified platform of an NGFW makes it easier to manage complex networks and reduces costs by consolidating multiple security tools in one package.
NGFWs can track network traffic across layers 2-7 of the OSI model, unlike traditional firewalls, which only analyze Layers 3 and 4. This allows them to identify application layer threats that may bypass security policies applied at Layers 3-4.
Enhanced NGFW capabilities can also monitor encrypted network communication, such as HTTPS, which hackers commonly use to bypass traditional firewalls. Many NGFWs can decrypt SSL/TLS communications and come with remote access VPN capability so that administrators can see and protect critical applications.
The best NGFWs have built-in Application Intelligence to understand the systems it is pulling data from and sending data to, quite literally down to the peculiarities of those systems. It lowers the technical bar for end users by automatically preparing, integrating and blending data so that it makes sense without requiring a deep domain expert or Excel pivot wizard. This reduces the risk of humans being harmed by an incorrectly configured or understood security system and allows business users to push boundaries confidently. The best NGFWs can also share this intelligence in real time, informing IPS and WAF systems of new threats before they can cause damage.
Network Access Control (NAC)
Detecting and managing new devices connecting to a network is essential. The tool should provide visibility, profiling, and automated management responses. This can include limiting network access or removing rogue devices from the LAN. The NAC system should also be able to share device information with other security systems so that dangerous devices can be isolated and automatically blocked without additional IT efforts.
NAC tools are ideal for granting limited network access to guests, contractors, or other non-employees who need to use the firm’s IT resources. The tools help ensure these devices and their users comply with corporate security policies and are free of malware and other threats.
The NAC market is growing as organizations seek to protect their networks from vulnerabilities created by BYOD and other trends. These companies have a variety of product offerings and solutions that address different needs for a wide range of enterprises, including BFSI, healthcare, IT & telecom, retail, energy & power, and industrial manufacturing.
Unlike traditional firewalls that grant or deny access, NGFW solutions allow security administrators to establish rules that control how data moves and behaves within the network. They also can identify users based on their identity and device type, which can help prevent unauthorized users from using resources and compromising sensitive information.
These next-generation solutions can also detect web application attacks through sandboxing and URL filtering. They can even use a secure proxy to terminate connections, redirect traffic and provide additional protection against threats.
While the benefits of NGFWs have always been evident, they now offer more comprehensive protection that extends beyond simple packet inspection and block. The combination of features like stateful inspection, centralized management and threat intelligence are helping organizations prevent breaches that would have otherwise been impossible. As a result, these tools are becoming increasingly popular amongst businesses looking to enhance their cybersecurity. They can be especially useful for regulated industries that must protect Linux systems, operational technology and IoT devices. This includes healthcare, financial services, government and utilities.