A Deep Dive Into Next-Generation Firewalls

NGFWs provide granular visibility and control of traffic at multiple layers in the OSI model. This includes the seventh layer, the application layer, to detect threats and protect against attacks like malware. NGFWs also include intrusion prevention system (IPS) functionality that can send suspicious files off-device to be emulated in a virtual sandbox for deeper analysis. This helps protect against unknown zero-day attacks that exploit vulnerabilities.

Deep Packet Inspection (DPI)

What is NGFW? A next-generation firewall (NGFW) is a network security device that provides capabilities beyond a traditional, stateful firewall. Deep packet inspection (DPI) is a network security function that examines data packets in detail and looks for vulnerabilities, threats, or malicious activity. It’s a crucial part of an NGFW and is used to identify risks like buffer overflows and denial-of-service attacks so they can be stopped before they spread across the entire business. While it’s possible to use DPI with a traditional firewall, it’s more effective when paired with an NGFW that can perform both inline and routed mode. NGFWs can also handle the heavy processing load required by DPI, so businesses don’t have to sacrifice network speed or performance. Traditional firewalls can identify traffic based on ports, protocols, or IP addresses. But attackers can hide in legitimate-looking traffic. NGFWs with DPI technology can detect traffic based on the actual applications using them and offer more granular allow/deny rules for application access. This type of identification is beneficial for regulated industries that must ensure compliance and protect sensitive data from hackers. DPI can also identify traffic that tries to exit the corporate network and can be set up with filters to prevent data exfiltration. It’s also a vital component of the unified threat management (UTM) feature that many NGFWs include, which helps to manage multiple cybersecurity functions from a single appliance.

Application Awareness and Control (AAC)

AAC takes the functionality of NGFW even further by offering security controls at the application layer. It allows for more precise identification of application traffic and blocks a broader range of threats. This helps to ensure that only legitimate business applications and traffic are allowed through the firewall, protecting the network against malicious attacks. It also helps to prevent clogged networks and improve network performance by limiting or blocking access at a user or machine identity level vs. a traditional IP and service port-based policy. To be effective, AAC must be able to decrypt encrypted traffic streams and perform deep inspection post-decryption to identify and block more sophisticated threats. This can be done with various techniques, including dynamic threat protection, reputational malware detection, and sandboxing. NGFW also provides additional security functions like integrated network intrusion prevention, quality of service capabilities, and the ability to secure VPN connections. However, the features found in an NGFW are of little value if they don’t work together to form a cohesive and effective security system. As a result, it’s essential to choose an NGFW solution that delivers integrated security features that are closely connected. This ensures that every security layer works together to protect the organization against modern threats. For example, an NGFW’s security layers must be able to share intelligence to continuously improve the system’s automated handling and knowledge collaboration capabilities.

Threat Intelligence (TI)

TI is a powerful tool to detect and block traffic based on threat intelligence from third-party providers. Security teams must seek a firewall solution that integrates the functions of IPS and NGFW for convergence. A converged solution should be able to provide threat intelligence at a scale that cannot easily be achieved with a stand-alone IPS. NGFWs use advanced security features to deliver much more granular network traffic inspection than traditional firewalls. They look at every packet of data with scalpel precision and can even decipher encrypted files for inspection, making them far more comprehensive than a WAF. NGFWs also constantly receive updates from threat intelligence networks to help keep up with the latest hacking techniques and prevent breaches. While an ordinary firewall acts as an essential barrier that blocks data on a static level based on where it’s going, whether it’s part of a network connection or its location, an NGFW is more like a second security agency that inspects traffic at a deeper level to identify threats that can hide within normal-seeming connections. TI can even catch attacks that have not been fully developed by looking at suspicious packets’ behavior. Considering the recent ransomware and malware distribution spike, businesses can benefit from a complete NGFW ecosystem with threat-prevention features to safeguard data. For instance, a comprehensive NGFW package includes advanced malware protection that can identify and stop ransomware, anti-virus software, and a robust SSL encryption detection system that helps keep out intruders.

SSL Decryption

With the explosion of business applications and IoT devices, security professionals face many potential threats. Many of these are hidden in encrypted traffic streams. To protect against them, NGFW analyzes the content of data packets and detects and blocks malicious activity. Unlike traditional firewalls, NGFW can decrypt SSL traffic and perform a deeper inspection of the data within. NGFWs also offer application awareness with full-stack visibility, allowing administrators to secure networks from application-level security threats independent of ports, protocols, and services. They include intrusion prevention system functionality, which scans and analyzes incoming traffic for suspicious patterns and behaviors that can reveal unknown or zero-day attacks. They also provide user identification so policies can be applied granularly across all users, groups, or machines rather than by IP address.