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Why Your NGFW Needs Granular and Contextual Access Control

understand how these evolving feature sets can help contain costs while reducing management complexity

Global information technology networks that are rich in services are typically complex and require hard-to-manage security solutions. The latest versions of next-generation firewalls now offer multiple security layers that can complicate management, particularly as more and more features are added. This complexity can also serve to reduce the effectiveness of controls by obscuring noteworthy events or failing to recognize trends detected by multiple security systems integrated into the overall system. The answer is a common, unified management approach with granular and contextual access control.

Instead of employing multiple and distinct dashboards offering minimal if any integration to manage network security, administrators should be able to access a single dashboard to gain a consistent, unified view across all firewall protected segments. The data must be granular and contextual, empowering IT and network security administrators to execute and control all NGFW operations from a single perspective. And to assure logging of all actions taken and events observed, without regard to operator location.

Consistency is key. This level of administrative awareness and control should be available regardless of modality (physical or virtual) or configuration. Here are five critical control features to look for when evaluating a next generation firewall.

1. Integrated VPN
Secure virtual private network (VPN) connections provide for inter-office and mobile user connectivity to corporate resources. First-tier NGFWs typically provide high-performance remote access with integrated management supporting the use of multiple ISPs to ensure access in the event of link failure. Such solutions typically offer VPN client software to take full advantage of various deployment options. Look for the capability to cluster the firewall configuration to assure availability and session survivability in the event of a firewall appliance update or failure. Flexibility in licensing is also necessary to address burst utilization or pandemic usage requirements. Additionally, support for deep inspection is highly recommended as a necessary precursor to support DLP requirements.

2. Email and Web Security
Email advertising and social media services can flood a network with traffic of little to no business value. And this traffic stream can be a wide conduit for malware. One response is to deploy your NGFWs with additional services such as deep-inspection, web filtering, anti-virus, and anti-spam services. Combining these services under one NFGW umbrella ensures that they are available (especially if the firewall solution is clustered for high availability) and implemented at all relevant chokepoints within an organization. Superior traffic control based on users and groups, as well as contextual awareness of attacks and their use by would-be attackers across the entirety of an organization, improves an organization's resistance to a breach. Furthermore, solutions that support contextual awareness may be able to share details on detected attacks across all firewalls under the same management control, and take broad actions. For example, the actions of an attacker against one firewall may be used to blacklist that attacker across all firewalls of the organization. This amplifying effect is particular pronounced if the NFGW management solution is multi-tenant capable and used to protect multiple divisions or firms.

3. Precise Security Policies
Control over traffic based on a variety of options will enable Network security administrators need great flexibility in granting privileges to employees to perform their jobs. In addition to typical firewall IP Address and port filtering, NGFW solutions also typically support the control of traffic by service (protocol), application, user identity, group affiliation, URL categorization, site reputation, time of day, method(s) of authentication, and context. Precise security policies can provide QoS directives so access control is governed by dynamic business requirements or the availability of underlying communications resources. For example, transaction traffic may be given preferential treatment over social media access by employees, and lower priority traffic is automatically shed if a circuit failure reduces available bandwidth.

4. Integrated Authentication Services
Independent authentication mechanisms often lack integration with the firewall. However, the integration of authentication services with NGFW policies can allow administrators to constrain, track, and log access to services. Such access controls often use a variety of authentication methods including token and virtual token systems. Virtual token applications for mobile phones and tablets reduce costs over traditional key fob tokens. In addition, integration to the NGFW unifies the management of how an individual or members of a group are authenticated.

5. Traffic Management and QoS
Firewalls that feature traffic management and quality of service (QoS) can provide detailed control on what traffic is permitted and at what priority, while assuring end-to-end capacity to meet session requirements. QoS selections such as bandwidth floors and ceilings help to differentiate traffic streams, assuring the streams are treated fairly and not inadvertently precluded in their entirety, or allowed to consume bandwidth to the detriment of other business activities. For isochronous (time sensitive) traffic such as VoIP or video conferencing, the proper handling of long-haul priority directives is necessary to ensure that in-band traffic with specific bandwidth and jitter requirements is accommodated on an as-needed basis.

In addition, traffic management can help triage traffic if sufficient networking bandwidth is unavailable to meet all approved needs. For example, transactions take priority over backups or social media access.

The NGFW can improve the utilization effectiveness of the network and its security posture. It is also a network chokepoint of access from WAN connectivity to remote facilities, mobile employees, and the Internet. Pay attention to all options available with NGFW products and understand how these evolving feature sets can help contain costs while reducing management complexity.

More Stories By Darren Suprina

Darren Suprina is an IT systems designer and security professional with more than 30 years of experience. This has included intellectual property creation, research, development, software and infrastructure design and validation, systems auditing, work as a professional witness, and author.

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