Neil Roiter recently published an article about our space of Firewall Management describing the Do’s and Don’ts when considering purchasing a product like FireMon.  Below are my thoughts on this article (http://www.csoonline.com/article/593151/Firewall_audit_dos_and_don_ts) and how FireMon meets these requirements.

Overview:

Neil does a nice job covering the key points of evaluating the products without discussing any specific features.  His recommendations focus on technology buying criteria generically versus any particular feature.  For example, one of his suggestions is to test the products in a “bake-off” before buying.  Another suggestion is to make sure it has the right reports you need.  These are clearly not specific recommendations for which product to buy, but suggestions on what to consider when buying.  To help our customers answer these questions, I have provided Secure Passage’s responses to these recommendations.

Do’s

Look for good device coverage (and an open API to extend to new devices)

Secure Passage provides support for the leading firewall vendors including Check Point, Cisco, Juniper, McAfee and Palo Alto (coming soon).  Additionally, FireMon has the most comprehensive network device support for routers and switches from Cisco and Juniper (coming soon).  Additional support for F5 BigIP was recently added that provides in-depth support for change management AND configuration analysis.

Dating back to 2006, FireMon has provided an open API for “generic” device support.  As long as a device allowed for command line access (ssh, telnet, tftp, ftp, etc), FireMon can provide change management functionality to that device.  This has enabled our customers to extend their FireMon deployment to many different systems including Bluecoat, Procurve, Fortinet and more.

Be careful of competitors claiming support for large number of devices.  In recent years, competitors have adopted FireMon’s open device plugin concept.  However, they have much more heavily marketed their ability.  Unfortunately, they have not added any functionality.  For these vendors that have a long list of supported products, be sure to ask exactly what that support entails.  In most cases, it is nothing more than a scheduled retrieval of configurations with Change Notification.  There is nothing wrong with this and it is comparable to FireMon’s generic device support.  However, be cautious as the marketing of device support is deceiving.

Test the products before you buy

This is of course a great idea and one that we strongly encourage.  Just as with nearly all our customer evaluations, if you take the time to evaluate the products in the market, you will see that FireMon provides significantly more functionality than its competitors.  Since FireMon was first introduced to the market in 2001, Secure Passage has made the product available for evaluation prior to purchase.  The evaluation version is a complete and fully functioning version of the product, only limited by how long it can be run.  This allows a user to test it in a full production environment to get a good idea of the value it will provide after purchase.

It is also worth noting that FireMon is very simple to get implemented.  We offer the evaluation as a Virtual Machine, or if the situation dictates, it can be evaluated on a FireMon appliance.  In either case, FireMon can be up and running in your environment in less than an hour, generating useful analysis and change reports immediately.

Be very wary of competing technologies that are reluctant to offer you an evaluation.

Determine reporting requirements

This seems obvious, the product better offer the reports you need.  FireMon offers a full compliment of reports out of the box including policy optimization, security analysis, compliance reports (such as PCI and NSA Best Practices), change reports and many more.  Within minutes of installing FireMon, you can generate analysis reports against the managed devices.

But don’t be limited by what a vendor provides you.  In all my years of selling and implementing security solutions, I have never seen two identical companies.  And when it comes to reporting, you better purchase a product that will meet your unique needs.  With this in mind, FireMon was architected to be extensible.  Customize any existing report.  Create brand new reports.  Share ideas with other customers.  Download and run custom reports that other customers created.  This is the idea behind Nexus, our online community providing extensions to FireMon’s analysis and reporting.

Recently, we were exhibiting at a Check Point experience show and a prospect approached us asking about a report to search a Check Point policy for all rules with a specific name.  They mentioned that the competitors could not do it.  We couldn’t either (at least not when he asked).  I asked him to come back by the booth in 20 minutes.  In less than 20-minutes, we customized an existing report that searched rules by comment to offer a “search by name”.  This customer had a very specific reason to need to do this and even though we had never heard the request before, the extensible and open nature of FireMon analysis allowed us to provide this report in minutes.

Don’t get locked into what the vendor thinks you want…get what you want.

Consider workflow

The idea behind workflow in the firewall management space was a natural extension from the change management functionality these tools provide.  FireMon has a complete and integrated workflow application that we call Policy Planner.  The power of Policy Planner as a workflow tool is clear:  manage the change process to ensure only the correct rules are created.  Firewalls are unique from hosts and the inputs for a firewall change are very unique as well.  This is often the driver for a customer to implement a firewall-centric workflow application.  But don’t just stop with workflow, make sure it adds real value to your process.

If the only thing a workflow tool adds is a few firewall specific fields, you should question if it is worth replacing the system you already have in place.  Instead, the workflow should solve some real pain with the firewall change process.  The biggest issue is making sure the right change is made.  This is where FireMon’s Policy Planner stands alone.  With a feature called Rule Recommendation, that is integrated right into the workflow process, Policy Planner will recommend what change (if any) should be made to the firewall policy.  Too often, unnecessary or ineffective changes are made.  Rule Recommendation prevents these mistakes by identifying if a change is necessary, what change should be made and just as critical, where in the policy the change should be made.  This not only prevents mistakes, but drastically reduces the time and effort to make the change.  This is what a workflow tool should do:  automate and improve efficiency and effectiveness.

Review and refine policies and procedures

This is a very powerful and key point.  Don’t just buy more technology, make sure the technology will work for you to improve your security.  With FireMon’s extensible reporting framework, it is possible to fit FireMon into your process.  If it is too painful to change existing processes it usually won’t happen.  Don’t assume some cool technology will change human nature.  Choose a product that be flexible in how it is implemented into your organization.

In most cases, start small.  Using the 80-20 rule, focus on the big problems with easy solutions.  For example, using FireMon’s rule usage analysis, you can identify unused rules that can be removed from a policy.  If you are facing a compliance audit that requires justifying your rulebase, just think how much simpler that task will be if you first delete 35% of your policy that is unused.  Implement effective change management right out of the box.  If you have problems with administrators making bad changes, start with effective monitoring and be alerted about those changes.  With no change to the existing process, you can begin to change behavior.

Over time, begin to take advantage of the full power of the system.  Refine your policies to meet your desired goals.  Now that you have FireMon in place, it is possible to monitor and enforce more comprehensive policies.  Improve your change process with more effective, real-time assessments of all changes.  Implement workflow to more proactively manage change.  This is what management, and FireMon, is all about.  Don’t just fix it once, fix it for good.

Don’ts

Don’t overlook scalability

Enterprise networks can be large, complex, distributed environments.  You don’t funnel all your network traffic through one choke point, so don’t buy a management product that tries to do it either.  Scalable management solutions should solve the following problems:

  • Single view of the entire environment
  • Distributed monitoring to handle a growing load
  • Geographic distributed monitoring to avoid network overhead

Only FireMon can achieve these capabilities.  With a distributed architecture comprised of a central reporting and data server and distributed data collection modules, FireMon can scale to meet the needs of any enterprise network.  This architecture means that you keep a single view of the network without requiring all data flow back to a central choke point.  It also means you can scale to thousands of devices in one installation.  FireMon is unique in this capability.

Don’t buy more than you need

This is a great point.  FireMon has always been priced by device with a very affordable entry point for any customer.  Wether you are managing 2 firewalls or 2,000, FireMon will provide value at a reasonable price.  The driving force behind FireMon has always been to solve real problems.  We initially built the product to solve a real management problem of change that remains today.  And further development has remained focused on this principal of solving real customer problems.  This may seem obvious, but there are many products in the world that are created because someone had a cool idea, not because it was necessary.  FireMon has invented some very cool features through the years including policy comparison, rule usage, policy test and traffic flow analysis to name a few.  But every one of them was designed to solve a tangible and real customer need.

Don’t use underpowered hardware

Often this goes without saying, but should definitely be considered.  Although FireMon provides a VM for evaluation, rarely is that the right production deployment.  This is not unique to FireMon.  FireMon is many things, including a reporting server and database server.  These types of applications don’t fare well on shared hardware due to I/O constraints.  This is not to say it can’t be done, rather just adhere to this suggestion…carefully consider hardware needs for this and all applications.  For specific recommendations, speak with a Secure Passage representative about your environment.

Other Considerations

This article was very informative and a good starting point for review.  One of the key points was to evaluate the products prior to purchase.  We strongly encourage this and welcome an opportunity to prove our solution against any competitor.  But there are a couple of other key points worth mentioning:

Compliance

As the article indicates, compliance is often a key driver for these types of technologies.  When evaluating solutions for compliance, don’t just look for a product with compliance reports, look for a solution that will actually improve your compliance.  A good example of this is documentation.  Nearly all compliance regulations require justifying the access that is permitted through the firewalls.  Wether you are considering PCI, NERC or general standards like ISO 17799, documenting why a firewall is configured a certain way is part of the regulation.  Implementing change management is good, but only part of the answer.  Look for tools like FireMon that can streamline the process of maintaining a documented configuration.  It is required, so make it as simple as possible.  With FireMon, when the audit comes around, it can be as simple as generating the report.

Community Support

You are not alone in your desire or necessity to improve firewall management.  You don’t have to be alone when it comes to implementation either.  With a strong community of support, you can get answers to your questions from your industry peers.  Find out how others are attacking the same problems.  And just as importantly, get solutions to those problems.  With FireMon’s open community, get the solutions you need from the experts in the industry.