The Do's and Don'ts of Firewall Audit Tools

Updated November 6, 2017

Opinions are like noses, so the saying goes. Everyone has one. Network Security Policy Management (NSPM) is an area where the voices are loud, but not always relevant to the needs of today’s enterprises. 

When thinking about NSPM, there are some things to keep in mind. What follows is an attempt to help organizations frame the conversation and questions for better security, stronger compliance and general improvement in how we manage security in our changing world.

Overview

To start, most analysts have done a nice job covering the key points of evaluating the products without discussing any specific features. These recommendations focus generally on technology buying criteria rather than any particular feature. For example, one suggestion is to test the products in a bake-off before buying. Another suggestion is to make sure your NSPM solution has the right reporting features. These are not specific recommendations for which product to buy, but suggestions on what to consider when getting to a short-list. 

In an effort to collapse recommendations into their common themes, I’ve developed a list of Do’s and Don’ts when assessing potential solutions for Network Security Policy Management.

Do’s

Exhaustive API-Based Device Support and Coverage

FireMon provides support for the leading security device (e.g. firewall) vendors including Check Point, Cisco, Juniper, Fortinet and Palo Alto Networks, among others. Additionally, FireMon has the most comprehensive network device support for routers and switches (Layer-3 devices), such as Cisco and Juniper. Load balancers are continuing to become critical parts of any infrastructure and are often focal points for security threats. Additional support for load balancers (e.g. F5 and others) provides in-depth support for change management and configuration analysis.

We have this unique belief that open-API is the best way to accommodate changing infrastructure and security demands. FireMon has provided an open-API for any devices with native support for a wide-range of protocols – SSH, Syslog, Telnet, TFTP, FTP, UDP, TCP, etc. This helps our customers who will not always know what their future security investments will be. Having an open-API extends FireMon’s NSPM to many different systems (Proxies, SIEM, cloud, microsegmentation enforcement).

Not everyone in the NSPM space can do this. READ: Plug-ins are not an open-API. 

For 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 timed poll to the device to extract a few point-in-time configuration details. Many organizations do not have a real-time requirement for reporting or security assessments. Those who do, will prefer FireMon’s real-time capabilities…all brought about by having an exhaustive open-API.

Test the Products Before You Buy

This is of course a great idea and one that we strongly encourage. As with any technology purchase, when you evaluate solutions, you will see that FireMon brings significant differences to the network security policy management challenge. 

Now, often you do not have a lab environment that will fully replicate what your production needs. However, there are a few simple steps to help you identify what can be done with a given technology.

  1. Deployment model: Does the technology provide Virtual, Cloud, On-prem options?
  2. Data ingest: Does the solution offer streaming data or just periodic polling from devices?
  3. Reporting: Does the solution offer customizable reporting, or do you need a large professional services engagement?
  4. Scale: Does the NSPM solution have a distributed architecture?

The final piece here is extremely important. Most NSPM vendors provide a solution that has its application server and data ingest within the same appliance (virtual or on-prem). This creates a bottleneck: reports take too long, polling isn’t synced, lower confidence in the data you are trying to analyze.

Furthermore, most solutions do not have the flexibility to customize reporting. This means that in order to get at all that data, you need a large professional services group to spend weeks with you to report on 2-3 extra fields.

Testing is so important, because that is how we discover if a solutions demos well or if it can actually meet your requirements.

NOTE: Testing is not the same as a proof-of-concept (POC). It’s your investment, make sure you have tested everything against your requirements. Avoid the POC trap where a vendor can confine the testing to areas they excel. Instead, get demonstrated evidence of the four points above. 

Determine Reporting Requirements

This seems obvious, the solution must deliver the reports you need. FireMon offers a full suite of out-of-the-box reports including policy optimization, security analysis, compliance reports (internal and regulatory such as PCI DSS), change reports and many more. Within minutes of installing FireMon, you can generate analysis reports against all your network security devices.

But don’t be limited by what a vendor provides you. When it comes to reporting, you need a solution that addresses your specific needs. 

Organizations are like snowflakes – each one is unique, but are comprised of similar components. It’s the arrangement of your network and compliance needs that makes you, you

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. 

Recently, we were exhibiting at a firewall manufacturer conference. One of our customers approached us asking about a report to search a particular policy for all rules with a specific name. 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 the extensible and open nature of FireMon’s analysis allowed us to provide this report in minutes.

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

Automated Workflow

The idea behind workflow in the NSPM was a natural extension from the change management needs of the enterprise. FireMon answers this market need, automating the process from rule design to implementation. 

Firewalls are unique from hosts, and the inputs to a firewall change are unique as well. This is why organizations look for an NSPM with firewall-centric workflow. But don’t just stop with workflow; make sure it adds real value to your process.

If the only thing a workflow tool does is add specific fields, you should question if it is worth it. Instead, the workflow should automate the challenges in the change process. For example, it is necessary to make sure the right change is made to any network device. So, any workflow automation tool should have rule recommendation that is integrated right into the workflow process. FireMon will recommend what change (if any) should be made to the firewall policy. Too often, unnecessary or ineffective changes are made. Rule recommendation prevents 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. Aside from minimizing mistakes, you can drastically reduce the time and effort to make the change. This is what automated workflow really means: automatically improve efficiency and effectiveness.

Review and Refine Policies and Procedures

This is a key point. Why spend money on technology? Because it make a measurable improvement to security posture and reduce security risk. Don’t assume flashy 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 rule set, 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 nudge behavior in the right direction.

Then, begin to 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
  • Geographically distributed monitoring to avoid network overhead

Only FireMon can achieve these capabilities – seriously, I’m not making this up. FireMon scales because of an architecture that is comprised of a central reporting and data server and distributed data collection modules 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. Again, FireMon is the only NSPM solution capable of this today.

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. Whether you are managing two firewalls or 2,000, FireMon provides licensing to meet your need. The driving force behind FireMon has always been to solve real problems. We are here to solve real management problems and see our customers succeed. This may seem obvious, but there are many solution providers who created something because someone had a nifty idea, not because it was necessary. FireMon created the category of Network Security Policy Management. We continue to lead, because we are maniacal about customer success.

Don’t Use Underpowered Resources

Often this goes without saying, but let’s not understate the need here. Think about it, every morsel of traffic in a given network (on-prem, cloud, virtual) all bump into policy. That creates a flood of security events. Make sure the resources you have are tailored to your specific environment. Again, back to the snowflake…

This is also why testing for different deployment models is so vital. When testing, make sure the deployment is as near to reality as possible, allowing you to calibrate and get to the right resource need. Far too many NSPM deployments fail because people bought into the statement, “Don’t worry about it. Our solution ‘just works’. You’ll be fine.” Sadly, it usually comes from the mouths of those without a distributed architecture, exacerbating the resource troubles. 

Other Considerations

Compliance

As analysts everywhere will indicate, compliance is often a key driver for purchasing an NSPM. 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. Whether you are considering regulatory standards (e.g. PCI DSS, NERC) or internal governance, documenting why a firewall is configured necessary for attestation. Implementing change management is good, but only part of the answer. Look for an NSPM 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 network security policies. 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 solving the same problems. And just as importantly, get solutions to those problems. FireMon has the largest network of peers, each of which is ready to share their knowledge and expertise with one another. Security is a fraternity, FireMon is a common campfire professional gather around.