Firewall Rule Management: Curing Technical Complexity

As editor-in-chief at, I spend a lot of time speaking with organizations about their operations. One of the most consistent themes I hear is that with today’s infrastructure – whether it’s related to code, cloud and virtual environments, on and off-premises, big data or application-centric – the complexity of managing and orchestrating IT is a difficult, if not impossible task.

There’s no doubt that this is most certainly the case with all the aforementioned factors to consider and, respective of that, all the moving parts in modern IT environments. However, I also try to remind people that this is a similar scenario to the realities we have dealt with in managing firewall rules for many years.

When I first started in security last century (not as long ago as that sounds), it was common for an organization to have a firewall or two, maybe even four if they were a really big shop. These firewalls always lived at the perimeter, and truthfully they were relatively simple devices. They could block traffic based on what port it was coming in or out of, and what IP address it was coming from, or going to.

That all sounds pretty simple but even then, in the hands of a network admin or two, the amount of rules that would pile up on top of each other over time would become astounding. Pretty soon you’d have a complex web of policies on your hands, much like the tangled mess wires found inside a data center.

firemon-curing-complexityOf course, as firewalls started to proliferate across the network, internally as well as at the border, this situation only grew worse. On top of this, firewalls themselves grew increasingly more complex and the rules you could set became more sophisticated. Layer the rapid employee turnover typical within many IT departments on top of this, and things began to get out of control. Within 18 months you could have rules that were put in place two or three admins ago, leaving the present admins with no clue as to why those rules were even there. Eventually, something had to bring order to this rapidly-scaling Tower of Babel.

Thankfully, driven by this reality, along came solutions like FireMon Security Manager The value proposition of FireMon was pretty straightforward, addressing this operational nightmare and giving practitioners something to help to make the overly complex firewall rules management process simple.

With this innovation, admins could now see what rules they had to address – and maybe even why they were there in the first place – then change them, delete them or enforce them, selectively or not. Eventually, you were able to automate firewall policy monitoring in general, and that brought a whole new approach to larger issues of network security management too.

Fast-forward to the current environment, where it’s not uncommon to find enterprise environments with hundreds of firewalls, where all of those evolving IT management paradigms that I listed are advancing rapidly. Without automated solutions, it’s hard to image how we could even begin to manage a world where organizations have to consider thousands, if not tens of thousands of extremely complex firewall rules and policies.

The folks in IT operations need to consider all of this and take heart, because the evolution of firewall management has proven that it is possible to manage complexity, with the reality that firewalls are still promulgating everywhere as living proof that tackling what may seem hopeless today, will become conceivable.

The truth is, while addressing today’s cloud-sprawling, continent-spanning IT infrastructure appears even more complicated than management of firewall rules at first blush, I’m confident that the market will respond with tools to make this all seem relatively simple someday.

I see this as a great market opportunity that several solutions are already seeking to answer. I don’t know which solution or set of solutions will eventually win, but I do know that it will have to thank tools like FireMon for showing us how to make the once seemingly impossible, possible.