Firewall Wars 2.0: Next Generation Firewalls

Johnnie Konstantas over on Security Week has the first of what looks like a series of articles posted on what she calls Firewall Wars 2.0.  Johnnie recounts that back in the day, the big fight was between stateful inspection firewalls and proxy-based firewalls.  I remember those days well and agree there is a parallel to those days.  However, I don’t think time only one has to win.

Konstantas now suggests we are in a new era of firewall wars and I tend to agree.  The Next Generation firewalls promoted by Palo Alto Networks and followed by many of the traditional firewall vendors has begun to shake up the market.  I don’t agree with Konstantas assessment of what constitutes a Next Gen firewall however.  She seems to lump them into the UTM category, which I think understates both the UTM and the NG firewall capabilities.  The genius of the Next Gen firewall (in my opinion, of course) is that it took much of the capability of an IDP to recognize and categorize layer 7 traffic and managed it in a positive security model.  Unlike IDP’s that block traffic identified as bad, the NG firewall identifies and only allows traffic deemed acceptable.  Slight shift in technology application, gigantic shift in behavior.  And while it is a great advancement for certain situations, I don’t think it immediately makes stateful inspection firewalls obsolete.

What I liked best about Konstantas review of the topic was the recognition that not all products are created equal AND not all situations require the same solution.  Security needs and performance requirements should be key factors in making a decision.  Not all situations call for NG firewall capabilities or UTM functionality.  In fact, I would suggest, not all locations call for a dedicated firewall, in some locations a firewall feature set on a router may be a good fit.

As for the war, as budget cycles come around for firewall upgrades and migrations, consumers will have a lot more choice than they did just 3 years ago.  I suggest it not be considered a Betamax vs VHS battle…there is room for NG firewalls, stateful inspection firewalls and even proxies all deployed in the appropriate location in the battle of network security.

Regardless of which firewall technology an enterprise choses to deploy (or if they deploy them all), they must be effectively managed.  The best firewall technology won’t fix a poor configuration.  A good management technology like FireMon Security Manager is the answer to make sure your firewall technology is effective.