Messy firewall rules get security professionals “grounded for life”

Hands up, whose firewall rules are a mess? Yes? Well, the good news (if it can be considered good news) is that you’re not alone, because 65% of your peers are in the same boat according to a survey carried out last month at Infosecurity Europe. In fact, 65% of the 300 security professionals surveyed said if their firewall rules were a teenager’s bedroom, their mom would be so angry she would ground them; and half of those said they would be grounded for life!

The same study also showed that 32% admitted they had inherited over half of the rules they manage from a predecessor – no wonder they are a mess! And a quarter of security professionals confessed to being afraid to turn off legacy rules. To add to the complexity, 72% of security professionals surveyed use two or more firewall vendors within their IT environments to try and manage rules for.

Firewall rule management can be one of those thankless tasks that is a thorn in the side of many IT managers. It takes up too much time, sort of like untangling those miscellaneous wires that have been piling up in your junk drawer.

Though organizations in general, especially IT teams, are expected to do more with fewer resources, good security management and automation can close gaps in resources while helping streamline processes and simplify tasks such as firewall rule management.

If, like the majority of IT security professionals, you’re in danger of being grounded over your messy firewall rules, here are some tips from my colleague Tim Woods on how to start tidying up your firewall policies:

Step 1: Remove technical mistakes – A primary example of a technical mistake that is classified as ineffective, incorrect and not needed is a hidden rule which includes redundant and shadowed rules that serve no legitimate business purpose.

Step 2: Remove unused access – Unused access rules bloat a firewall policy causing confusion and mistakes. To determine rule usage, you need to analyze and correlate the active policy against the network traffic pattern; doing this over a sustained period will show definitively which rules are used versus unused to help with clean up.

Step 3: Review, refine and organize access – You need to determine whether rules are justified against a defined business requirement and analyze the need vs. risk acceptance for the rule. Start with rules that employ the use of “ANY”, as these could potentially be the most risky.

Step 4: Continual policy monitoring – Don’t forget that maintaining an effective, efficient and correct firewall policy is an ongoing process. Make sure you have real-time change event monitoring and alerting and real-time audit reporting to know when a violation of your security policy has occurred.