Cyber security and the act of defending your business's digital presence is not a singular and straightforward process. Rather, it requires a multi-faceted approach focusing on all different aspects of network communication. For organizations, it is paramount to keep sensitive business data and operating systems secure. Traditional firewalls may have once been ample to do this, but newer and more dangerous threats require a more advanced approach. This is where the next-generation firewall (NGFW) comes in.
This article will cover the ins and outs of next-generation firewalls. Read on to learn more about what a next-generation firewall is, what they do, Sangfor’s own NGFW, and much more.
What is a next-generation firewall (NGFW)?
Next generation firewalls (NGFWs) are the newest generation of firewall technology. NGFWs use something called deep packet inspection (DPI) to inspect the content (payload) of data packets. This allows users to create more granular firewall rules based on specific types of data, applications, devices, and users. Firewalls have been around since the 1980s. These first-generation firewalls played a crucial role in early cyber security, and have served as a great foundation for more advanced technology. Surpassing the following second and third generations, next-gen firewalls are today's more comprehensive and secure type of firewall. Read more about the history of firewalls here. Perhaps the best way to understand next-gen firewalls is to compare them to traditional firewalls.
The differences between next-gen firewalls and traditional firewalls
According to the Open Systems Interconnection (OSI) model, there are 7 tiers of network communication from top to bottom: Application, Presentation, Session, Transport, Network, Data-link, and Physical. Cyber attacks can target weaknesses in any of these 7 layers. Historically, perpetrators have focused their efforts on vulnerabilities in the lower 4 layers. Despite this, attacks are increasingly targeting the higher layers.
Traditional firewalls are only capable of relatively simple actions such as filtering packets and stateful inspection. They operate up to level 4 on the OSI model. This means vulnerabilities on levels 5-7 are not adequately protected by a traditional firewall alone.
Contrastingly, next-gen firewalls are capable of filtering network traffic up to the application layer - level 7. They take the core elements of traditional firewalls and add additional components for heightened security.
For example, next-gen firewalls are capable of analyzing the contents of a packet as well as its origin and destination. This enables a much more dynamic and secure approach to security. They are also commonly integrated with a range of other cybersecurity solutions. For example, Sangfor’s NGAF is interlinked with an intrusion prevention system, AI-backed external threat intelligence, and much more. With all these features, Next-Gen Firewalls NGFWs are able to provide more robust protection than traditional firewalls.
What are the key features of a next-gen firewall?
Not all next-gen firewalls are the same. Many can be adjusted to suit the specific organization’s needs. Next-gen firewalls may include features such as:
Web application firewall (WAF)
As mentioned, one of the major benefits of a next-gen firewall is its ability to filter up to layer 7 in the OSI model. A web application firewall helps do this by filtering traffic between applications and the web. Rather than filtering based on port, WAFs are able to apply rules based on the application. This is called application awareness and is a key component of NGFWs. Sangfor NGAF is integrated with Sangfor WAF to provide this level of protection.
An intrusion prevention system (IPS)
An intrusion prevention system (IPS) (different from an intrusion detection system, or IDS) is another key component of next-gen firewalls. An IPS monitors the network for threats and eliminates them immediately. Depending on the configuration of the firewall, the IPS can operate based on matching known threats, blocking activity that breaches policies, or spotting anomalous behavior.
External threat intelligence
A firewall is only as effective as its intelligence. This is one of the reasons we are so often told to install security updates. Next-gen firewalls are often combined with external threat intelligence to boost effectiveness at spotting threats. For example, Sangfor NGAF is integrated with Sangfor Neural-X - a cloud-based, AI-powered threat intelligence and analytics platform. NGAF communicates with Neural-X in real time to help identify the most elusive threats. Data used by Neural-X is constantly updated from several sources and is amplified with deep learning.
Deep packet inspection (DPI)
Traditional firewalls are capable of packet inspection (or packet filtering). This is when they examine a packet’s IP header to learn its source and destination. It decides based on this information and a predetermined set of parameters to allow or disallow the packet to pass through.
Next-gen firewalls take packet inspection a step further. Deep packet inspection is when the firewall examines not only the source and destination of a packet but its contents too. This is possible in real-time thanks to the increased processing power of next-gen firewalls. Together with external threat intelligence, deep packet inspection is a highly effective security tool.
Security Operations Center
A security operations center (SOC) is the heart of many next-gen firewalls. A SOC acts as a centralized location to control and manage a firewall among other security tools. Rather than having your team painstakingly manage each different aspect of your security architecture, a SOC offers a more streamlined alternative. The most effective NGFWs come from vendors that offer integration into a user-friendly control panel for great oversight.
There will always be times when suspicious files sent through your network cannot be adequately determined as safe. This is because new and undetected malware strains are released every day. Sandboxing provides a way to safely test these files in a controlled and isolated environment. The results are filtered into threat intelligence like Neural-X before being used in tools like next-gen firewalls. For this reason, sandboxing technology such as Sangfor ZSand are often bundled with NGFW packages.
AI malware detection
Ultimately, firewalls are more effective the quicker they are able to identify malicious activity. For this reason, many next-gen firewalls are designed to work with malware detection software. Sangfor NGAF works with Engine Zero, our proprietary AI-powered real-time Malware Detection Engine. Engine Zero uses machine learning and AI algorithms to detect malware at a 99.76% success rate.
Next-gen firewalls are commonly offered as a service from a securities vendor like Sangfor. This has several benefits. First, there is a team of experts from the company ready to help set up, troubleshoot, and manage your firewall. Secondly, this provides easy scalability as your organization grows.
Integration with additional features
Firewalls are not designed to be a standalone, one-size-fits-all security solution. They are most effective when combined with a range of other solutions. For this reason, firewalls can come with a plethora of other additional features and solutions not listed above. For example, many are integrated with application control, endpoint detection and response software, and much more.
Why do businesses need next-gen firewalls?
Without a firewall, your network is far more vulnerable. And, through weaknesses in this network, organizations may fall victim to a cyber security incident. But as we've mentioned, not all firewalls are made equal. Specifically, next-gen firewalls are much better equipped than traditional firewalls with their robust and comprehensive security capabilities, layer 7 application filtering, and more. When it comes to protecting your organization against newer and more dangerous threats, they are a must-have.
It is worth remembering that next-gen firewalls should only be one part of a holistic security architecture. Together with other solutions such as incident response plans, endpoint security, and more, next-gen firewalls help provide coverage for all levels of the OSI model.
Protect your business with Sangfor
Sangfor is a leading cyber securities vendor offering a range of solutions. Everything from next-generation firewalls to internet access gateways is available as services.
Sangfor believes that Security should be easy to understand, deploy and operate for all organizations. If you haven't explored the enormous benefits of Sangfor NGAF (Next Generation Application Firewall) for your business network security, now is the time. Check out the Sangfor NGAF video to get an informative overview of Sangfor's NGAF with information on all the newest and most exciting innovations and features like Next Generation WAF, Neural-X, Engine Zero and Security Butler.
To learn more about what a next-gen firewall is or about specific features, get in touch with us.
Frequently Asked Questions
The most crucial part of a next-gen firewalls capabilities is its application-level filtering. This means that NGFWs are able to provide protection up to layer 7 in the OSI model. This, together with a range of incorporated features, empowers NGFWs to prevent a huge array of cyber security incidents. Everything from malware, ransomware, SQL injections, cross-site scripting, and more can be eliminated by an NGFW.
Sangfor NGAF holds several world-first titles when it comes to next-gen firewalls, including:
- The first AI-enabled NGFW
- The first to integrate WAF and SOC
- The first to truly integrate network and endpoint security solutions
The constant strive to create the most effective firewall is what makes Sangfor a leading vendor in the market. We are wholly committed to finding new ways of improving NGAF as threats evolve. Furthermore, NGAF presently provides one of the most comprehensive security systems when working together with other Sangfor solutions.
All businesses handle sensitive data; many hold confidential client information and follow strict compliance requirements. Next-gen firewalls are geared toward these businesses so that they can keep their information and systems secure. While smaller businesses may be able to get away with simpler solutions, we would always recommend a next-gen firewall. Our solutions are easily scaled depending on business growth and can be priced accordingly.