What is a Next-Generation Firewall (NGFW)? In-Depth Guide

By Tibor Moes / Updated: June 2023

What is a Next-Generation Firewall (NGFW)? In-Depth Guide<br />

What Is a Next-Generation Firewall (NGFW)?

In a world where cyber threats are growing in complexity and sophistication, ensuring the security of your organization’s network is a top priority. Next-Generation Firewalls (NGFWs) have emerged as an advanced solution to protect against ever-evolving cyber threats.

In this blog post, we will explore the ins and outs of NGFWs, their advantages, limitations, and how they can be further enhanced with additional technologies. Are you ready to dive into the world of NGFWs and discover how they can help secure your organization’s network?

Summary

  • Next-Generation Firewalls (NGFW) are advanced security systems that go beyond traditional firewalls, offering more detailed network protection.

  • NGFWs inspect network traffic deeply, block malware, and prevent cyber threats, enhancing the security of an organization’s network.

  • Features like deep packet inspection, application-level filtering, intrusion prevention systems, and real-time threat intelligence make NGFWs critical security features.

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Understanding Next-Generation Firewalls (NGFWs)

Next-Generation Firewalls (NGFWs) are an advanced type of firewall that goes beyond traditional firewalls. They provide deep packet inspection, application-layer inspection, intrusion prevention, and integrate intelligence from outside sources, offering a comprehensive approach to network security. Unlike traditional firewalls, NGFWs use user and machine identity to create security policies, rather than relying solely on IP addresses and service ports. This advanced capability enables NGFWs to detect and respond to threats that could potentially bypass traditional firewalls, such as those using alternative ports.

Network segmentation plays a crucial role in enhancing the effectiveness of NGFWs. By dividing the corporate network into different zones and ensuring that traffic passes through an NGFW when crossing these zones, organizations can detect and respond to threats before they reach their intended targets. The enhanced capabilities and features of NGFWs offer improved threat protection, policy control, and network visibility, making them an attractive choice for businesses looking to secure their networks.

Evolution of Firewall Technology

Firewall technology has come a long way since its inception in the 1980s by Cisco Systems and Digital Equipment Corporation. Early firewalls judged packets based on their source, destination, and connection type, providing a basic level of network security. However, as cyber threats evolved and became more complex, such as Advanced Persistent Threats (APTs), it became evident that more advanced security measures were necessary to protect against these sophisticated attacks.

This realization led to the development of Next-Generation Firewalls, which took the core functions of traditional firewalls and added extra filtering capabilities. NGFWs offer advanced features such as deep packet inspection, application-level filtering, and intrusion prevention, providing a robust defense against modern threats.

This progression in firewall technology has enabled organizations to better safeguard their networks and sensitive data from increasingly complex cyber attacks.

Key Components of NGFWs

The core components of an NGFW include deep packet inspection, application-level filtering, and intrusion prevention, which together provide a comprehensive approach to network security. Deep packet inspection allows NGFWs to analyze the data contained within network packets as they pass through the firewall, providing a more thorough examination of network traffic.

Application-level filtering enables NGFWs to filter network traffic based on applications, not just ports or protocols. This granular control allows organizations to better manage and secure their networks.

Intrusion prevention is a security technique that monitors network traffic for malicious activity and blocks suspicious traffic, providing an additional layer of protection against cyber threats. Together, these key components make NGFWs an essential part of any modern network security strategy.

Advantages of Implementing NGFWs

Implementing an NGFW can provide numerous benefits for businesses and organizations. These advanced firewalls offer full application visibility and control, multi-functional security, and advanced threat detection and mitigation, making them an invaluable tool for keeping cyber attacks at bay. They also provide a multi-layered approach to network security, which is crucial in defending against the ever-evolving threat landscape.

Some of the advantages of NGFWs include preventing malware from entering a network, addressing APTs, providing a cost-effective way to improve device security, and offering application awareness, inspection services, protection systems, and awareness tools. Application awareness, in particular, plays a significant role in boosting the security of the device. By providing enhanced capabilities and features that offer improved threat protection, policy control, and network visibility, NGFWs have become an essential component of modern network security strategies.

Enhanced Security Against Advanced Threats

NGFWs have the ability to detect and block sophisticated threats such as malware and Advanced Persistent Threats (APTs). This enhanced security against advanced threats comes from their deep packet inspection capabilities, application-level filtering, and intrusion prevention systems, which together provide a comprehensive approach to network security.

By integrating real-time threat intelligence into the NGFW, organizations can ensure proactive defense against the latest threats. This additional layer of protection can be invaluable in safeguarding your organization’s network and sensitive data from increasingly complex cyber attacks.

Simplified Security Operations

NGFWs can simplify security operations by consolidating multiple network security solutions into a single platform. This not only reduces the complexity of managing various security solutions, but also enables centralized management for easier maintenance. By bringing together firewall capabilities, intrusion prevention systems (IPS), filtering, and more in one package, organizations can streamline their security operations and achieve greater efficiency.

Moreover, NGFWs can provide real-time alerts, allowing security teams to quickly identify and respond to potential threats. This not only improves the overall security posture of the organization, but also reduces the time and resources required to manage network security.

Integrated Threat Intelligence

Incorporating real-time threat intelligence into an NGFW can significantly enhance its ability to identify and block potential threats. This can be done either by integrating third-party threat intelligence or using dynamic lists provided by the NGFW vendor. Real-time threat intelligence is crucial to ensuring proactive defense and keeping your organization’s network safe from the latest threats.

By integrating threat intelligence into an NGFW, businesses can gain greater visibility into traffic and the application layer, allowing them to better understand and protect their networks from potential threats. This comprehensive approach to network security is an essential component of any modern cybersecurity strategy.

Limitations and Challenges of NGFWs

Despite their numerous benefits, NGFWs do have some limitations and challenges. One of the primary drawbacks is their inability to effectively support the needs of today’s remote workforce. NGFWs struggle to handle the large number of long-term connections created by cloud applications, and they are not able to process SSL-encrypted traffic natively. This can lead to performance issues and potential security gaps.

Running SSL inspection in software instead of on the chip level can slow down performance and negatively impact the user experience. Additionally, this approach can open up the door to new security threats like advanced malware.

To address these limitations, organizations may need to consider adopting alternative or complementary security solutions that better support remote workforces and cloud applications.

Scalability Issues

Scaling NGFWs for large organizations or distributed workforces can be challenging. As NGFWs come with more advanced security features, they require additional resources to operate effectively, making scaling out a more expensive endeavor.

Organizations must weigh the benefits of implementing an NGFW against the costs associated with scaling the solution. In some cases, alternative security solutions that offer greater scalability may be more suitable for large organizations or those with a distributed workforce.

Cloud Compatibility Concerns

Another challenge associated with NGFWs is their limited compatibility with cloud applications and infrastructure. Since NGFWs were not designed to support cloud applications, they struggle to keep up with the high volume of long-lived connections created by these apps. This means they lack cloud application awareness, which can lead to security gaps and potential vulnerabilities.

Modern NGFWs must include proxy capabilities to inspect SSL traffic. Additionally, SSL inspection needs to be done in software, instead of relying on the chip level. This can result in performance issues and open up new security threats like advanced malware.

Organizations that rely heavily on cloud applications and infrastructure may need to consider alternative security solutions that offer better cloud compatibility.

The Future of Firewall Technology: Cloud Firewalls

As the limitations of NGFWs become more apparent, there is a growing shift towards cloud-based firewalls as a solution for securing modern networks. Cloud firewalls are hosted in the cloud and provided as a service, designed to stop or reduce unwanted access to private networks. They offer several advantages over traditional NGFWs, including better support for cloud applications and infrastructure, improved scalability, and streamlined security operations.

Cloud firewalls are gaining traction as businesses increasingly rely on cloud services for their daily operations. As the cybersecurity landscape continues to evolve, it is essential for organizations to adopt solutions that can effectively secure their networks, whether it be NGFWs, cloud firewalls, or a combination of both.

Why Cloud Firewalls Are Gaining Traction

Cloud firewalls are becoming increasingly popular due to their advantages over traditional NGFWs. They provide better security protection against sophisticated threats, streamline security operations, and include built-in threat intelligence. Their scalability and compatibility with cloud-based systems make them an attractive option for businesses that need to secure their data in the cloud.

Another factor driving the adoption of cloud firewalls is their ease of deployment and maintenance. As cloud firewalls are managed remotely and require minimal setup, organizations can save time and resources on firewall management, allowing them to focus on other critical tasks. This simplicity, combined with their advanced security features, makes cloud firewalls an increasingly popular choice for businesses looking to enhance their network security.

Comparison Between NGFWs and Cloud Firewalls

While both NGFWs and cloud firewalls offer comprehensive protection for business networks, they have their own unique features and capabilities. NGFWs provide enhanced security against advanced threats, simplified security operations, and integrated threat intelligence, making them an essential component of modern network security strategies.

On the other hand, cloud firewalls offer more scalability and cloud-compatibility, making them a better choice for businesses that rely heavily on cloud services.

In comparing the two, organizations must carefully consider their specific security needs and requirements. Factors such as the size of the organization, the nature of the network, and the reliance on cloud services should all play a role in determining whether an NGFW, a cloud firewall, or a combination of both is the best fit for the organization’s security strategy.

Types and Integration Options for NGFWs

There are various types of NGFWs available, each catering to different network environments and security needs. Software-based, hardware-based, rugged, small and branch office, enterprise, data center, hyperscale network security, cloud and proxy firewalls are some of the types of firewalls available. These firewalls offer varied protection for organizations across different domains. Each type of NGFW comes with its own deployment options, features, and capabilities, allowing organizations to choose the best fit for their specific requirements.

NGFWs can be integrated into different network environments in several ways, such as virtualization, cloud-based solutions, and hardware-based solutions. By understanding the different types of NGFWs and their integration options, organizations can make an informed decision on the best solution to secure their networks and protect their sensitive data.

Categories of NGFWs

NGFWs can be classified according to their features and capabilities, such as application awareness, integrated intrusion prevention systems, identity awareness, and more. NGFWs come in a variety of forms for different applications. These include rugged firewalls, small and branch office firewalls, enterprise firewalls, data center firewalls, hyperscale network security, cloud firewalls, and Firewall as a Service (FWaaS) solutions. Each category of NGFW is designed to cater to specific security needs and network environments.

By understanding the various categories of NGFWs, organizations can better determine which type is the most suitable for their specific security requirements and network infrastructure. This knowledge can help businesses make an informed decision and ensure they are implementing the most effective solution to protect their network and data.

Integration Methods

There are several methods for incorporating an NGFW into a network, including virtualization, cloud-based solutions, and hardware-based solutions. Each integration method offers its own set of advantages and challenges, depending on the organization’s specific requirements and network infrastructure.

One notable integration option is Firewall as a Service (FWaaS), which provides a cloud-based firewall solution that is managed and maintained by a third-party provider. This approach allows organizations to outsource their firewall management and maintenance, reducing the need for in-house IT staff and freeing up resources for other tasks.

Additionally, FWaaS is often more cost-effective than traditional on-premise firewalls, making it an attractive option for many businesses.

Enhancing NGFWs with Additional Technologies

NGFWs can be further improved by incorporating other security technologies, such as Artificial Intelligence (AI), Machine Learning (ML), intrusion prevention systems, sandboxing, and antivirus. By integrating these additional technologies into an NGFW, organizations can enhance their network security and better protect against advanced threats.

Two such technologies that can complement NGFWs are Remote Browser Isolation and Zero Trust Network Security. In the following subsections, we will explore how these technologies can be used in conjunction with NGFWs to further enhance network security and safeguard sensitive data.

Implementing Remote Browser Isolation

Remote Browser Isolation (RBI) can be deployed alongside an NGFW to prevent malware from entering networks. RBI works by running webpages and associated JavaScript code on a remote server, away from the user’s device. The user is presented with a visual representation of the website. However, the actual code of the website does not have access to the user’s device. Once the session is over, the container and website code are terminated. Any malware that may have been present in the web application is wiped out.

By using Remote Browser Isolation in conjunction with an NGFW, organizations can enhance their security against advanced threats, simplify security operations, and provide integrated threat intelligence. This multi-layered approach to network security can help organizations better defend their networks and sensitive data from increasingly complex cyber attacks.

Adopting a Zero Trust Approach

NGFWs can contribute to a Zero Trust framework by analyzing every packet and implementing granular access controls. The Zero Trust approach is a cybersecurity strategy that assumes no implicit trust and requires verification at every stage of a digital interaction, ensuring a higher level of security and reducing the risk of unauthorized access to sensitive data.

By adopting a Zero Trust approach, organizations can further enhance the effectiveness of their NGFWs and better protect their networks from potential threats. This comprehensive approach to network security is essential in defending against the ever-evolving threat landscape.

Summary

In conclusion, Next-Generation Firewalls play a vital role in securing modern networks against increasingly complex cyber threats. They offer advanced capabilities and features that provide improved threat protection, policy control, and network visibility. While NGFWs have some limitations, such as scalability and cloud compatibility concerns, their benefits far outweigh these drawbacks. By incorporating additional security technologies like Remote Browser Isolation and adopting a Zero Trust approach, organizations can further enhance the effectiveness of their NGFWs and better protect their networks and sensitive data. As the world of cybersecurity continues to evolve, staying informed and proactive about network security has never been more crucial.

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Frequently Asked Questions

Below are the most frequently asked questions.

What defines a next-generation firewall?

A next-generation firewall (NGFW) is a comprehensive network security solution designed to address the advanced cyber threats modern companies face. NGFWs offer a range of capabilities that go beyond traditional packet-filtering, providing application-level packet inspection and intrusion prevention.

What is the difference between a firewall and NGFW?

A firewall provides basic protection against malicious activity and unwanted access to a network, while a NGFW offers increased security with additional layers of detection that examine more than just the traffic coming in and out. NGFWs can also detect threats at the application level, making them far more effective at stopping malicious actors.

Is NGFW hardware or software?

NGFWs are a combination of hardware and software solutions, depending on the implementation you choose. Hardware NGFWs use specialized physical appliances to filter traffic, while software NGFWs can be installed on existing server hardware or cloud-based services.

Author: Tibor Moes

Author: Tibor Moes

Founder & Chief Editor at SoftwareLab

Tibor has tested 39 antivirus programs and 30 VPN services, and holds a Cybersecurity Graduate Certificate from Stanford University.

He uses Norton to protect his devices, CyberGhost for his privacy, and Dashlane for his passwords.

You can find him on LinkedIn or contact him here.