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Network firewalls aren't dead yet

Jaikumar Vijayan | March 6, 2014
After 20-plus years of service, the technology remains a core part of the IT security stack despite its long predicted demise.

Palo Alto firewalls are application aware, said Lee Klarich, senior vice president of product management.

Instead of blocking Skype or Facebook entirely, companies can use Palo Alto's firewall products to control what users can do with these applications. Want to enable Webex, but only for a select set of users? Palo Alto has an app for that, Klarich says.

"What we would say first and foremost is our platform is designed to safely enable applications" instead of blocking them due to security concerns," Klarich said. "We go way beyond a traditional firewall."

The products natively integrate firewall, intrusion detection, intrusion prevention and URL filtering functions and enable visibility and control over everything flowing into and out of a corporate network.

"Newer firewalls have more identity and application functionality built in," says Pete Lindstrom, principal at Spire Security.

Along with permit/deny functions for connections on different network ports, the latest firewall technologies also include functions for monitoring applications running on Internet ports 80 and 443, he said. That's a big deal at a time when a lot of Web applications and malware use the same entryways into the corporate network.

"It allows administrators to know what is going in and out the front door," Cummings says. "And because you know what is going on, you can assess the risk and control it."

The key is that next-generation firewalls can enforce contextual access controls based upon users, applications, locations, time-of-day and other factors, said Jon Oltsik, an analyst at Enterprise Security Group. Think of new firewalls as network security services, he says.

"These services won't go away but may morph into different physical and virtual form factors. What enterprise organizations really want is central control and distributed policy enforcement across all network security services — physical, virtual and cloud-based. Think single pane-of-glass control," Oltsik said.

Several other firewall vendors, including Check Point, Fortinet and Juniper, have taken a cue from Palo Alto and are rushing to market with newfangled firewalls that offer a set of integrated capabilities.

Each of the companies are moving along at a different pace, but they already have the full attention of enterprises and of investors, if their market capitalizations are any indication.

"The modern firewall must be flexible in deployment and serve as a platform for security services," said Michael Callahan, vice president of product marketing at Juniper Networks. In the next few years expect to see firewalls incorporating diverse sets of threat intelligence information from the cloud and within a network. Such data will be used to actively defend against attacks in real-time, he said.

Callahan says pointing to new "intrusion deception" technology built into the Juniper's latest firewalls. The technology, gained from its $80 million acquisition of Mykonos in 2012, is designed to identity and stop malware attacks both early in the process and after a network is penetrated.


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