Understanding the Basics of an NGFW Firewall

When it comes to learning, the fundamentals are a foundation for more advanced knowledge. The same applies to network security. Unlike traditional firewalls operating at layer 4 of the OSI model, an NGFW can inspect traffic up to layer 7—including application-level details. This enables NGFWs to identify attacks using behavioral analysis and threat signatures. This reduces the amount of manual effort required by security administrators.

Definition

In the cybersecurity landscape, understanding the NGFW firewall meaning is crucial, as it signifies a sophisticated breed of firewalls designed to provide enhanced threat detection, intrusion prevention, and application-layer filtering for comprehensive network security.

A next-generation firewall, or NGFW, is a security tool that combines multiple cybersecurity technologies into one platform to better detect and defend against advanced threats. This multi-tool includes deep packet inspection, application awareness, intrusion prevention system (IPS), and antivirus capabilities for a complete network security solution that eliminates the need to buy standalone tools.

Unlike traditional firewalls operating at layers 3 and 4 of the OSI model, NGFWs perform deeper traffic inspection up to layer 7 for more robust protection. This enables them to identify the content of applications, even when those applications use different ports and protocols. This level of security prevents attacks from hiding inside legitimate traffic and gives administrators granular control over application visibility and policies.

Another advantage is that NGFWs can be hardware or software-based. As with other cybersecurity tools, a hardware NGFW uses dedicated security hardware and is a physical appliance that can be installed on-site. The hardware NGFW is also known as an enterprise firewall and typically offers a more secure and stable connection than its software-based counterpart.

The NGFW’s IPS functionality detects and blocks malicious traffic based on behavior or threat signatures. This is a critical component of the Zero Trust model because it can stop advanced malware and stealthy attacks that aren’t easily identifiable by traditional signatures or other methods. Most NGFWs also feature threat intelligence integration to keep their protections up-to-date against new attack methods and malware strains and protect against IP reputation attacks.

Lastly, an NGFW typically features web application firewall (WAF) capability to help safeguard hosted apps from web threats, as well as to identify encrypted traffic and thwart malware that uses SSL decryption. In addition, most NGFWs offer centralized management capabilities for easier monitoring and administration of the device or a group of them, which reduces the number of human resources needed to manage network security.

Features

NGFWs feature advanced capabilities that help protect against today’s evolving cyber threat landscape. Unlike traditional firewalls, which are limited to OSI Layers 3 and 4, NGFWs can also operate at OSI Layer 7 (the application layer). This means they can process and analyze network traffic more deeply, providing excellent protection against threats that try to penetrate corporate perimeters by exploiting application vulnerabilities.

Unlike packet filtering, deep packet inspection (DPI) examines the content of individual network packets rather than just their headers to identify potential malware and other threats. It can also detect encrypted tunnels that hide malicious traffic and commands. These granular visibility and control capabilities enable NGFWs to enforce unified zero-trust access controls.

Additionally, NGFWs can integrate machine learning and various automation to be more autonomous solutions, making them a safer alternative to stateful firewall security. For instance, they can automatically update their security policies to match the current threat landscape without requiring input from human network administrators.

Another critical feature of NGFWs is their ability to integrate with threat intelligence feeds to update their protections based on new detection techniques and malware strains that still need to be added to their signature databases. This is essential because attackers constantly find ways to evade and bypass standard IPS signature detection.

Another valuable capability of NGFWs is their ability to decrypt and inspect SSL-encrypted network traffic and identify and block command and control activities and malware downloads from remote servers. This helps to stop attacks from spreading within the organization and enables more secure remote access. Finally, NGFWs can integrate with cloud-based security services to deliver third-party protection for traffic beyond the internal network. This helps secure data centers, distributed networks, and remote users.

Advantages

The capabilities of NGFWs make them true security multi-tools. They come with integrated IPS and antimalware software, for example, eliminating the need to purchase separate products. This helps reduce costs and saves time and effort for IT teams to deal with the many threats that NGFWs monitor and prevent on an ongoing basis.

Unlike traditional firewalls, which use packet filtering to analyze network traffic, NGFWs utilize advanced techniques like deep packet inspection (DPI) to look into the content of incoming data packets. Rather than simply identifying the source and destination IP addresses, ports, and other information in each packet, DPI inspects the data packet contents and dissects each item to determine whether it is legitimate or malicious. This is important because malware often hides within legitimate-looking data packets. NGFWs can look at these packets with scalpel-like precision, ensuring that the right traffic can be allowed to the proper destination while any malicious packets are blocked.

In addition, NGFWs can also use machine learning and other automation to update their defense systems without the need for human input, which makes them more resilient to evolving cyber threats. They also can connect with threat intelligence services, enabling them to respond more quickly to new attacks as they emerge.

Finally, NGFWs can scale their hardware resources according to your business’s data demands. This is important because it avoids purchasing expensive dedicated network hardware and ensures that your NGFW has enough processing power to keep up with the traffic volume as your company grows.

Because NGFWs combine multiple network security solutions into one, they tend to have lower upfront costs than their stateful counterparts. Additionally, the fact that NGFWs come with antivirus, ransomware, and spam protection means they can save money when purchasing individual cybersecurity software products. They also allow you to consolidate data monitoring and prevention activities on a centralized management console.