GlobalProtect does that by using a small application installed on a user's PC to enforce policies for applications, users and content as well as route all remote traffic via a secure tunnel. But instead of routing traffic via a handful of geographically centralized VPN gateways, which is a typical approach, the GlobalProtect client connects to a company's nearest-deployed Palo Alto Networks firewall.
According to Chris King, director of product marketing at Palo Alto Networks, one impetus for using next-generation firewalls to enforce policies often handled by multiple devices and at the gateway isn't necessarily to replace them all -- though you can eliminate some -- but rather to refine the security equation. "If you can make decisions based on user, application and content, then I have to make fewer decisions; everything gets simpler," he said.
Global Protect will be released before the end of 2010, available on a perpetual or per-firewall subscription license. Initially, it will be available for Windows machines only, running XP, Vista or 7.
According to a blog post by Gartner Group analyst John Pescatore, on "the future of the firewall," the corporate security perimeter must follow users, even as they go mobile or work in the cloud. "The next-generation firewall will follow the same pattern, extending to next-generation-firewall-as-a-service -- or what we used to call 'in the cloud firewalling' before the cloud term got ripped away from the Internet carriers -- to inject the same firewall policy between the users and the Internet and in between the cloud-based services we consume that used to be inside the data center."
Exactly what's a next-generation firewall? According to King, they provide five broad capabilities: identifying applications, regardless of port or protocol; identifying users regardless of IP address; real-time threat protection; fine-grained application and policy control; and high-speed -- multi-gigabit -- inline network deployment.
This combination allows security managers to enforce more fine-grained security policies than with traditional firewalls. "I can state a policy that says, I want to enable my marketing people to use Facebook in a read-only mode, but not applications or things like that," said King. "Or I want to enable my salespeople to use WebEx, but not the desktop sharing aspect, which is prohibited. Or I'll enable no one to use BitTorrent except for IT, who's allowed to share Linux distributions."
Why not release GlobalProtect for smartphones? "The policy sits on the gateway, so adding something like an iPad or a smartphone, should it be necessary, shouldn't be a big deal," said King. "But why we're starting with Windows laptops, that's where most of the pain is. If you think about breaches … they're all from laptops."