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Attacks/Breaches

Startup Puts New Spin on Firewalls

Palo Alto Networks's PA-4000 can recognize - and restrict - more than 400 types of application traffic

Remember the days when "Internet security" simply meant turning off Port 80? Those days, which gave rise to the first firewalls, are over -- and a new startup says it has a new firewall that better fits the reality of today's traffic.

Palo Alto Networks Monday will unveil the PA-4000, a new type of firewall that can distinguish between the many types of applications that now run over HTTP and Internet connections -- and Port 80. The new hardware can also recognize different types of application traffic that runs over encrypted Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) links, officials say.

The startup -- founded in 2005 by Nir Zuk, who helped develop some of the first firewalls at Check Point -- has been operating in stealth mode for 18 months and has just received $18 million in second-round financing. Its management team reads like a "who's who" of security hardware, pulling in executives from security hardware developers such as Juniper, NetScreen, and OneSecure.

"We've all been looking at the market, and we've seen that modern applications are simply bypassing the current security architecture because they've evolved beyond it," says Dave Stevens, CEO of Palo Alto Networks. "Today there's no relationship between the port number and the type of application traffic."

The startup's new firewall is designed to identify traffic from more than 400 different applications -- "and that's just a start," Stevens says. Enterprises with custom applications can ask the company to create signatures for those applications as well.

This capability means that organizations can now set policies on whether or not to allow specific types of traffic, effectively restricting the network to authorized applications traffic and shutting down or restricting the use of other software. Eventually, the company plans to enforce those access restrictions all the way down to the individual end user, making it difficult for users to deploy or access any applications that aren't allowed by the company.

The PA-4000 can even recognize applications running over SSL links, which have been invisible to most firewalls until now, Stevens says. About a third of enterprise traffic runs over SSL.

In its initial implementations, the PA-4000 will likely sit behind the firewall in an enterprise and help refine the policy enforcement mechanisms used to control user access, Stevens says. The hardware is available in a 10-Gbit/s model and a 2-Gbit/s model, and adds only 20 microseconds to network latency in a typical transaction, officials say.

"The PA-4000 can work completely inline without affecting performance," Stevens says.

The PA 4050, which operates at 10 Gbit/s, is available now for a list price of $60,000. The PA-4020, which operates at 2 Gbit/s, costs $35,000.

— Tim Wilson, Site Editor, Dark Reading

  • Check Point Software Technologies Ltd. (Nasdaq: CHKP)
  • Palo Alto Networks

    Tim Wilson is Editor in Chief and co-founder of Dark Reading.com, UBM Tech's online community for information security professionals. He is responsible for managing the site, assigning and editing content, and writing breaking news stories. Wilson has been recognized as one ... View Full Bio

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