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Firewall Revisited: New Tools Automate Management

Firewall management tools handle previously manual tasks and eventually could become part of enterprise security management products

You’d think a mature security device like a firewall by now is just a matter of set it and forget it. But not so: Even the slightest tweak to one firewall rule can wreak havoc on another firewall, and possibly affect your overall security posture.

A generation of firewall management products is emerging that basically automates the mostly manual process of configuring firewalls, tracking firewall rules, cleaning up firewall settings, and optimizing those parameters. Security experts say these firewall management tools eventually could be integrated with security management products.

“Firewalls have become unmanageable,” says Anjali Gurnani, vice president of business development for Athena Security, a startup that tomorrow will roll out a firewall management tool called FirePAC. “A lot of products are doing change management... but there aren't many solutions that do deep analysis and optimizing rule sets.”

Athena Security’s FirePAC comes on the heels of consulting and research firm Matasano Security’s first-ever product, Playbook, which it rolled out in July. Playbook is a VMWare-based virtual "appliance" that gathers and manages firewall rules and revisions via a Web interface, and lets enterprises make changes to multiple firewalls simultaneously, rather than individually. Other vendors shipping similar products include Algosec, RedSeal, Skybox, Solsoft, and Tufin. (See Matasano Unwraps Its 'Firewall Mixer'.)

Organizations that run multiple vendors’ firewalls are struggling to manage these pervasive devices today. “Lots of organizations are not happy with the way they currently manage their firewalls, which was interesting to me as I walked into this market,” says Max Caceres, director of research and development for Matasano. “From the outside it feels as it should be quite mature by now. And it is not about finding value-add such as complex analysis, but in very basic operational challenges.”

Even so, Nick Selby, director of the enterprise security practice at The 451 Group, says that while these firewall management tools fill an obvious gap in security, they have yet to be widely adopted. “One thing that surprises us is that adoption has been slower than we expected in the enterprise, especially [with] those at the bleeding edge, like investment banking, pharmaceutical, and device manufacturing,” Selby says. “It may be that these products must first expand their usefulness to the point that planners feel they offer sufficient value for the money, despite our take that this functionality is already quite valuable in enterprise security management.”

Selby says some vendors in this space already have their eyes on the next level, integrating this management function for firewalls with IDS/IPS and VPN concentrators, for instance. “Then the products can be used in concert with vulnerability assessment and change management tools to provide better insight into how configurations are being pushed out and changed, and how changes affect devices of the same or different type -- how, for example, firewall rules might be supported by IDS rules,” etc., he says.

One key function of firewall management products is that they resolve conflicts in firewall rules, he says. “Does Rule X on Firewall 1 conflict with Rule Y on Firewall 1 or on any other” firewall, he says.

In the long term, the technology will become part and parcel of enterprise security information management, and change and configuration management systems, Selby says. He points to security management vendor ArcSight’s purchase of Enira, and Exaprotect’s purchase of Solsoft as indications of this ultimate evolution.

Adding firewall management to security management tools would drill down by device and configuration of a firewall or other security device, for instance. “Users may look at changes and conflicts in a device configuration file and choose from a range of options -- restoring to a previously known good config, or changing rule-by-rule,” Selby says.

Meanwhile, Athena FirePAC can be downloaded as of tomorrow for a free trial. Its pricing starts at $1,495.

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