Enterprise security necessitates a hierarchy of technologies and processes, and history has proven the firewall as a foundational element of that matrix.
As networks evolve and expand far beyond traditional concepts of the corporate perimeter – driven by mobility, virtualization and the cloud – models of security management have also transformed rapidly.
This advancement has shifted the manner in which organizations seek to protect their critical systems and data. However, effective security management will always retain a multi-layered approach necessitating mechanisms that control and limit access. While this may not someday require dependence on network security devices, in today’s environment the firewall remains one of the critical building blocks of network security.
Counterpoint: Why the Firewall is Increasingly Irrelevant, by Asaf Cidon, Co-Founder & CEO, Sookasa.
Strong encryption is another key capability that has matured over the decades, serving as a venerable fundamental. Yet, when a password is all that separates a user from access to the data, a significant security risk remains. Encryption is crucial, but additional security controls are necessary to prevent exploitation of a single string from resulting in a data breach.
While paradigms including mobility, virtualization and the cloud have created a new set of challenges (along with opportunities) to invoke additional security controls, the resulting distribution and hyper-segmentation of networks has in fact only made effective firewall management more important than ever before.
To Control Security, You Must Control Access
Despite the evolving perimeter, there are two primary reasons why maintaining effective network access and segmentation remains critical:
Reason 1: Hyper-segmentation only complicates enforcement. Further adoption of BYOD, virtualization and the cloud is resulting in “hyper-segmentation” of networks, making security controls exponentially more complex. As a result, network security infrastructure must mature to accommodate pervasive enforcement, placing greater emphasis on the firewall. Data is everywhere, but an attacker will perpetrate the most damage when the data is centralized and critical applications must be effectively protected, not just data at rest or in transit. Data Centers – even when run in the cloud – present such a target, and limiting access to these systems and potential vulnerabilities is a critical strength of the firewall.
Reason 2: Improper firewall management is a breachable offense. Many rightly point out that achieving compliance hardly constitutes attaining optimal security, but many compliance controls are industry standards with good reason. In its 2015 PCI Compliance Report, Verizon’s RISK team found that 73% of organizations that suffered a data breach were not in compliance with PCI DSS Requirement 1, related to firewall management. Stated plainly, organizations that cannot maintain rigid firewall enforcement are more likely to be compromised.
More than anything, firewalls limit the risk to an organization by allowing only necessary access. While that may still result in a certain amount of risk, it dramatically reduces the attack surface and allows security teams to focus on a reduced set of challenges. Frewalls also help prevent exfiltration of data, inappropriate outbound access, the spread of malware, and attackers’ efforts to pivot among compromised systems. Each of these risks exposes new opportunities for attackers to gain access to privileged data, or keys/passwords that further expose that data.
The Firewall’s Increasing Importance
There are three inalienable truths that highlight the continued importance of effective firewall management:
Firewalls dependencies are expanding, not retreating. Existing network security device infrastructure continues to become more essential as organizations actively deepen their reliance on it, while advancing its overall complexity. In the FireMon State of the Firewall 2014 Report (registration required), based on a survey of 700-plus practitioners, over 95% of respondents indicated that firewalls remain as critical, or more critical, than ever to overall security management. Meanwhile, over 88% of respondents said that they have deployed next-generation firewall (NGFW) systems with the goal of leveraging those devices to integrate multiple security functions and align management of network access directly to applications and users.
Emerging networking paradigms require firewall integration. The State of the Firewall Report also found that network security infrastructure will play a significant role in supporting emerging networking paradigms, with 87% of respondents attesting that traditional or NGFW devices currently play a valuable role in securing virtualized environments and another 60% indicating that those mechanisms play a valuable role in securing cloud platforms. According to a recent survey of 150 security officials published by Enterprise Strategy Group, organizations are currently struggling with enforcement of security policies in public and private clouds, application of existing security policies to the cloud, and management of security controls that span both physical and cloud-based infrastructure.
The power of positive security models. Firewalls are one of the few security technologies with a positive whitelist security model – allowing only necessary network traffic while denying the rest –the best defense against evolving threats. Security systems including anti-malware, IDS and SIEM, among others, depend on a highly limited blacklist approach. While they provide an important layer of defense, they also suffer from the challenge of trying to keep up with the latest, yet-unseen attack patterns, a model which largely doesn’t work. Even signature-less detection technologies are still dependent on the ability to recognize known behaviors in some manner. The firewall avoids this pitfall and remains a critical layer because it does its job, limiting access to only necessary traffic.
While enterprise security models continue to mature, proper network access enforcement remains as critical as ever. This has always, and will always be the case, especially within the context of BYOD, virtualization and the cloud. In today’s environment and for the foreseeable future, the reality is that traditional and next-generation firewall infrastructure retains a significant role in protecting critical systems and data.