Not that long ago, bold predictions were being made by some of the most noteworthy pundits in the technology community that the majority of Internet infrastructure would be fully moving to the cloud. When enterprises moved en masse to the public cloud, they’d only need modern cloud security protections, the story went – and older network security methods such as firewalls would flame out and become obsolete.
But that day hasn't come.
Why is that so? And what does that tell us about the state of today’s enterprise networks – and what is truly needed to manage them safely and efficiently?
Inaccurate Forecasts of Doom
It helps to start by taking a look back at why traditional security methods, including firewalls, were considered to be a dying part of an enterprise’s security equation. It began with the advent of remote and mobile access.
As theories and approaches around providing remote access to information and data started to solidify, there was a growing belief – pushed by security companies and organizations set to profit from these alternative approaches – that on-premises firewalls would become redundant. In practice, what actually happened was that firewalls evolved to incorporate the functionality of remote access (VPN) technologies. Fast-forward a few years, and firewalls are still with us; VPN products are not – they’ve been folded into the firewalls as a feature.
This tendency repeated itself with the need for more advanced security filtering of traffic, which spawned the intrusion prevention system (IPS) market. IPS was thus perceived a threat to the firewall market until firewall vendors started offering built-in IPS capabilities. Similarly, other advanced security offerings such as security sandbox inspections and advanced malware identification and protection are becoming de-facto parts of the firewall, or offered as services by the firewall vendors.
The False Death of the Perimeter
As the Web application market grew – and users could visit Websites or receive emails with Web-enabled malicious content – suddenly Web apps and email became the most common vectors of cyberattacks. Traditional security technologies did not protect against these threats, and a new breed of security vendors rose once again to meet these new challenges. These security vendors continued the "leave the old methods behind" mantra because it helped them from a marketing perspective.
Traditional security vendors, including the firewall vendors, kept growing as well, strengthening and expanding their offerings.
As attacks grew more creative and sophisticated, what enterprises realized is that they needed not one single type of security solution – but a multi-tiered approach that protected their organization’s critical data and applications from a wide variety of attacks. Weak machines can easily be compromised in a variety of methods, such as through browsers, various open servers, phishing campaigns, malware, etc. There are always bad actors looking to burrow their way into corporate networks.
Indeed, as attacks evolved, so did the mindset of security professionals, to the point where it is commonly understood by organizations that they will be hacked and attacked, if they haven’t been already. This understanding led to the further evolution into a variety of security solutions, that attempt to slow down an attacker by blocking common threats and detect anomalies in real-time. On the network side, organizations started adopting micro-segmentation, which enables them to segment and contain an attack to a single location and deal with it there, instead of letting it spread and endanger the entire organization.
A Complex Problem
Enterprise networks have grown in complexity to a point that no one was predicting. They’ve also evolved much slower than originally thought. Older technologies haven’t been severed off, mainly due to the fact that companies haven’t left on-premises systems behind.
Now comes the existential threat of the cloud to the future of firewalls. The argument goes that if all critical data and applications will migrate to the public cloud – outside of the perimeter – then new and improved forms of security would be needed to keep their companies and their data safe, and thus the firewall would finally become obsolete.
Companies still have physical offices, data centers, factories, stores, and other physical properties – properties that need on-premises security solutions. There are government agencies that cannot allow critical and sensitive information to be shared via the Internet. There are industries – such as healthcare and financial services – where regulations ensure they maintain some key pieces of information on premises, outside of the cloud. There are also several nations around the world that demand that data on their operations and their citizens remain inside their country – and not be accessed by anyone else. All of these examples make the case that firewalls are a long way from becoming obsolete.
As Internet of Things technologies move from theory, to practice, and into mainstream adoption, they add yet another layer of complexity to our modern networks. Companies will need to deploy and support even more physical networks than ever before to support IoT. This means that technologies such as firewalls will remain in use as a way to protect these hyper-critical networks from catastrophe.
In fact, instead of a fresh start, as many were predicting, new security technologies have been added on top of the old. There’s been no clean break where security solutions such as firewalls have been jettisoned in favor of cloud-only security. Instead, today’s massive hybrid networks were created by mixing new and old – and making something so complex that no one technology or single security professional could manage it.
What the Future Holds
In the next five years, the split between on-premises and cloud data will be about 50/50 in large enterprises – and due to increased network activity and instances of segmentation – the use of traditional security tools such as firewalls will not drop off.
What companies will face, however, will be a network that’s even more fragmented and hybrid than the ones we have today. The proliferation of on-premises networking via IoT and micro-segmentation, coupled with a slow migration of mission-critical applications to the cloud will make things much more difficult to manage than the technology pundits imagined in their “clean break” security scenarios.
As organizations build their future security strategy – a key step is to accept that almost all security technologies – new and old – are likely to have a role in protecting the modern and future enterprise network. In order to manage these complex hybrid networks safely and efficiently, security professionals will then need to embrace hybrid approaches to network security that will enable them to combine the latest technologies such as automation and machine learning with the ever-increasing amount of input and insights that will arrive from both new and old security methods.
- Like It Or Not, Firewalls Still Front And Center
- Rethinking Enterprise Data Defense
- Next-Gen Firewalls Change The Rules Of Firewall Management
- Why the Firewall is Increasingly Irrelevant
- Understanding Firewalls: Build Them Up, Tear Them Down