Let’s start off with the basics. Firewalls have been around for decades, as they’re one of the oldest forms of protection against incoming network threats. At its most simplistic level, a firewall is a tool that keeps your network secure by filtering traffic. They can come in a variety of forms—from hardware to software to a cloud-based firewall-as-a-service. Let’s look deeper into how firewall security works. 

Packet filtering is one of the most common firewall features. This is where the firewall scans traffic and either lets it through or blocks it based on a set of parameters. Some firewalls will also come with a virtual private network (VPN), which encrypts traffic to make it less vulnerable. While these features can be helpful for stopping basic threats, they’re typically not going to stand up to more sophisticated attacks. For more comprehensive protection, enterprises need to opt for higher-level tools. 

What Is a Next-Generation Firewall?

Next-Generation Network Firewalls (NGFWs) are part of a new generation of firewall technology that far surpasses what was possible with older versions. Organizations that have serious network security needs should take a good look at next-gen network firewalls, as these can drastically improve overall protection. Here are few of the benefits of next-gen firewall security:

  • TLS/SSL Encrypted Traffic Inspection –Simply encrypting traffic isn’t enough to ensure nothing is sneaking past undetected. Next-gen network firewalls can decrypt, analyze, and then re-encrypt traffic to make sure it’s truly safe. 

  • Deep Pack Inspection (DPI) – The packet filtering of basic firewalls is better than nothing, but it’s not going to catch advanced threats, or even more common viruses. This is because regular packet filtering only checks a few superficial elements. On the other hand, DPI can determine if malware, ransomware, or other attacks are present, and block them from gains access to your network. It does this by actually looking at what’s inside packets, not just how they appear. 

  • Third-party Integrations – Having a cohesive network security plan is essential to keeping your organization safe in the hectic world of today. The ability to communicate with other security applications means next-gen network firewalls operate much more efficiently than their predecessors.

  • Firewall-as-a-service (FWaaS) –You’re probably familiar with various as-a-service offerings, and some of the benefits of utilizing this kind of service structure. It should come as no surprise, then, that firewalls are being packaged in this same way. Organizations that want the flexibility, scalability, and cost savings of the as-a-service model should think about opting for this with their firewalls. 

What Are Other Options for Firewall Protection? 

Now that you have a pretty good idea as to how modern firewalls protect against malicious network traffic, let’s look at a few other offerings that have significant overlap with firewalls. These are a few network security tools that do similar things as firewalls, or work in unison with them:

  • Secure Access Service Edge (SASE) – To understand SASE, you need to know about two things software-defined wide-area networks (SD-WANs) and network security protocols. When these two things got together, they created SASE—an SD-WAN service with built-in safety. Firewalls are often a crucial part of the security framework for SASE offerings. 

  • Secure Web Gateway (SWG) – SWGs do much of the same thing as next-gen network firewalls, by stopping attacks from gaining access to enterprise networks. These specialize in web traffic, which means there can be some overlap between their role and that of next-gen network firewalls. 

  • Managed Detection and Response (MDR) – For enterprises that want a little bit of everything, often customized to their exact needs, MDR can be an ideal situation. These managed services can stop threats in their tracks by utilizing a range of security tools, typically including firewalls. 

Despite being one of the original faces of network security, firewalls still have a role to play in keeping networks safe today. Enterprises should take time in considering how firewall security works withing their organization.