NGFW or UTM: A necessity in the modern workplace.

Next Generation Firewalls (NGFW) or Unified Threat Management (UTM) are a must have in today's ever connected business', ok, but what does that mean? NGFW is a fancy way of saying "a firewall solution that has modern filtering, detection, and encryption capabilities"; UTM extends those capabilities to a "unified" experience, many times through cloud-based services. Imagine the internet as an ocean of data that is "pouring" into your computers, servers and network infrastructure. Think of the firewall as a dam that is holding back that flow of data; all the "modern capabilities" are valves along the wall that allow you to get just the data you want. If you do not have a modern firewall you are swimming with sharks. Per the FBI the average cyber-attack goes "14 months" without being noticed; that's months where someone else is using your machines, internet, electricity for whatever purpose they want.

Filtering: Ports and IP's

When you get down to the "nuts and bolts" of what is happening at the firewall layer it's as simple as allowing/denying/prioritizing internet traffic based of reputation, necessity, or convenience. Hence "filtering" is the main purpose of a firewall and when done correctly can maximize your network. Consequently, proper firewall management can make an average internet connection seem blazing fast. This is where those "generations" of firewalls come into play:

  • 1st Generation: Stateless
  • 2nd Generation: Proxy
  • 3rd Generation: Statefull
  • 4th Generation: Dynamic Packet Filter
  • 5th Generation: Kernel Proxy

The website, CypherShark explains the five generations of firewalls and the OSI model here, but the bottom line up front is we became more efficient and smarter at detecting and responding to attacks. In short your firewall is on the boundary of your business network and keeps the "sharks" at bay.

Detection: Who is on your network?

It is easier than you think to crack your password to your wifi, or any password for that matter; betterbuys.com has an excellent article showing the ins and outs of modern passwords; knowing who is on your network is just as important as what people have access to. Network protection starts with the network firewall, having a layered security stance is the only way to have any control of your data, and firewalls are the gatekeeper; ensuring the users you want are accessing the data they need.

Encryption: Continuity and Collaboration.

Any managed firewall worth its salt can also provide huge productivity benefits, if you are not taking advantage of virtual private networks (VPN) you are missing out. Network firewalls configured for SSL/VPN can extend your business network to users at home, making bad weather days a thing of the past, or granting your business the flexibility to stay connected even if your office is compromised. Contemporary firewalls can help your team communicate and collaborate; while offering protection for both your users and your data. You need to be sure that computers that attach to your network through a VPN are as protected from malware as those inside your business.

UTM: Correlating events

One of the biggest benefits of some UTM firewalls is that they can track and report various events and statistics to cloud services. These services continuously monitor thousands of other connections like yours for anomalies and potential attacks. This can help identify and stop certain attacks worldwide.

In closing, if you need a small business firewall or you need an enterprise solution, firewall protection via NGFWs or UTMs is the foundation to good cyber-security. It doesn't matter how "secure" your password is, if your network is exposed to the world it is only a matter of time before you are breached. Finally implementing contemporary firewall solutions can extend and connect your business like never before, granting more flexibility and reliability.

What type of firewall does your business rely on to keep you safe? Is is up to date?