As a small business owner, there are numerous questions you must consider when it comes to your company's security. Now, every type of organization from large-scale enterprises to small mom-and-pop operations have been targeted by hackers and malicious actors – in this environment, there's no such thing as being too careful.
Just one of these considerations extends to the protections in place for your small business network, including a firewall. But, what exactly is a next-generation firewall (NGFW), does your firm need one in place, and if so, what should you look for here?
Luckily, your friends at iT1 Source and our partner Cisco are here to help. We've gathered a whole host of information about Cisco's industry-leading NGFW, as well as what you should look for when implementing one within your company's critical infrastructure. Let's take a look:
First and foremost: What's a next-generation firewall?
"Next-generation firewalls build upon the capabilities of older technology."
Before we get into the nitty-gritty of network protection here, it's important that you have a full understanding of what we mean by "next-generation firewall." Firewalls are nothing new – these safeguards have been in place in corporate networks for nearly two decades in some places. However, these legacy firewalls aren't the same as today's NGFW.
According to TechTarget's Margaret Rouse, NGFWs build upon the capabilities of older technology by leveraging three main systems and processes, including enterprise firewall abilities, intrusion prevention as well as application control. This means that in addition to packet filtering, network address translation, URL blocking and control for virtual private networks, NGFWs also include Quality of Service capabilities, security and deep packet inspections, application awareness processes as well as reputational malware detection.
"NGFWs bring additional context to the firewall's decision-making process by providing it with the ability to understand the details of the web application traffic passing through it and taking action to block traffic that might exploit vulnerabilities," Rouse explained.
What does this mean for your small business? Overall, having a NGFW in place translates to boosted protection and security as well as better control and visibility into activity taking place across the network.
What should I look for in a NGFW?
Now that it's clear that a NGFW is something any size business can benefit from – particularly smaller organizations that might not have as staunch security measures and processes as a larger enterprise – it's also critical to know what to look for with this technology.
Cisco created a comprehensive checklist to help business owners and IT admins better understand the requirements here. A few of the essential items included here are:
- Closely connected security features: The capabilities provided by a NGFW do little good for the organization if they aren't connected and integrated correctly. When seeking a NGFW solution, it's important to make sure that all features work in conjunction with each other, can communicate across the technology and that there is no overlap here. Cisco pointed out that as emerging systems like the cloud continue to take hold, having a NGFW with multiple, integrated security levels is imperative. What's more, when these features are closely connected, this provides an unmatched level of threat protection and can help eliminate any gaps in the company's security.
- Integration with other security systems: In addition to have closely interworking security features within the NGFW itself, the solution should also be able to easily integrate with the other protection technologies the small business has in place. For instance, your company's NGFW should have the capacity to interface with third-party solutions like software management platforms, help desk ticketing systems and vulnerability scanners. This not only helps create a more holistic approach to data protection, but can also lower the total cost of ownership.
- Support for reduced complexity: One pain point that comes up time and time again in every size business – including even the smallest firms – is IT complexity. Even a small digital footprint can quickly become complicated when new applications and virtual environments are brought into the fold. Therefore, it's critical that a NGFW doesn't add to this complexity, but instead, seeks to help reduce it.
"An integrated, multi-layered approach can provide greater visibility into threats and consequently, better protection," Cisco noted in its checklist. "Consolidating multiple boxes onto a single platform also eliminates the complexity and cost of purchasing and managing multiple solutions."
This is good news for the overall security of the firm, as well as for those in charge of IT processes.
- Innovative automation: One of the ways that NGFWs can help reduce complexity is by automating certain routine security tasks. In this way, the solution can carry out repetitive activities, freeing up business owners and technology stakeholders from having to manually complete these processes themselves. Cisco noted that an ideal NGFW will be able to automate impact assessment activity, security policy tuning as well as user authentication across the company's critical applications.
- Flexible scalability: It's also critical that the NGFW your business seeks to deploy is highly scalable and can accommodate your firm's current needs, as well as its future requirements. This scalability enables small businesses to extend firewall and threat protection as the company grows, including to additional branch locations, remote sites or data centers.
Fulfilling your small business's security needs: Cisco ASA with FirePOWER
It's important that when you look to integrate a NGFW, it meets all of these requirements, as well as any additional, unique needs your business will have. One industry-leading solution that meets all the marks here is Cisco Adaptive Security Application with FirePOWER Services. This NGFW was created specifically with corporate needs in mind, and includes not only a powerful stateful firewall, but threat and malware protection as well. The technology provides business owners and IT staff with unparalleled visibility and control, enabling firms to keep up with the fast pace of today's threat environment. Best of all, it's automation and single-platform management translates to reduced complexity, a key benefit for small business in particular.