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Next Generation Firewalls – are they still relevant?

Osman Khawaja
Security Solution Specialist, Vodafone Enterprise Security

The security marketplace is very overcrowded today. More and more security start-ups are introducing innovative and disruptive security technologies, competing with the long established security power houses who have definitive architectures and strong brand names. With all the competition for market share and innovation, does this mean that next generation security technologies, such as Next Generation Firewalls (NGFW), are already becoming irrelevant? Or is there still demand for them today and for the foreseeable future?

In recent years, there has been an immense amount of activity and change happening within the security market.  Key vendors have made acquisitions, bringing in specific best-of-breed technologies to complement their existing portfolio. Other security vendors have chosen to further harness and invest in their own technology.  Meanwhile, the attack landscape is forever evolving, with more breaches being reported in the media daily.  From ransomware attacks to utilising unauthorised CPU power to leverage Bitcoin Mining - organisations face a whole host of threats today.  Then add in Network Security and GDPR which are pressing topics for everyone that aren’t going away. 

Against this backdrop, traditional firewalls have now evolved into NGFW. NGFW combine a number of security technologies into one consolidated piece of hardware and integrate cloud-based service models. They provide an alternative method of detecting plus preventing threats from inside and outside the network, whilst offering greater insight and protection. Typically, NGFW services include intrusion prevention, URL filtering, malware protection against known threats, unknown or 'zero day' threats through integrated cloud-based solutions such as sandboxing, security threat intelligence, web and email security.  This shift was driven by the need to help fill the gaps left by traditional firewalls and provide greater value to organisations.    

But as we speed through 2018, will NGFW still be required?  Can next generation security technology continue to protect business in the face of the complex and evolving security landscape? Or should we be looking at jumping ahead to alternative and innovative technologies that are more proactive in countering security threats, while providing more granular intelligence?

One consideration here is that the software defined concept is gathering momentum, becoming a focal point of discussion as part of the wider digital transformation conversation customers are having today. By reducing the reliance on hardware, the ‘Software Defined Perimeter’ is being mentioned as the de facto standard within the software defined generation. Meanwhile, cloud service providers are still integrating next generation security functionality into their offerings, but currently these lack the complete feature set. As these features are integrated this is likely to disrupt the market, especially within the small to medium market place who need to get value from limited budgets.

But despite these developments, in my view and from many conversations with customers, the demand for NGFW is still there and will continue to be for the next 3-5 years at least. What will change however, is the way these technologies are consumed.

Organisations increasingly prefer to adopt services via cloud computing and as-a-Service platforms, moving away from the need for multiple vendor hardware boxes in their data centres.  They still want the same level of security and performance; but without the overhead of management and monitoring.   Vodafone’s Secure Network Gateway is one example, delivered via an as-a-Service model, offering security services across multiple network entry points to protect the perimeter, remote access and web traffic for dedicated web and cloud applications. By adopting this type of service, security teams can concentrate their time and resources on keeping threats at bay and adopting the latest strategies – not spend it digesting detailed event logs.

So while NGFW are still relevant, broader trends in the security technology landscape will continue to evolve. In the future vendors and service providers will need to work together and share intelligence to achieve greater success. With superior collaboration, intelligence can be shared whilst individual vendor hardware security components can integrate and work together. This in turn will provide a greater level of visibility, while also hardening the security posture.

The partnership between IBM Security and Cisco is one example of this increased collaboration. Open source platforms such as pxGrid, that allow multiple security products to share data and work together are another. These examples will incentivise further integration and collaboration between groups in the fight against hacking and data privacy – and that is relevant to everyone.

Cyber security is a key concern for organisations of all sizes. Protecting devices, networks, data and apps is an essential component of doing business. Vodafone provides security products and services to businesses of all sizes, helping you secure your business anywhere because we are everywhere. We are trusted by organisations globally, including utilities, financial institutions and government agencies. For more cyber security, insights, you can find us on LinkedIn.

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