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Critical Recommendations for Your Company Firewall for 2024 (and beyond)

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Tracy Rock

Director of Marketing @ Invenio IT

Published

Firewall

Your company firewall is the first line of defense against threats to your network, servers and devices. But not all firewalls are made equally.

Today’s cyber threats are more sophisticated than ever. Organizations that want to stop ransomware and other malicious traffic from entering their network need to deploy stronger safeguards.

In this post, we look at the evolving role of company firewalls and the security advantages of implementing smarter security solutions from providers like Sophos and Field Effect.

The core goal of a company firewall

The fundamental objective of a network firewall has not changed much over the years. The firewall acts like a secure gateway between a private company network and the public internet.

Firewalls stop potentially harmful data from entering the network. This helps to prevent a significant number of threats from touching company systems in the first place. If something suspicious attempts to enter the network, it’s blocked at the gate.

Examples of untrusted traffic could include:

  • Unknown or unauthorized users & devices
  • Viruses and malware
  • Blocked or known malicious IP addresses
  • Phishing scams

Controls for outgoing traffic

Another important goal of a company firewall is inspecting outgoing traffic. This helps to prevent users on the network from accessing harmful websites or applications.

For example, a firewall might block outgoing traffic when:

  • A link in an email directs the user to a malicious site
  • File attachments attempt to download additional files, such as malware
  • Internal applications attempt to download data from unrecognized or untrusted sites

Outgoing network controls are important because many threats originate inside the network, due to actions by users or unauthorized individuals and applications.

For example, a deceptive email might originate from external sources, but it may not cause a direct threat until the user clicks a link in the message. If this incoming email were to get past the company firewall initially, the firewall would theoretically help to block access to the malicious URL if the user clicks it.

Protection for sensitive information

In addition to blocking outgoing access to malicious sites, firewalls can also be configured to detect the transmission of sensitive data, such as credit card numbers or personally identifiable data (PID).

For example, if an employee attempts to send their credit card information in an unencrypted email, the company firewall can block that email from being sent. Some firewalls can also detect confidential company information and intellectual property, preventing it from being shared with anyone outside the company.

The move to deep packet inspection

As threats evolved, so did the capabilities of company firewalls.

With the proliferation of cloud computing, a company firewall suddenly had another challenge to contend with: application control.

Early firewalls used stateful packet inspection firewalls to block threats by evaluating the ports and protocols used by network layer traffic. But this alone was not enough to detect evolving threats. This ushered in the next generation of firewalls, which used deep packet inspection to scan the entire packet payload. This provided advanced intrusion prevention, anti-malware, content filtering and anti-spam capabilities.

The need for stronger application control

Many applications are delivered over the Web sharing common ports and HTTP or HTTPS protocols. This effectively left traditional firewalls blind to these applications and unable to prioritize safe traffic vs. potentially insecure traffic. Newer firewalls with deep packet inspection provided insight into the applications themselves, providing a critical safeguard.

The application control also enhanced compliance and data leakage prevention by identifying applications based on their unique signatures, rather than ports or protocols. This was accomplished by visualizing application traffic to determine usage patterns and then creating granular policies for applications, users or even groups of users, as well as time of day and other variables. It provided flexible control to fit any network requirement.

Was it enough? Of course not

Again, threats continued to evolve. Also, IT environments became more complex.

Attackers found new ways to breach company networks and exploit security gaps in their firewalls. Even with deep packet inspection, many firewalls did not have the technology to stop increasingly sophisticated threats.

Also, consider that 99% of web traffic is now encrypted, according to some estimates. This makes it virtually invisible to most firewalls. Newer firewalls could decipher some threats with deep-packet inspection, but the drawback was a measurable drop in performance. Deeper inspection slowed down network traffic, hurting productivity and company growth. This is where lightweight software firewalls become especially inadequate for businesses.

How hybrid work created more challenges

Today’s businesses are more decentralized than ever. Employees are no longer tethered to a single workstation at the office. They work from multiple locations, using multiple devices, connecting to numerous applications and sharing data between all of them.

This hybrid-work model has created an increasingly complex IT environment that poses numerous new challenges for a traditional company firewall. It’s not enough to simply block bad traffic at the perimeter – because that perimeter is nothing like it used to be.

Today’s firewalls need to provide smarter, more comprehensive protection across all segments of these sprawling, decentralized networks. But also, the firewall alone isn’t going to cut it. It needs to be more tightly integrated with other cybersecurity solutions to provide 360-degree threat defense (more on this in a moment).

Otherwise, it will only take one compromised device to launch an attack that spreads across the network and causes a major business disruption.

Network threats that require smarter firewalls

In addition to the complex IT environments, businesses also face the challenge of defending against threats that are increasingly hard to detect.

Such threats include:

  • Fileless malware: This malware does not use traditional executables, malicious attachments or other files. Instead, it leverages existing tools within legitimate software and operating systems to launch an attack from the inside. This makes the malware almost impossible to detect with traditional firewalls.

 

  • Zero-day exploits: These attacks exploit vulnerabilities in otherwise legitimate systems, enabling the activity to go undetected. The vulnerabilities are typically unknown to the developers of those systems as well as cybersecurity solutions. If a zero-day exploit leads to unauthorized access to company applications or data, it can cause a lot of damage before anyone knows something is wrong.

 

  • Advanced persistent threats (APTs): These threats use a variety of attack techniques, over an extended period of time, to gain access to otherwise secure network infrastructure. The attacks are targeted and meticulous, often using social engineering to steal user credentials and quietly deploy malicious code. Since these methods are often carried out over time, they can go undetected by many cybersecurity solutions.

 

  • Ransomware: Ransomware is arguably the most destructive form of malware today. While firewalls can prevent some ransomware deployments by blocking malicious IP addresses, there are several other attack methods that allow some strains to go undetected. Social engineering and software vulnerabilities are among the most common methods, requiring advanced cybersecurity solutions to detect and thwart an infection at the first sign of an attack.

Our recommendations for a company firewall in 2024

To combat these evolving threats, today’s organizations need a company firewall that offers more advanced threat detection and intrusion prevention.

We recommend the Sophos Firewall because it goes beyond the limitations of a traditional network firewall. It provides comprehensive network security for any environment, using the most advanced firewall technologies available. Plus, it can be seamlessly integrated with Sophos Managed Detection & Response (MDR) to leverage Sophos’s robust cybersecurity capabilities.

If your organization is already using or considering Sophos MDR, then the Sophos Firewall is an obvious fit. But if you’re exploring MDR in general, then we also recommend Field Effect Covalence for its multilayered defense against today’s most sophisticated threats. Covalence is another powerful MDR solution that provides 360-degree visibility into your environment, blocking threats to your network, endpoints, applications, email and more.

Why combine a firewall with MDR?

Below, we explore the benefits of Covalence and Sophos in greater detail. But first, it’s worth reiterating why we’re including MDR in the conversation about firewalls in the first place.

The ever-evolving threat landscape requires today’s businesses to use a multilayered defense. Firewalls will always be necessary for blocking threats – especially those at the perimeter. But internally, these threats can take many forms that most firewalls cannot stop or even detect.

MDR provides network protection where firewalls cannot. It combines real-time threat monitoring with machine learning and human cybersecurity expertise to detect all abnormal activity across your entire IT infrastructure.

Additionally, for most companies, the greatest advantage of MDR is that it’s delivered as a service. So businesses are no longer burdened with the costly task of managing cybersecurity on their own.

Sophos Firewall Protection: a closer look

The Sophos Firewall provides the advanced network protection that today’s hybrid organizations need, without compromising network performance.

Sophos says that its firewall is “much more than a firewall – it’s the heart of the world’s best network security platform,” and we happen to agree. The next-gen firewall capabilities provide instant protection against the latest threats, while also streamlining network security into a single, comprehensive cybersecurity solution (especially when integrated with Sophos MDR).

Key features and capabilities of Sophos Firewall

> TLS 1.3 Inspection: Sophos supports TLS 1.3 inspection to efficiently inspect encrypted data without slowing down network performance. This is done with Sophos’s dedicated XGS Series hardware firewall appliances, which feature integrated Xstream Flow Processors. This results in accelerated inspection and enhanced visibility into encrypted traffic without a downgrade in performance.

> Accelerated Deep Packet Inspection: Sophos Firewall uses a high-speed deep packet inspection (DPI) engine to scan network traffic for threats without a proxy slowing down performance. The firewall can offload the processing to the DPI engine, which significantly reduces latency and improves overall efficiency.

> Integration with Sophos MDR: Using Sophos Firewall in conjunction with Sophos MDR provides unmatched network protection and cybersecurity. This provides powerful threat detection anywhere on the network, enhanced with multiple machine-learning models and cloud sandboxing for dynamic analysis of unknown files and detection of zero-day threats. When a threat is detected, Sophos Firewall coordinates a response with endpoints, wireless, ZTNA, email, and other Sophos products to stop threats in their tracks.

> SD-WAN for Distributed Networks: Sophos Firewall is designed to support hybrid workforces, ensuring that network resources stay secure no matter if users are all on site or all over the world. It features an integrated SD-WAN solution, with performance-based link selection and routing, load balancing, central cloud-managed orchestration, acceleration of VPN tunnel traffic and zero-impact transitions between links in the event of a disruption.

> Lateral movement protection: Sophos blocks external threats as well as internal threats that attempt to move laterally across your network. The firewall automatically isolates compromised systems at every point in a network. Healthy endpoints ignore all traffic from compromised devices, which effectively isolates the threat (even on the same network segment) to prevent adversaries from stealing data.

> Cloud management platform: Sophos Firewall is easy to manage from a single cloud-based platform, which can also be used to manage other Sophos solutions like MDR, all in one place. The platform includes flexible reporting tools, in addition to tools for monitoring, alerting, backup management, provisioning of new firewalls and more.

Field Effect Covalence MDR: what you need to know

Covalence is another solid MDR solution that provides advanced protection for your entire threat surface – not just networks, but also endpoints, cloud services, email and even IoT devices.

Covalence isn’t like a traditional company firewall, but rather an all-in-one cybersecurity solution. It has built-in DNS firewall capabilities, but this is just one component of a much more extensive network security solution. It monitors all your network activity in real time and responds to abnormal activity across your entire IT infrastructure, regardless of the size of your organization or the complexity of your IT environment. All threats are analyst-verified and delivered with prioritized alerts and guided remediation.

Key features and capabilities of Covalence MDR

> Automated, comprehensive cybersecurity: One of the key advantages of Covalence is that it consolidates the capabilities of multiple security products into one. This makes cybersecurity easier to manage, while also making it stronger. Covalence provides protection for your entire threat surface, including networks, cloud services and endpoints.

> 24/7 active threat detection: Covalence provides deeper, real-time monitoring of your network resources. It detects, isolates and stops threats, 24 hours a day, including emerging malware and common attack techniques. These capabilities go beyond traditional antimalware to identify abnormal or suspicious activity with machine learning analytics.

> Vulnerability analysis: This is another good example of how MDR provides capabilities that go far beyond that of a firewall. Covalence assesses your IT environment to identify risks and vulnerabilities, such as misconfigured cloud services and unpatched software. It also provides admins with detailed steps on how to close these gaps.

> Threat intelligence: Covalence’s threat detection and response is powered by Field Effect’s massive threat feeds, in combination with human intelligence. Threats are blocked automatically, but they are also verified by cybersecurity experts. This results in superior threat analysis, which improves response, reduces false alarm, and guides internal IT teams during remediation.

> Online portal: Covalence features a powerful yet user-friendly dashboard that provides full visibility and control over your environment. It provides deep insight about your company’s security posture, but in a way that’s easy to understand and take action on alerts or recommendations.

Conclusion

Implementing the right company firewall is more important than ever, especially for smaller organizations. Evolving threats and IT environments require businesses to adopt stronger network protection that extends beyond the limitations of a traditional firewall. Sophos Firewall and Field Effect Covalence MDR are prime examples of the capabilities that companies need to proactively monitor their networks, detect suspicious activity and quickly block threats before they cause a problem.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

1. What is a company firewall?

A company firewall is a network security component that protects a corporate network from external and internal threats. It blocks harmful traffic from entering the network, prevents users from accessing malicious data outside the network, and stops threats from moving laterally across a network.

2. What is the best type of firewall for a business?

A next-generation firewall (NGFW) is often touted as the best type of firewall for today’s businesses. These firewalls can detect and block harmful traffic at the application, port and protocol levels. However, for greater network protection, next-gen firewalls should be tightly integrated with more comprehensive cybersecurity solutions, such as a managed detection & response service.

Many security professionals view the next-gen Sophos Firewall as the best firewall for businesses today, or the comprehensive network protection of Field Effect Covalence MDR.

3. Do small businesses need a hardware firewall?

A small business might need a hardware firewall if it wants stronger network security without compromising performance. Deep packet inspection of encrypted data can slow down network performance. A hardware firewall helps to accelerate performance, while also providing more extensive threat detection.

Can your company firewall stop today’s threats?

Don’t let the latest threats derail your business. Contact our cybersecurity experts to find the right firewall solution for your needs. Schedule a meeting with one of our data-protection specialists at Invenio IT or contact us by calling (646) 395-1170 or by emailing success@invenioIT.com.

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