Your business depends upon Internet connectivity to exchange information and access cloud services. Hackers rely on the Internet, too, as a means of distributing malware, stealing sensitive data and engaging in other malicious activity. Your firewall is a first line of defense against these attacks, so it’s important to ensure that it’s as effective as possible.

Traditional firewalls control traffic by blocking specific ports and applying routing rules to data packets. They can’t look inside the packets to determine whether they are harmless or malicious. Today’s cyberattacks are often launched at the application layer. They hide their malicious payload inside data packets that are capable of sneaking past older firewalls through open ports. The only way to stop these attacks using a traditional firewall would be to block all applications, which would defeat the purpose of Internet connectivity.

A next-generation firewall (NGFW) is a better alternative. NGFWs are application-aware, allowing legitimate applications to traverse the network while blocking others according to predefined signatures and policies. Deep packet inspection is used to scrutinize network traffic on a much more granular level, while access controls ensure that only authorized users can enter the network.

In addition, NGFWs can scan encrypted data packets. This is critical given that hackers frequently use encryption to shield traffic from inspection.

While the emphasis is on firewall functionality, NGFWs also provide other security features, including intrusion detection and prevention, application traffic control, and antimalware. By consolidating multiple security functions on a single device, NGFWs reduce capital costs and simplify management of the security environment. They are also better equipped to combat sophisticated cyberattacks that quickly identify and exploit vulnerabilities.

Network complexity creates a burden on administrators who have to log into multiple devices to make changes. Centralized management tools enable IT teams to view and control all firewall activity through a single pane of glass, and provide automation and orchestration capabilities that streamline routine tasks. Cloud-based installation and configuration simplifies deployment at remote locations, saving time and travel costs.

Many solutions also include content filtering capabilities. In addition to reducing the risk of a security breach, content filtering can prevent or limit the use of applications that can cause bandwidth bottlenecks. The best NGFWs enable administrators to create detailed usage policies, and provide reports and statistics that aid in capacity planning.

NGFWs can be implemented as physical or virtual appliances, and best-in-class solutions employ a modular, software-based approach that allows functionality to be added easily. Migration tools are available that automate the process of transferring settings and policies from an older firewall to an NGFW.

Performance is a key factor to look for in selecting an NGFW. Administrators have been known to turn off certain firewall functionality when users complain about network performance. As networks continue to grow in capacity and complexity, NGFWs must be able to deliver scalable performance with all features enabled.

If you’re still using a traditional firewall, you may be lacking the tools you need to thwart the latest cyberattacks. An NGFW combines advanced features in one easy-to-manage device that can enhance your security posture. ICG can help you select and implement the right NGFW for your business, and ensure maximum protection through our ongoing monitoring and management services.