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How is an NGFW better than a traditional firewall?

Feb 10, 2022 5 min read

What is a firewall?

A firewall is a security device that monitors incoming and outgoing traffic in a network. It inspects traffic based on a set of rules that help in distinguishing which traffic to allow and which to block.

How does a firewall work?

To prevent unauthorized access to your network, configuring a set of rules can help block malicious traffic. This can be done by identifying the source and destination address of the information packets. Based on the address, the firewall will decide if the traffic can be allowed or not.

Firewalls monitor all the ports in a network, which are the point of communication between the devices within a network and the devices outside of it. Firewalls can be either hardware or software, although most networks consist of both types. A hardware firewall is usually located in the router and monitors the communication that passes through it. A software firewall is installed as an application on a device to monitor traffic through ports and applications.

First-generation firewalls:

First-generation firewalls use a technique wherein the packets of information are given permission to enter or leave the network based on their source and destination IP addresses. This is called packet filtering, leading the first generation of firewalls to be called packet filtering firewalls.

Second-generation firewalls:

A second-generation firewall, or a gateway firewall, uses a proxy to increase the security services provided. The proxy acts as a middleman between the user on LAN and the internet. Each user communicates by ensuring that all the packets are passed through a proxy service to the destination. The proxy service will process the data and only allow that which it deems safe. The source and destination nodes do not communicate directly, only through the proxy.

While firewalls are efficient, they are also limited in their anti-intrusion capacity and in filtering malicious software that might originate from a trusted source address. This issue can be addressed by a next-generation firewall, or NGFW.

What is an NGFW?

An NGFW is a third-generation firewall that combines intrusion detection and deep packet inspection (DPI) along with traditional firewall capabilities. While packet filtering checks the source and destination IP addresses, DPI checks the information contained inside the packet and works in real time. DPI monitors the information and figures out where the information originated from and which application it came from. In doing this, NGFWs process network traffic and will block potentially dangerous sources.

A regular firewall will work only on the network layer and transport layer (Layer 3 and Layer 4) of the OSI model since it checks the IP address (Layer 3) and the transmission protocol. (Layer 4). This is different from an NGFW, which filters based on the application layer (Layer 7) of the OSI model.

Similar to regular firewalls, NGFWs use packet filtering as well as a VPN to provide a connection that is secure all around.

Capabilities of an NGFW:

  • Application awareness: The procedure of blocking and identifying which application the packet of information has originated from is a major capability of an NGFW. Traffic from certain applications can be blocked as a part of application awareness.
  • VPN awareness: Even if a VPN is encrypted, NGFWs can decrypt them and allow the traffic through.
  • Threat intelligence: NGFWs are constantly in touch with the network to ensure that threat feeds are updated to prevent attacks.
  • Stateful inspection: An NGFW decides which packets to allow into the network by comparing the information contained in them to the content contained within packets that have been previously allowed into the network.

How is an NGFW better than a traditional firewall?

  • NGFWs can be installed easily via any device on the network, while traditional firewalls require a separate, manual installation process. This makes it easier to access an NGFW compared to a traditional firewall.
  • A traditional firewall only offers single layer protection, whereas NGFWs offer multi-layer protection.
  • NGFWs boast of simplified infrastructure requirements as opposed to traditional firewalls, which require an elaborate setup.
  • Traditional firewalls reduce network speed, which is not the case with NGFWs.
  • NGFWs consist of the entire range of antivirus, anti-intrusion, and anti-ransomware software. Therefore, separate applications are not required for these other benefits.

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