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Next-Generation Firewall (NGFW) Solutions For 2024

Next-generation firewalls (NGFWs) are network security solutions that go beyond the traditional port/protocol inspection by incorporating application-level inspection, intrusion prevention, and external threat intelligence. As the third generation in firewall technology, NGFWs improve network security by handling application-level threats and combining traditional features with more advanced decision-making capabilities. They’re a core cybersecurity product and a foundational security tool every organization needs to protect their network from intruders.

As defending data and applications becomes more complicated, the security products built to withstand evolving threats also grow more powerful. The vast expansion of IoT devices, remote work, and advanced threats like ransomware have made protecting the perimeter more challenging and more critical than ever.

NGFW vendors that stand out:
Palo Alto: Best for Large Enterprises
Fortinet: Best for the Value
Check Point: Best for Sandboxing
Barracuda CloudGen Firewall: Best for Hybrid Cloud Environments
Cisco: Best for Consistent Network Policies
Forcepoint: Best for Cluster Management
Huawei: Best for Cloud Service Providers
Juniper Networks: Best for SMEs with Distributed Networks
Sophos XGS: Best for Small Security Teams

This comparative table guides you in selecting the NGFW solution that aligns seamlessly with your organization’s security objectives, exploring key aspects like scalability, threat detection, advanced sandboxing, ease of use, and pricing.

                  Scalability           Threat Detection and Prevention        Advanced Sandboxing               Ease of Use        Pricing  
Palo Alto     Yes                    Yes                                                     Yes                                            Easy                   Price starts at $1000 per year.

Fortinet      Yes                    Yes                                                     Yes                                            Easy                    Price starts at $600 per year.

Check Point Yes                   Yes                                                     Yes                                            Easy                    Price for small-size packages starts at $2100 per year.

Barracuda CloudGen
                  Yes                    Yes                                                      Limited                                    Moderately complex Starts at $4599 per year in the marketplace for small instance types in the US.

Cisco          Yes                     Yes                                                     Yes                                          Moderately complex Starts at $4500 per year in the marketplace for large instance types.

Forcepoint Yes                     Yes                                                      Yes                                          Easy                         Forcepoint NGFW 300 Series in the marketplace starts at $1700 per year.

Huawei       Yes                    Yes                                                       Yes                                         Moderately complex   Pricing is unavailable on the vendor’s website.

Juniper Networks 
                  Yes                     Yes                                                      Limited                                  Moderately complex    Price for Juniper vSRX NGFW in the marketplace starts at $1990 per year.

Sophos XGS Limited              Yes                                                      Limited                                  Easy                           Pricing starts at around $500 for the XGS 87 and around $30,000 for the XGS 6500.

Key Features of NGFW Solutions
Organizations expect the most up-to-date tools and resources for managing their security infrastructure, including NGFW capabilities. When considering NGFW vendors and products, look for the following standard and advanced features such as identity awareness, centralized management, stateful inspection, and more.

Application And Identity Awareness
A critical difference between traditional firewalls and NGFWs is the latter’s ability to offer protection at the application and user identity levels. Whereas traditional firewalls rely on standard application ports, NGFWs can identify, allow, block, and limit applications regardless of port or protocol. NGFWs’ ability to recognize identity adds to its control by enabling administrators to apply firewall rules more granularly to groups and users.

Centralized Management, Visibility, And Auditing
To actively manage a network’s defenses, administrators need an accessible and configurable dashboard to view and manage security systems like NGFWs. Most NGFWs contain log analysis, policy management, and a management dashboard that offer a way to track security health, analyze traffic patterns, and export firewall rules for use elsewhere.

Stateful Inspection
Traditional firewalls use stateful inspection, also known as dynamic packet filtering, to inspect traffic up to Layer-4. NGFWs are built to track Layers 2-7. This advancement allows NGFWs to perform the same stateful inspection duties of a traditional firewall—distinguishing between safe and unsafe packets. The extension of dynamic packet filtering to the application layer is invaluable as critical resources move towards the network edge.

Deep Packet Inspection
Deep packet inspection (DPI) goes a step further in inspecting traffic. Stateful inspection monitors all traffic and just the packet headers, while DPI inspects the data and header of transmitted packets. Executed at the application layer, DPI can locate, categorize, block, or reroute packets with problematic code or data payloads not detected in a stateful inspection.

Integrated Intrusion Prevention (IPS)
Intrusion prevention systems (IPS) once sat adjacent to the firewall, playing defender against new threats outside the protected network. While traditional firewalls manage traffic flows based on network information, IPS devices inspect, alert, and even actively rid the network of malware and intruders.

As cybersecurity products have evolved, IPS technology has been a valuable integration into NGFW product offerings. While the distinction is growing narrower, the question for buyers becomes whether the IPS technology included with their NGFW is good enough to forego a standalone IPS product. Critically, IPS can prevent attacks like brute force, known vulnerabilities, and DDoS.

Network Sandboxing
The main goal of network sandboxing is to test malware in a controlled environment in order to boost defenses. Depending on your NGFW selection, you may have access to a network sandbox or have the option of adding such on a subscription basis. Network sandboxing advances malware protection because it allows IT professionals the chance to send a potentially malicious program to a secure, isolated, cloud-based environment where administrators can assess the malware behavior before it interacts with the in-network systems.

Secured Traffic
HTTPS is the current standard for network communication over the internet, using the SSL/TLS protocol for encrypting such communications. As the leading network traffic inspector, NGFWs are now being used to decrypt SSL and TLS communications, often coming with remote access VPN capabilities.

To secure encrypted traffic, NGFWs support all inbound and outbound SSL decryption. This monitoring ensures that the infrastructure can identify and prevent threats rooted in encrypted network flows.

Threat Intelligence And Dynamic Lists
Most NGFW vendors offer some form of threat intelligence. New threats arise daily, and expecting firewall administrators to be aware and online around the clock can be a recipe for disaster. NGFWs can use a global network’s updates on the latest threats and attack sources, using third-party threat intelligence feeds, to block threats and implement policy changes in real time.

Indicators of compromise (IoC) are shared globally, informing your NGFW of malicious traffic to eliminate or block automatically without the 3 a.m. call or to surface events that do require attention. Threats identified in-house can also be countered with the use of dynamic lists. NGFWs make threat hunting more automated and less prone to human error with threat intelligence feeds and dynamic lists in your toolbox.

Integration Capacity
Organizations small and large continue to ramp up third-party services that enhance business processes, including numerous popular and mission-critical SaaS applications and APIs. As IT managers look at new products to incorporate into their organization’s infrastructure, the product’s ability to integrate third-party applications is a must.

Easy integration means less stress for personnel navigating between software. Examples of standard integrations include SIEM software, 2FA, Active Directory, and reporting tools. Application programming interfaces (API) play a critical role in policy orchestration and provisioning where multiple software applications are in use.

How Do You Choose the Right NGFW Solution?
To select the right NGFW for your organization, first ask these questions of your IT and security teams, as well as any business leaders involved in the buying process:

Pricing: What is your budget? Can you afford one of the most expensive NGFWs, or one designed for SMBs?
Expertise: How experienced is the team that would be implementing and managing this solution?
Team Size: How many employees will be able to dedicate time to its management? Do you have a small or large security team?
Key Features: What are the three most critical features in an NGFW for your business specifically?
Customer Service: How much support will you need from the vendor?
Once you’ve determined your budget, seek quotes from three or four NGFW vendors to make the decision process easier. Exclude choices that are incompatible with the size and capabilities of your company. Engage in in-depth discussions with your IT and security teams to assess their knowledge and ensure alignment with the chosen solution. For less experienced teams, prioritize user-friendly interfaces. Following the identification of critical features, consult reviews to locate firewalls that excel in those areas. For example, if sophisticated threat prevention is critical, investigate highly rated choices such as Barracuda for informed decision-making.

The following list of potential security priorities pairs your business’s need with a solution that’s traditionally highly rated by customers or specializes in providing that feature:

Intensive sandboxing needs: Check Point
Easy-to-manage user interface: Sophos
Reliable solution for SMBs: Fortinet, Sophos
Microsegmentation: Juniper Networks
Device and network clustering: Forcepoint
Customer support: Cisco, Huawei, Barracuda
Container protection: Palo Alto, Juniper Networks

How to Evaluated NGFW Solutions
In evaluating NGFW solutions, we structured our score criteria into five weighted categories, each with its own set of subcriteria based on various organizational demands. We assigned a score out of five to each NGFW solution and combined the scores per criteria to identify the final score and determine an overall winner. We also evaluated each vendor’s unique advantages and differentiating features.

The following criteria were employed, each with its own weighting based on its importance:

Cost – 20%
We assessed the cost and transparency of NGFW solutions by determining the availability and sufficiency of free trials or free plans, the accessibility and transparency of price information, and the overall pricing structures and plans.

Core Features – 25%
This criterion focused on the core features of NGFW solutions, such as scalability, visibility and control, centralized management, threat detection and prevention, container protection, and integration with security tools.

Non-Core Features – 20%
Beyond the main functionality, enhancements such as SD-WAN, enhanced sandboxing, cloud compatibility, VPN compatibility, user-based policies, and reliability were also evaluated.

Customer Support – 20%
Customer support effectiveness and accessibility were critical factors, including considerations for customer support availability, live chat, email responsiveness, and the availability and quality of documentation, demos, and training resources.

Ease Of Use And Configuration – 15%
This criterion included considerations for ease of use/UI, the availability and quality of knowledge base/resources, the technical competence required to set up, and the intuitiveness of the administration interface when assessing the user experience and ease of setup.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

What Firewall Is Deployed The Most?
Determining the most deployed firewall varies based on organizational needs. However, industry giants such as Palo Alto Networks, Fortinet, and Cisco Secure Firewall are widely used in large organizations. The choice is determined by unique requirements, preferences, and the size of the company.

How Many Firewalls Should You Have?
The number of firewalls required by an organization is determined by its network architecture, security requirements, and segmentation strategy. Businesses typically deploy numerous firewalls for tiered protection. This could comprise perimeter firewalls, internal firewalls for network zone segmentation, and application-specific firewalls. The goal is to develop a defense-in-depth plan that is suited to the organization’s security requirements.

Bottom Line: Secure Your Network with Next-Generation Firewall Solutions
Choosing an NGFW needs a thorough understanding of your company’s budget, requirements, and staff expertise. Once you’ve determined these characteristics, generating a shortlist becomes simple. While setting up next-generation firewalls is challenging, the increased protection they provide justifies the expense. Adequate training for IT and security teams is critical, not just for improving corporate security but also for investing in overall team knowledge and future success.

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