What is a managed firewall? Benefits, offerings explained

December 7, 2020  |  Mark Stone

This blog was written by a third party author

A firewall can have all the security bells and whistles to keep the bad guys out, but firewalls are only as effective as the people managing them. To get the most out of a firewall, it must be properly managed to ensure it does what it’s supposed to: mitigate threats targeting your business.

What is a managed firewall?

Monitoring your network can consume significant time, resources and costs. A managed firewall service, provided by a team of security experts, offers solutions that cover the administration, operation, monitoring, and maintenance of your firewall infrastructure.

Depending on the offering, managed firewall may involve an assessment of your security threats and monitoring network traffic. Once the MSSP discovers what “normal” traffic looks like, any abnormal traffic patterns can be identified and corrected.

Typically, managed firewall solutions include the set-up, maintenance, and modification of firewall rules as well as network monitoring. In addition, they often incorporate detailed analysis, reports and feedback. Patching and updates are commonly an essential part of the solution.

Firewalls were not meant as plug and play devices. You can’t just set it up, install it on your network perimeter, and hope it does its job without any human management or expertise. Firewall management requires a significant level of expertise and consistent monitoring. The process of purchasing and setting up the firewall is only the first step in a long process.

Common firewall issues and complexities

The resources required to manage a firewall represent only a portion of the complexities involved. There are several less tangible issues that arise of which companies should be aware.

Balancing user-friendliness and security

Firewall rules are business inhibitors if protocols are too restrictive and don’t meet users' access requirements for specific applications or data. Conversely, providing access to more than what is needed to complete job duties can leave companies vulnerable to security breaches and data exfiltration.

Absence of auditing

While analyzing firewall rules regularly is considered a best practice, many companies often miss this crucial step.

Inability to keep up with evolving threats

As the threat landscape compounds and a company’s attack surface widens, so does the complexities of managing a firewall. Firewall configurations and rules that may have been sufficient just weeks or months ago, aren’t necessarily effective at blocking cyber threats today.

Multiple locations, many firewalls

Each of the complexities mentioned above can be enough to handle for a single firewall — but many organizations require multiple firewalls. Each firewall has its own set of rules and configurations. Work can be multiplied with each new firewall deployed.

Complexity of industry compliance standards

If your company processes payments online, your firewall will need to be PCI DSS compliant. However, the mere act of installing a firewall on your company’s network won’t make you PCI DSS compliant. There are over 20 PCI DSS sub-requirements as a framework for how firewalls should be installed, updated, and maintained to be compliant.

Benefits of having a service provider manage your firewall

The benefits of working with a managed security service provider (MSSP) for your firewall management go well beyond solving the issues and complexities outlined above.

Managed firewall services offer a diverse set of advantages.

Empowering digital transformation

IT environments are evolving as organizations accelerate adoption of SaaS, public and hybrid cloud, IoT, and mobility. Because traditional security controls may lack the agility to support these transforming IT environments, digital transformation can be delayed by security risks. Or worse, transformation moves ahead without proper security controls in place.

Monitoring your network around the clock

Leading managed firewall services will manage and monitor your firewalls 24x7x365, all from their SOC (security operations center). The MSSP should boast a highly secure, fully redundant SOC — equipped with emergency backup power and advanced security technologies.

By collecting data, observing your network traffic and performing analysis against known vulnerabilities, threats are better mitigated.

Customized solutions according to your environment

Whether your firewall needs are virtual, on-premise, cloud, or hybrid, they can all be part of a managed firewall service. Whether it’s a premises-based managed firewall that is typically faster and easier to deploy, or a complex cloud-based firewall or firewalls to protect your expanding attack surface, look for an MSSP that can tailor their managed firewall solutions for your network environment and provide all the benefits mentioned above. 

Next-generation features and capabilities

Leading managed firewall solutions can deliver next-gen security tools to enhance their offering, with capabilities including Intrusion Prevention Systems (IPS), Web-Filtering, Anti-Virus, and Application Control.

Access to the latest threat intelligence sources

IT environments and the tools deployed to protect them may be evolving, but so too are the tools, tactics, and procedures (TTPs) used by malicious actors. To keep up, IT and security departments must be plugged in to the global threat landscape at all times, which may be challenging for most teams.

Closing the cybersecurity skills gap

The cybersecurity industry is still suffering from a significant talent shortage. In the U.S., according to an ISC2 report, the cybersecurity workforce gap is nearly 500,000 people. Skilled security professionals are in high demand and low supply. IT and security teams are often understaffed and overworked. MSSPs can help bridge the gap.

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