Stiennon’s confusion between UTM and Next Generation Firewall

Richard Stiennon has published a blog post on Netasq, a European UTM vendor called, A brief history of firewalls and the rise of the UTM. I found the post indirectly from Alan Shimmel’s post about it.

Stiennen seems to think that Next Generation Firewalls are just a type of UTM. Shimmel also seems to go along with Stiennon’s view. Stiennon gives credit to IDC for defining the term UTM, but has not acknowledged Gartner’s work in defining Next Generation Firewall.

My purpose here is not to get into a debate about terms like UTM and NGFW. The real question is which network security device provides the best network security “prevention” control. The reality is that marketing people have so abused the terms UTM and NGFW, you cannot depend on the term to mean anything. My remarks here are based on Gartner’s definition of Next Generation Firewall which they published in October 2009.

All the UTMs I am aware of, whether software-based or with hardware assist, use port-based (stateful inspection) firewall technology. They may do a lot of other things like IPS, URL filtering and some DLP, but these UTMs have not really advanced the state (pardon the pun) of “firewall” technology. These UTMs do not enable a positive control model (default-deny) from the network layer up through the application layer. They depend on the negative control model of their IPS and application modules/blades.

Next Generation Firewalls, on the other hand, as defined by Gartner’s 2009 research report, enable positive network traffic control policies from the network layer up through the application layer. Therefore true NGFWs are something totally new and were developed in response to the changes in the way applications are now written. In the early days of TCP/IP, port-based firewalls worked well because each new application ran on its assigned port. For example, SMTP on port 25. In the 90s, you could be sure that traffic that ran on port 25 was SMTP and that SMTP would run only port 25.

About ten years ago applications began using port-hopping, encryption, tunneling, and a variety of other techniques to circumvent port-based firewalls. In fact, we have now reached the point where port-based firewalls are pretty much useless at controlling traffic between networks of different trust levels. UTM vendors responded by adding application identification functionality using their intrusion detection/prevention engines. This is surely better than nothing, but IPS engines use a negative enforcement model, i.e. default allow, and only monitor a limited number of ports. A true NGFW monitors all 65,535 ports for all applications at all times.

In closing, there is no doubt about the value of a network security “prevention” control performing multiple functions. The real question is, does the device you are evaluating fulfill its primary function of reducing the organization’s attack surface by (1) enabling positive control policies from the network layer through the application layer, and (2) doing it across all 65,535 ports all the time?

 

 

 

 

 

Phenergan

Gartner December 2011 Firewall Magic Quadrant Comments

Gartner just released their 2011 Enterprise Firewall Magic Quadrant 21 months since their last one just days before Christmas. Via distribution from one of the firewall manufacturers, I received a copy today. Here are the key highlights:

  • Palo Alto Networks moved up from the Visionary to Leader quadrant
  • Juniper slid back from the Leader to the Challenger quadrant
  • Cisco remained in the Challenger quadrant
  • There are no manufacturers in the Visionary quadrant

In fact, there are only two manufacturers in the Leader quadrant – the aforementioned Palo Alto Networks and Check Point. And these two manufacturers are the only ones to the right of center!!

Given Gartner’s strong belief in the value of Next Generation Firewalls, one might conclude that both of these companies actually do meet Gartner’s 2009 research paper outlining the features of a NGFW. Unfortunately that is not the case today. Check Point’s latest generally available release simply does not meet Gartner’s NGFW requirements.

So the question is, why did Gartner include them in the Leader quadrant? The only explanation I can think of is that their next release meets their NGFW criteria. Gartner alludes to Project Gaia which is in beta at a few sites but says only that it is a blending of Check Point’s three different operating systems. So let’s follow through on this thought experiment. First, this would mean that none of the other vendors will meet Gartner’s NGFW criteria in their next release. If any of them did, why wouldn’t they too be placed to the right of center?

Before I go on, let’s review what a NGFW is. Let’s start with a basic definition of a firewall – a network security device that enables you to define a “Positive Control Model” about what traffic is allowed to pass between two network segments of different trust levels. By Positive Enforcement Model I mean you define what is allowed and deny everything else. Another term for this is “default deny.”

Traditional stateful firewalls enable this Positive Control Model at the port and protocol levels. NGFWs do this also but most importantly do this at the application level. In fact, an NGFW enables policies that combine port, protocol, and application (and more). Stateful inspection firewalls have no ability to control applications sharing open ports. Some have added application identification and blocking to their IPS modules, but this is a negative enforcement model. In other words, block what I tell you to block and allow everything else. Some have called this the “Wack-A-Mole” approach to application control.

In order then to qualify as a NGFW, the core traffic analysis engine has to be built from the ground up to perform deep packet inspection and application detection at the beginning of the analysis/decision process to allow or deny the session. Since that was Palo Alto Networks’ vision when they were founded in 2005, that’s what they did. All the other firewall manufacturers have to start from scratch and build an entirely new platform.

So let’s pick up where I left off three paragraphs ago, i.e. the only traditional stateful inspection firewall manufacturer that might have a technically true NGFW coming in its next release is Check Point. Since Palo Alto Networks shipped its first NGFW in mid-2007, this would mean that Check Point is, at best, four and half years, four major releases, and six thousand customers behind Palo Alto Networks.

On the other hand, if Check Point is in the Leader quadrant because it’s Palo Alto Networks’ toughest competitor, then Palo Alto Networks is in even a better position in the firewall market.

Australia DSD’s Top Four Security Strategies

The SANS Institute has endorsed Australia’s Defense Signals Directorate (DSD) four top strategies for mitigating  information security risk:

  1. Patching applications and using the latest version of an application
  2. Patching operating systems
  3. Keeping admin right under strict control (and forbidding the use of administrative accounts for email and browsing)
  4. Whitelisting applications
While there is nothing new with these four strategies, I would like to discuss #4. The Australian DSD Strategies to Mitigate Targeted Cyber Intrusions defines Application Whitelisting as preventing unapproved programs from running on PCs. I recommend extending whitelisting to the network. In other words, define which applications are allowed on the network by user groups, both internally and Web-based, and deny all others.
My recommendation is not really a new idea either. After all, that’s what firewalls are supposed to do. The issue is that the traditional stateful inspection firewall does it using port numbers and IP addresses. For at least the last five years applications and users have routinely bypassed these firewalls by using applications that share open ports.
This is why in October 2009, Gartner started talking about “Next Generation Firewalls” which enable you to implement whitelisting on the network at Layer 7 (Application) as well as down the stack to Layer 4 and 3. In other words extend the traditional “Positive Control Model” firewall functionality up through the Application Layer. (If you have not seen that Gartner research report, please contact me and I will arrange for you to receive a copy.)

Facebook Insecurity as a Microcosm of All The World’s Security Problems

Facebook Insecurity as a Microcosm of All The World’s Security Problems.

Gartner’s John Pescatore weighs in on the latest chapter in the ongoing Facebook privacy controversy.

Basically, what you see is Facebook taking several steps to protect its customers – advertisers. If they were trying to protect Facebook users, they would have taken very different steps. Because what you don’t see is any real attention to actually addressing the real vulnerabilities.

So, the key takeaway: make sure that you are the actual customer when you trust your data or your customers’ data to a social network or cloud service provider, or any other 3rd party for that matter. A cloud provider can claim they are better at running a data center than you are, but if they are focusing on protecting their advertising revenue, not your data, that claim is meaningless.