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Firewall Operations Management

The modern technology security ecosystem consists of multiple firewall solutions ranging from traditional gateways to next-generation firewalls, all offered by different vendors. With such an array of firewall options, managing different rules and configurations can become more complicated without proper management. Additionally, managing firewall security in a hybrid environment has become a complex and nuanced process as more organizations operate across multiple networks, locations, and devices.

This is why companies require a unified approach to firewall operations management to reduce complexity and ensure highly impermeable firewall procedures. Firewall operations management ensures your firewall programs are carefully monitored, maintained, and updated according to strict policies and procedures. 

Firewall Operations Management

Depending upon the size of your business and the complexity of your IT operations, a firewall could be a single piece of equipment protecting your network from malicious activity in smaller networks and individual devices. But in an organization running different processes across multiple devices – both on-premises and on-cloud –  you require a unified solution to manage your firewall security.

Two critical components determine the success of your firewall management programs; firewall log management and firewall rule lifecycle management. The first component, firewall log management, generates network traffic information that helps in investigating malicious attacks. 

Secondly, we have firewall rule lifecycle management, which routinely reviews a firewall’s rule base. Firewall rule lifecycle management is an essential category within firewall operations management because it identifies rule defects and optimizes your firewall. Without well-structured rules, the firewall secures your systems less effectively. 

By optimizing the two firewall components highlighted above, you can significantly increase the effectiveness of your company’s firewall solutions and reduce firewall management complexities.

This guide simplifies the firewall management process and gives you the best practices for an effective firewall management program.

What is Firewall Management?

Firewall management is the process of fine-tuning rules, tracking change requests, monitoring logs across different firewall systems to optimize security performance. A typical security infrastructure consists of firewall solutions from multiple vendors, all with their unique rules and configurations. 

So to reduce misconfigurations that weaken your security structures, administrators need to apply firewall operations management and firewall log management methodologies to align all the different rules into unified procedures and policies. 

Why Firewall Management Matters?

Maintaining firewall rules and configurations is essential to the effectiveness of your security programs and ensures your company can quickly neutralize malicious attacks. 

An effective firewall management program matters to an organization in the following ways:

  • Firewall management improves compliance to network security regulations such as Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI-DSS) and the Sarbanes-Oxley (SOX) compliance standard.
  • Reduces network downtime by quickly dealing with threats before they affect other business operations
  • Firewall management reduces rule overlap and regularly removes unused objects. This routine practice reduces loopholes and strengthens your firewall’s performance.
  • Firewall management reduces complexity by streamlining multiple firewall vendors into a single-pane network management interface.

Components of Firewall Management

Firewall Operations Management

A good firewall management program consists of the following components:

Well-Documented Rules

Firewall rules protect your network against harmful inbound and outbound traffic based on the criteria you set.  A good firewall management program documents, tracks, and regularly updates rules across your IT environment. Failure to manage the rules results in a weak defense system that does not filter harmful traffic. 

Formal Procedures for Firewall Configurations and Change Requests

Another vital component in firewall management is the proper change request procedure. These procedures ensure change requests follow an approved process that is carried out by authorized personnel. Additionally, the guideline dictates how often to conduct firewall configurations, security patch updates, personnel in charge, and indicate a clear accountability path. 

Security Compliance Requirements

All network security procedures, equipment, and policies adhere to specific standards that govern data shared across these networks. Firewall management tracks how these standards are implemented within each element and ensures companies comply with regulations. For example, the Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI DSS) and the Sarbanes-Oxley (SOX) compliance standards are examples of legislation relevant to firewall management. 

Firewall Assessment and Audit Procedures

Firewall assessments and audits ensure high integrity in your network security programs. No matter how effective your firewall policies and procedures are, regular audits ensure they keep up with changing security environments. Additionally, a routine assessment helps in identifying loopholes and mitigate potential threats.

Firewall Rules Management

A significant component in firewall management is firewall rule management. Firewall rules form the backbone of your network security because they control the type of traffic allowed into your IT environment. You expose the organization to potential attackers who constantly scan the internet for weak systems without strong rule sets. 

Developing strong rule sets requires a continuous, agile methodology for implementing and decommissioning rules. This methodology is known as the firewall rule lifecycle management, which operates as a cyclical process of reviewing, approving, and enforcing rules while eliminating ineffective sets.

The best practice in firewall management is to implement the rule lifecycle while reviewing your system’s configurations. Firewall rule lifecycle management involves five continuous processes:

1. Discovery

The first stage involves mapping the network’s connectivity and security configurations. These findings are instrumental in guiding developers are they programmatically create rules.

2. Planning

The planning stage involves translating the network findings into actual firewall rules while assessing risk levels and rule compliance to regulatory standards. 

3. Deployment

Compile and deploy the new rules across the network. Deployment can either be manual or automatic. Manual deployment allows more control in changing configurations, while automatic compilation helps deploy all rules at once.  

4. Maintain

This stage involves monitoring the effectiveness of the new rules by penetration testing your devices and applications. Maintenance also requires audition of your firewall systems, rule cleanup, and optimization, as well as enforcing regulations.

5. Decommissioning

Through careful rule optimization, unused or ineffective rules are decommissioned and removed from the firewall systems. 

Firewall Management Best Practices

Security Layer Concept

Firewall change management best practices ensure high-performing security programs and minimal network downtime. They include:

Block All Network Traffic and Track User Access

It is prudent to block all network traffic by default to help in controlling access to your internal systems. Since firewalls are your first line of defense, it’s advisable to make minimal exceptions in inbound traffic. Only grant access to recognized users and IP addresses and regularly monitor their activity to ensure they comply with your security policies.

Establish Change Request Procedures and Policies

Firewalls require regular updates to maintain high performance. Establishing formal change request procedures prevents unapproved updates that could negatively affect performance and create more loopholes. An effective change request policy includes the following features:

  • Administrators should define their change requests and indicate how the change will improve security
  • Highlight potential risks the change requests could bring about and mitigation solutions
  • Define the change request process from design to implementation and approvals required, including an accountability trail.
  • An assessment and audit plan for reviewing change requests and their effectiveness, as well as the decommissioning plan

Optimize and Clean up the Firewall Rule Sets

Optimizing your firewall rules involves continuously auditing their effectiveness and removing redundant pieces. In addition, as your company evolves and adopts different technologies, you need to clean up and update your firewall’s rule base to secure new additions. So how do you effectively clean up a rule base:

  • Eliminate unused, duplicate, and obsolete rules. These redundancies reduce your firewall’s performance because the system must process all criteria before concluding. This ends up slowing down the speed and accuracy of identifying potential threats and vulnerabilities.
  • Remove conflicting rules and be highly specific while defining new criteria. Storing inconsistent rules creates more complexity and lowers security effectiveness.

Automate Firewall Updates

Automating security updates across all your firewall wall devices and software minimizes human error and keeps firewall systems secured at all times. Automation also eliminates update lapses and ensures your networks get the latest security patches without skipping any version.

Establish a Centralized Firewall Management Console

The modern firewall management ecosystem consists of multiple firewall vendors. Therefore, it is essential to centrally manage your firewall service providers to reduce complexity and overlapping configurations. This centralized approach also helps in reducing the total cost of ownership of firewall services.

Conduct Routine Firewall Assessments and Audits

Regular audits and assessments ensure your firewall systems comply with internal security policies and government regulations. Additionally, routine audits identify non-compliance areas such as unapproved configurations and users not following the formal change request procedures. Through the audit findings, you’ll better enforce total compliance to firewall security standards. 

Firewall Management Benefits: Business Impact

Proper firewall management directly contributes to business growth and profitability. By creating a safe and secure business environment, personnel productivity maintains high levels, and companies operate efficiently. 

Furthermore, firewall management helps organizations to adapt to business disruptions quickly. Companies can quickly make changes to their operations without exposing them to unmanageable threats by having proper firewall procedures and policies.

CG Technologies can help you with Firewall Management

Configuring and maintaining firewall security has become a significant challenge for many organizations with no in-house expertise. This is particularly difficult for small/medium businesses targeted for nearly 50% of all cyber attacks. A managed firewall service from CG Technologies will provide you with a defense against an attack that delivers:

  • Enterprise-level security protection
  • Predictable cost
  • 24 × 7 protection – continually monitored and updated

Contact us to learn more about how our managed firewall service can help simplify IT security for your business.

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