Next-generation firewalls (NGFW) are advanced firewall technologies capable of providing security functions beyond regular firewall services. Implemented via hardware and/or software, they can provide advanced features such as deep-packet inspection of incoming and outgoing network traffic.
While a traditional firewall service offers a stateful inspection based on a certain protocol, state, or port, an NGFW can provide advanced features such as:
- Integrated intrusion detection and prevention
- Cloud-delivered threat intelligence
- Application awareness
Next-generation firewalls can deliver several benefits to organizations of all scales and sizes. In this article, I’ll talk about what to do before choosing an NGFW, the most important features in NGFWs, as well as my picks for the five best ones.
Let’s begin with some things to consider before choosing an NGFW.
Things to Consider Before Choosing an NGFW
NGFWs are different from traditional firewalls due to certain core benefits such as advanced security and intelligent breach prevention, detailed network visibility, automation, integrations, and vulnerability detection. Although most modern NGFWs are powerful enough, not every next-generation firewall service is the same. Therefore, it’s important for you to know what features you’ll be needing to keep your business protected.
You’ll have to develop a list of your primary requirements, prioritize them, and use this as a checklist for you to choose your ideal NGFW. On top of providing all the core benefits of traditional firewall services, below are some of the most important features that you need to look for in any NGFW service.
What Features to Look for in an NGFW
Every NGFW has several features that you can leverage to make the most out of its security capabilities. Here’s a list of features that you should consider when choosing the right NGFW for your organization:
- Session management: Make sure the NGFW service you are choosing is capable of recording and performing active session management. This can be very crucial in network monitoring and analysis per user session in an organizational network.
- Comprehensive network visibility: Ensure that the NGFW you choose allows you access to better control and visibility over your network flow and filtering criteria. This will help improve your awareness of the data flowing through your network.
- Deep packet inspection: Most commonly referred to as DPI, this is one of the most common, but one of the most important, features of NGFWs. This guarantees an inspection of every data packet that passes through the firewall. In turn, this will help detect any malware, intrusions, or potential attacks.
- SSL monitoring: Ensure that the next NGFW service provider you choose is capable of monitoring encrypted traffic, including HTTP tunneled traffic. Also, make sure you choose one that has SSL decryption capabilities; that’ll help you even further in monitoring the traffic.
- Behavior analysis: This feature is very vital for your firewall service to be able to perform behavior analysis on the network traffic. In turn, it’ll intelligently predict and secure your business from potential DDoS attacks or other forms of intrusions.
Along with the previously mentioned features, you also need to consider other options such as ease of deployment, device support, and cost. Other flexibility options such as a centralized dashboard would also help. Below are our top 5 picks for the next-generation firewall providers for small and medium-sized businesses in 2022.
Top 5 Next-Generation Firewalls
Each of these next-generation firewalls have their respective pros and cons, so take your time in choosing one based on your business needs. Let’s get into it!
KerioControl is one of the most comprehensive, feature-packed, and secure NGFW in 2022. It offers almost all of the previously mentioned important features in an NGFW, as well as a very easy-to-use interface. Let’s take a look at some pros and cons below.
- High availability and control: KerioControl provides full control and high availability for minimal vulnerability exposure.
- Simple and secure VPN: You can use this service to connect and extend the services to your remote employees. Additionally, you can do this without having any security trade-offs.
- Detailed reporting: KerioControl is capable of providing detailed usage reporting. These reports contain elaborated data on users, as well as their active session data. These statistics, among others, can help you monitor and improve your traffic-shaping rules.
- Powerful filtering: KerioControl also offers powerful web filtering capabilities for different types of content to keep you and your business safe.
- Traffic rules: KerioControl has a lack of templated traffic rules. As a result, you don’t have many configuration options to help devise and develop these rules.
- Bandwidth consumption: Due to the advanced features and heavy filtering KerioControl performs, it can consume large amounts of your internet bandwidth. Consequently, this can hinder your overall performance.
Fortinet’s FortiGate is one of the most widely used NGFW solutions that provides comprehensive visibility and threat protection to organizations. FortiGate is preferred by businesses to implement a robust security mechanism in hybrid IT architectures and build security-driven network solutions. Here are the pros and cons.
- Fully customizable deployment options: FortiGateprovides easy-to-set up and customizable deployment options that you can leverage to deploy on-premise, cloud, or even in a hybrid setup.
- Pre-defined templates: FortiGate also comes with a wide variety of pre-developed templates to fit several different contexts in different organizations. These include network monitoring, filtering, and security.
- Advanced routing options with strong filtering: FortiGate also provides advanced routing with dynamic routing protocols such as RIP, OSPF, and BGP along with strong network data and web filtering capabilities.
- Interface: FortiGate’s CLI interface might present usability challenges to several users. According to many industry experts and IT admins, it is very complicated to navigate.
- Reporting: The network data reporting feature of FortiGate isn’t as robust and extended as the other options on this list.
SonicWall’s TZ400 is an SMB-specific next-generation firewall service designed to deliver enterprise-grade protection at affordable costs. Advanced threat prevention with deep memory inspection, multi-core parallel processing hardware architecture, and single-pass stream-based inspection are some of the key features of TZ400. Here are some of the pros and cons of this NGFW.
- Real-time deep memory inspection (RTDMI): SonicWall’s TZ400 is a feature-packed NGFW that comes with the capability of RTDMI for a deeper level of threat prevention.
- Performance and extensive features: TZ400 also offers good performance along with several other features such as gigabyte and multi-gigabyte ethernet interfaces, VPN clients, wireless network security, and several more.
- Easy to manage: SonicWall TZ400 is very easy to manage and configure to make it a custom solution for your business.
- Hardware and licensing costs: A major factor for any organization is hardware, setup, and licensing costs. TZ400 isn’t the most affordable option on this list. For example, a few advanced features in the TZ400 are only available through an annual membership.
- Support: Despite offering several powerful features, SonicWall’s TZ400 seems to struggle in providing integrational, setup, and usage support for some of its features.
4. Meraki MX
Cisco needs no introduction in the world of enterprise IT security. The company’s Meraki MX is an advanced, feature-packed, and secure NGFW in the market known for its layer 7 traffic classification and control.
- Intrusion detection engine: The Meraki MX offers a strongly integrated network intrusion detection and prevention system (IDS/IPS) that is capable of parsing through regular networks along with encrypted networks. As a result, it’s able to detect any anomaly or intrusion.
- Identity-based device-aware security: Among several other security features, the Meraki MX also offers identity-based device-aware security. Accordingly, this enables network administrators to ensure appropriate levels of network access for every user and device in the network.
- Easy access: The Meraki MX’s unified single portal allows network administrators to control the entire NGFW solution through a single panel.
- Limited VPN options: Meraki MX’s VPN options are very limited and not as extensive as other contenders on this list. Moreover, the out-of-the-box VPN service isn’t easy to configure.
- Error logging and reporting: Although Meraki MX can perform error logging and reporting, it struggles to capture the nitty-gritty details of each of these errors.
5. Barracuda CloudGen Firewall
The Barracuda CloudGen Firewall is a smart and robust security-packed NGFW service that can provide multi-layered comprehensive security protection for on-premise as well as multi-cloud deployment. Here are some of the major pros and cons of the Barracuda CloudGen Firewall.
- Security: It bundles a variety of advanced security features such as botnet and spyware detection and protection, SSL interception, protection from DoS and DDoS attacks, and more.
- Advanced threat protection: Barracuda offers an advanced threat protection (ATP) system capable of providing deep visibility into different types of malware and their behavior on your network for better traffic filtering and threat mitigation.
- Flexible deployment and connectivity options: It offers an easy deployment option for on-premise, cloud, and hybrid setups. It also offers several connectivity options such as traffic duplication, performance-based transport selection, and failover and link balancing.
- Complex configuration: Certain configurations such as the initial setup, log management, export setup, and VPN configurations can be tricky.
Now that we have discussed the top five NGFW services of 2022, here is a summary of my final thoughts on them.
NGFWs are much more advanced and different from traditional firewalls. Before choosing one however, you’ll need to compile a list of requirements for your organization.
That being said, NGFWs are worth it in the long run.They provide important features such as session management, comprehensive network visibility, deep packet inspection, SSL monitoring, and behavior analysis.
In this article, I analyzed the five best NGFW options, which are KerioControl, FortiGate, SonicWall’s TZ400, Cisco’s Meraki MX, and the Barracuda CloudGen Firewall–each with its relative pros and cons.
Lastly, before you choose your next NGFW service, be sure you understand your business requirements and prioritize them based on your needs. While many services are highly customizable, choosing the right service to start with saves a lot of configuration and management overheads.
Do you have more questions about next-generation firewalls? Check out the FAQ and Resources sections below!
What is a firewall?
In computing, a firewall is a network security mechanism acting as the first line of defense for any organization to monitor, control, and protect the incoming network traffic. To address the growing need and demand for different firewall solutions, many different options exist for you to choose from.
What is SSL?
SSL, which stands for Secure Socket Layer, is a protocol for establishing encrypted and authenticated links (URLs) between two or more devices connected through a network. Having the ability to filter and analyze encrypted or SSL networks is an important feature to have in NGFWs.
What is a VPN?
A virtual private network (VPN) provides you with the ability to extend a private network across any public network. As a result, this enables you to securely tunnel to your organizational network from anywhere across the globe. Supporting VPNs and securing them is a very important feature of any firewall service.
What is dynamic routing?
Dynamic routing is a routing technique where the router can forward the data to different devices using different routes dynamically. These routings depend on real-time network parameters such as congestion, response time, connectivity, and more. RIP, OSPF, and BGP are some of the dynamic routing protocols that serve as a vital feature in NGFWs.
What are DoS and DDoS attacks?
Both DoS (Denial of Service) and DDoS (Distributed Denial of Service) are denial of service attacks where a hacker uses one computer, or several, to send a large volume of requests to target one system or server to take it down and hinder its operation/performance. Defensive features against DoS and DDoS can be a decisive factor for many in choosing a certain NGFW service.
Subscribe to our newsletters for more quality content.
TechGenix: Article on Firewall Services
Learn more about some of the top firewall services.
TechGenix: Article on the Sophos XG Firewall
Learn more about the Sophos XG Firewall along with its various features.
TechGenix: Article on Firewall Vendor Strategy
Choosing between a single vendor and a multi-vendor strategy can be tough. Check out this article to learn more.
Gartner: Network Firewall Reviews
Learn more about different network firewall services and Gartner’s reviews on each here.