Top Next-Generation Firewall (NGFW) Software

Next-generation firewalls provide enterprise security for businesses that see frequent malicious traffic and advanced efforts to breach networks and systems. The top NGFW providers have powerful tools for threat detection and prevention, traffic analysis, and policy management. These allow admins to determine how they want to configure their enterprise’s network security.

Top Next-Generation Firewall (NGFW) Software Solutions

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Palo Alto Networks

Palo Alto logo.Palo Alto Networks offers next-generation firewalls for multiple enterprise environments, including not only branch offices and data centers but also Kubernetes containers. The famous PA-Series is Palo Alto’s hardware product and can be installed in all of your enterprise’s offices and data centers. The VM-Series of virtual firewalls secures public and private cloud environments, as well as software-defined networks

The CN-Series for Kubernetes protects containers. It inspects and filters traffic and enforces segmentation policies among namespaces for Kubernetes container environments. Instead of sitting at the edge of the Kubernetes environment, Palo Alto’s NGFW sits inside the environment where it can determine from which specific pod traffic is coming. The resulting traffic data will be more accurate so teams can discern what segment of a container environment needs to be fixed. Consider Palo Alto if you want to deploy a firewall specifically for your Kubernetes clusters. 

Panorama, Palo Alto’s solution for configuration and policy management, allows network security administrators to create and oversee policies for their enterprise’s firewalls, access control, URL filtering, and other security rules. With Panorama, admins can view the entire network infrastructure and health profiles of network devices; this data can introduce potential improvements to device health. Panorama offers template stacks so admins can reuse configurations, lifting some of the manual burden of configuring networks. 

Because Panorama is the management console for all NGFWs, enterprises can deploy, for example, the CN-Series and the PA-series within the same infrastructure. They’ll be able to manage both deployment options from the same location. For enterprises that may need to use multiple types of firewalls, Palo Alto’s centralized configuration and management center allows them to do so without needing two different vendors. 

Key differentiators

  • Management console with a wide range of network insights available
  • Next-generation firewall specifically designed to protect Kubernetes container environments
  • Public cloud protection for more than just AWS, Azure, and Google Cloud 

Fortinet

Fortinet logo.Fortinet offers a wide range of NGFWs through Fortigate, its award-winning firewall product, in both hardware and virtual machine options. Hardware offerings include chassis, data center, and entry-level firewalls that administrators can control and configure through a single pane of glass console. The management console also has a predefined compliance checklist that recommends best security practices and helps admins to track their compliance status with relevant regulations, such as PCI-DSS.

The most recent release of Fortinet’s own operating system, FortiOS, supports unified policy configuration. This allows network administrators to manage all policies, including zero trust network access (ZTNA), from one location. It also supports HTTP/3.0, so web traffic using newer standards is protected.  

FortiGuard Security Services are available to Fortigate users, providing features like IP geo-tracking and IoT device detection. The cloud sandboxing feature addresses issues like ransomware and allows users to analyze malware and receive real-time intelligence about potential threats. 

FortiGuard’s capabilities allow enterprises to monitor specific device and network policies, including operational technology (OT) policies. FortiGuard’s intrusion prevention system accesses libraries with thousands of threat signatures and uses AI and ML capabilities to block those threats based on existing IPS rules. 

Fortigate is an all-around NGFW solution that fits enterprises with multiple data centers as well as offices with just one branch. Consider Fortigate if your business needs a single policy management solution for all company firewalls and advanced intrusion prevention capabilities. 

Key differentiators

  • Wide range of deployment options and firewall sizes
  • Cloud sandbox to analyze potential threats
  • Operating system, FortiOS, that allows admins to manage all network policies

Deciding between Palo Alto and Fortinet? Read Fortinet vs. Palo Alto at eSecurity Planet for a closer look at their features and differences.

Check Point

Check Point logo.Check Point Software Technologies offers the Quantum series of next-generation firewalls for a variety of business use cases. Quantum includes large enterprise firewalls and a hyperscale network security solution. The hyperscale solution allows businesses to quickly scale existing network gateways when they need to rapidly increase throughput capabilities. 

Quantum Rugged offers industrial appliances for rougher enterprise environments, such as the manufacturing and energy industries. They’re specifically designed to withstand harsh weather conditions and protect the technology in such industrial environments from attacks.

Check Point also offers small business firewalls. Quantum Spark appliances can be managed through both web and mobile applications. Through the SMB Security Suite, which includes the NGFW, smaller businesses also receive endpoint protection for Mac, iOS, PC, Android, and Linux devices. Consider Check Point if you’re a SMB or smaller enterprise wanting to dip your toes into NGFWs. 

Check Point’s unified security management platform, R81, provides administration capabilities for all NGFWs. Once policies are set by network admins, Check Point automatically updates those policies, reducing some of the manual burden on network and security teams. Another automation capability is gateway performance optimization: the management platform automatically allocates core and hardware resources depending on how heavy traffic is at the time. This helps improve network performance. 

Available with Check Point NGFWs, Sandblast Zero Day Protection is designed to test potential malware before hackers can escape detection. Hackers use techniques to make their code  seem innocent for a brief time in a traditional sandbox environment. Security teams can test traffic with Sandblast more quickly, before malicious users have enough time to escape detection. If you’re particularly focused on sandboxing traffic to sensitive applications, consider using Sandblast alongside your NGFW. 

Key differentiators

  • Small business firewall suite 
  • Management platform with automation features
  • Sandblast protection for testing malware 

Want to learn about implementing a broader approach to cyber risk assessment and business continuity? Read Moving Beyond Cybersecurity to Cyber Resilience.

Cisco

Cisco logo.Network provider Cisco’s NGFW offering, Cisco Secure Firewall, focuses on security and consistent policy management. Cisco intends the solution to make the network infrastructure an extension of the firewall’s security through capabilities like advanced policy enforcement for distributed applications on the network. Admins need to be able to enforce security policies for all applications, not just some. 

Cisco has multiple hardware firewalls, including the Firepower series and the Meraki MX series. Cisco Secure Firewall is available as a virtual solution for private clouds and provides protection in VMware ESXi, Microsoft Hyper-V, and KVM environments. It’s also available as a public cloud solution to protect data and applications on AWS and Azure. 

Cisco’s firewall log management uses behavioral analytics to respond more quickly to threats when they arise. The log management solution can use data from all of an enterprise’s Cisco Secure Firewalls, even geographically distributed ones. Analyzing traffic from all firewalls can help a business to see potentially malicious patterns occurring in multiple places on the network. 

Cisco Transport Layer Security (TLS) Server Identity and Discovery allows enterprises to maintain Layer 7 OSI security policies on encrypted TLS 1.3 traffic. This means that the traffic will stay encrypted, the content hidden from threat actors, rather than being decrypted in individual pieces, which requires heavy processing power. Network admins still maintain visibility over the traffic, even though it’s not being decrypted, and Layer 7 policies remain unbroken. Consider Cisco if you’re concerned about maintaining critical network security policies, when other firewalls might not keep the traffic encrypted.  

Key differentiators

  • Firewall log management with behavioral analytics
  • Unbroken Layer 7 OSI policies on encrypted TLS 1.3 traffic 
  • Virtual firewall with protection for multiple virtual environments 

Also read: Tips for Fostering Enterprise Network Security

Forcepoint

Forcepoint logo.Forcepoint offers NGFWs for retail stores, remote and branch offices, campus networks, and network edge deployments, among others. It has multiple hardware appliances, including the Modular Network Interface, which provides extensible network interfaces on rack-mounted NGFWs. The extensible interfaces allow connections with network adapters. 

Forcepoint’s NGFWs are also available as cloud images and virtual appliances. The cloud firewall supports AWS, Azure, Google Cloud, Oracle, and IBM. The virtual firewall supports VMware ESXi, VMware NSX, Microsoft Hyper-V, KVM, and Nutanix AHV.

Each firewall has built-in virtual private network (VPN) capabilities, intrusion prevention systems, and mission-critical application proxies. Proxies add security functionality to protect important apps. 

Forcepoint’s Secure SD-WAN solution includes NGFW protection to better filter traffic and stop attacks like ransomware. If your business is considering an SD-WAN solution as well, look at Forcepoint’s Secure SD-WAN and accompanying NGFW.  

Forcepoint’s NGFW includes security features for IP packet fragmentation and TCP segmentation. IP fragmentation splits packets into smaller pieces when they pass through network links. This reduces overhead but also allows attackers to send parts of packets to a different location from their original address without detection. TCP segmentation also has weaknesses, like vulnerability to attackers eavesdropping on a transmission. Forcepoint blocks such evasions and protects networks from being exploited by these weaknesses. If your business needs granular protection for web traffic, consider Forcepoint, as it addresses vulnerabilities in web protocols.  

Key differentiators 

  • Cloud image firewall for five major cloud providers and virtual firewall for five virtual environments  
  • IP fragmentation and TCP segmentation protection
  • NGFW also available for SD-WAN customers 

What is a next-generation firewall?

Next-generation firewalls (NGFWs) are security tools that analyze and filter network traffic based on policies that network administrators have set for their business’s infrastructure. Next-generation firewalls can be implemented as hardware, software, and virtual solutions. Hardware NGFWs offer similar capabilities as software deployments, but NGFW hardware typically focuses on filtering traffic for the overall network while NGFW software can more granularly protect individual devices and applications.

NGFWs differ from traditional firewalls in their ability to analyze and filter application-level traffic, rather than just port traffic. This allows businesses to more granularly protect individual applications and notice trends in traffic to them. 

Learn more about NGFWs: What Does a Next-Generation Firewall Do?

What are the features and benefits of NGFWs?

Know the main advantages and common features offered by NGFW providers so you can analyze which one is the best choice for your business. 

Features

Features of NGFWs include blacklisting and whitelisting, intrusion prevention, deep packet inspection, and centralized network management consoles. 

Blacklisting and whitelisting 

Blacklisting and whitelisting specific application traffic gives enterprises granular control over what applications are permitted on their network.

Intrusion prevention 

An intrusion prevention system (IPS) acts when it recognizes threats such as malware, blocking traffic or automatically shutting down part of the network to prevent a threat from moving further. 

Deep packet inspection

More detailed than normal packet filtering, deep packet inspection (DPI) looks at the tiny details about data packets, like sender and destination, to discern more specific details about the traffic. This can help identify malicious packets. 

Management console 

Management consoles allow users to configure and view the whole network. A central pane of glass prevents network administrators from needing to move back and forth between multiple applications to manage their firewalls. 

Benefits

Benefits of NGFWs include increased functionality and application protection, prevention features, and granular traffic monitoring.  

Greater functionality than traditional firewalls 

Because NGFWs work at the application level, they can protect business-critical applications. Enterprises can view traffic data for individual applications. 

Additional focus on prevention

While traditional firewalls can monitor networks for potential threats (detection), NGFWs include more advanced prevention features through tools like IPS. Preventing attacks requires more granular application protection and more detailed inspection of traffic. 

Central hub to view traffic data and potential threats 

NGFW management consoles allow businesses to analyze traffic from the entire network and to zero in on particular applications, so they can determine app-specific patterns.

Ways to deploy NGFW

Next-generation firewalls can be deployed on a cloud platform, such as Amazon or Azure. Most of the major firewall vendors provide cloud support for at least two public cloud platforms. AWS, Azure, and Google Cloud are the most common. Benefits include rapid scalability and lesser need for customer maintenance.

Some enterprises install their NGFW software on premises, closer to the customer’s physical network. On-premises NGFWs are either installed as a physical appliance, at the entrance to the entire network, or as software on on-premises company servers. One critical benefit is having security much closer to the company’s assets. NGFW providers are increasingly providing this option for buyers. Companies benefit from the ability to control the management and physical upkeep of their firewall.

Considerations when buying NGFW software

Consider technical support, customer support, integrations, and throughput when searching for an NGFW. 

Technical support 

How experienced is your security team? And to that end, how much assistance will you need not only with deployment but in the days and weeks that follow, while implementing the software? 

Some solutions are more difficult to configure than others. If your IT or security team is inexperienced in working with next-gen firewalls, determine how much technical support the vendor will give you in deploying and then potentially implementing it. 

Does the vendor have good customer support reviews? Although reviews don’t necessarily determine every detail of your future interactions with a NGFW provider, they are a helpful tool to gauge what you might receive when you work with this vendor. 

Integrations with other security offerings

Does the NGFW integrate with other security products from the vendor? If your business is expanding or retooling its security infrastructure, you may want to use multiple security products. 

Learn how many solutions are available from the same provider and whether they work well together. If they integrate with each other, your business may benefit from interconnected security tools. This can decrease infrastructure management tasks that might otherwise arise from using multiple security programs.

Throughput

What is the vendor’s true throughput versus what it claims? Throughput—the amount of traffic that can pass through a firewall at one time—sometimes varies from the vendor’s top estimate. Throughput needs depend on the traffic your company network typically receives, and throughput capabilities determine whether customer-facing technology like websites keep up with traffic requests. If the vendor offers a free trial, test the throughput so you can determine if it matches your business’s traffic inspection and filtering demands.  

Considering other enterprise security solutions? Read Best SIEM Tools & Software next.

Jenna Phipps
Jenna Phipps
Jenna Phipps is a writer for Webopedia.com, Enterprise Storage Forum, and CIO Insight. She covers data storage systems and data management, information technology security, and enterprise software solutions.

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