NGFW vs UTM: Differences & Use Cases

Next-generation firewalls (NGFWs) and unified threat management (UTM) systems are two of the most popular network security tools on the market today. They achieve similar goals in defending against cyberattacks, but the way each type of product approaches that task is different. Understanding the core differences between NGFWs and UTM systems is essential to building the right arsenal of network security tools for each organization’s unique needs.

What is a next-generation firewall (NGFW)?

A next-generation firewall (NGFW) is a network security device that does more than stateful firewalls (i.e., traditional firewalls). 

Stateful firewalls inspect everything inside data packets up to open systems interconnection (OSI) transport layer four. Next-generation firewalls, on the other hand, can go up to application layer seven, which allows them to block certain applications and maintain control over specific applications. 

Application awareness is one of many additional features NGFW firewalls can use to protect your business network.

Read more: What Does a Next Generation Firewall Do?

What is a unified threat management (UTM) system?

A unified threat management (UTM) system is a comprehensive system that provides a single protection point against many of the most common cyber security threats. 

A UTM appliance provides several layers of network protection. These layers consist of next-generation firewalls, antivirus software, intrusion and detection prevention systems (IDPS), website and spam filtering, and virtual private network (VPN) functionality. 

Read more on eSecurity Planet: UTM Appliance Definition

What is the main difference between NGFW and UTM?

Both NGFW and UTM products aim to protect a business network from cyber security threats and vulnerabilities. These network security solutions may serve similar purposes, but they are slightly different.

The most significant difference between the two solutions is that UTM systems incorporate NGFW capabilities with other network security tasks:

  • Endpoint protection protects desktops, laptops, and servers with antivirus and web security software.
  • Web protection guards against web threats, controls online activity, and manages application bandwidth.
  • Modifiable intrusion protection and adjustable VPN options provide flexible site-to-site connectivity and remote access.
  • Email protection stops spam and viruses while keeping data secure with Data Loss Protection (DLP) processes and technology.
  • Webserver protection uses a reverse proxy that protects servers from exploits and authenticates client requests to the appropriate backend server.

Though UTM systems generally offer a wider variety of network protections, they may not be able to accommodate advanced security needs as easily as a dedicated NGFW product. Organizations with highly complex networks may benefit more from a combination of standalone solutions rather than an all-inclusive appliance.

Many network security specialists believe UTMs are best suited for small to midsize businesses because of their versatility, whereas NGFWs are for large corporations with large volumes of data traversing the network.

NGFW vs UTM: How to choose the right network security tools

The decision to use an NGFW or a UTM should be based on the size of the company and the expertise, experience, and size of the security staff. Small to midsize companies with limited security staff may opt for a UTM solution, and larger companies that are adequately staffed with experienced IT security personnel may lean toward an NGFW solution.  

Both products work for their respective organizations, but companies can enhance their posture with additional network security tools and best practices. 

By implementing microsegmentation and zero trust security, for example, businesses can segment portions of the business network to prevent a malware attack from spreading. CIOs and CTOs may also select a security, information, and event management (SIEM) or security, orchestration, automation, and response (SOAR) solution to help IT security staff protect the business network from cyber threats and vulnerabilities. 

There is some ambiguity surrounding which network security tools CIOs and CTOs should consider. The right solution—or combination of solutions—depends on each organization’s unique challenges and needs. In most cases, strong network security depends on an arsenal of protective measures and best practices.

Read next: 5 Tips For Fostering Enterprise Network Security

Don Hall
Don Hall
Don Hall has been employed as an IT Manager/Supervisor in the U.S. Government for over twenty years. He has managed programmers, cyber security, and infrastructure/networking personnel during his management career. Hall currently works as an IT Operations Officer that requires him to have general knowledge of various IT topics to assist his Command in making informed decisions or recommendations on behalf of the customers we support.

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