Older perimeter-based firewalls aren’t up to the task of safeguarding today’s more distributed networks. But that doesn’t mean the end of the firewall is in sight. On the contrary, businesses and other groups are turning to next-generation firewalls (NGFWs) hosted in the cloud to fulfill their evolving security needs. These ‘virtual’ firewalls can be even more useful when combined with other digital defense concepts such the zero trust model.

Can Firewalls and Zero Trust Work Together?

Not everyone thinks they can. For example, Daniel Schiappa explained to Forbes how he felt the future of security will have “no corporate firewall, no network.” He noted that zero trust can help organizations achieve this future by treating users as consumers who need to provide everything for the purpose of authentication. Therefore, they are “eliminating the need to jump through hoops like VPNs [virtual private networks] and firewalls.”

Data Center Knowledge put it even more bluntly in a 2019 article: “The firewall is dead, and zero trust is here to replace it.”

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Working With NGFWs and Zero Trust

However, NGFWs and zero trust can work together. In fact, Forrester sees NGFWs as “the cornerstone of zero trust.” In that view, NGFWs don’t act as firewalls in a zero trust network. Instead, they function as segmentation gateways.

As noted by Forrester, segmentation gateways offer the security controls you get from firewalls, plus more. They also include web application firewalls, network access controls and VPN gateways in a single solution. This means segmentation gateways can sit not at the network perimeter, as with basic firewalls, but in the center. With this type of deployment, Forrester explains, admins can use segmentation gateways to gain insight into data access. From there, they can increase their chances of spotting an intrusion before it balloons into a full-fledged attack.

Segmentation gateways uphold a core tenet of the zero trust model: micro-segmentation. Micro-segmentation uses security policies to create secure zones based not around a user’s IP address, but based on the apps and data they need in order to do their jobs. This reduces the attack surface by limiting lateral movement between different sections of a divided data center.

Enforcing Tomorrow’s Defensive Needs

With a NFGW acting as a segmentation gateway, businesses can enforce zero trust in their networks. Specifically, it helps extend the principle of least privilege to the NFGW. From there, you can create firewall rules that restrict traffic between network segments based on users’ and the business’ needs. Admins can also configure their firewalls to look at all inbound and outbound traffic for signs of suspicious behavior, and to check that behavior against disallow lists and domain name system rules. Both of these measures will help you place virtual firewalls at the center of their zero trust strategies.

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