Securing Remote Workers With Firewall-as-a-Service

In today’s era of remote and hybrid work, organizations continue to grapple with many cybersecurity questions. What solutions can help companies effectively and securely manage remote employees? Is it possible to protect network traffic using cloud computing? How have targeted cyberattacks and advanced persistent threats (APTs) influenced the development of next-generation firewalls? And can firewall-as-a-service help organizations streamline remote workforce security?

Cloud computing has revolutionized the world of work, as many companies migrated corporate data and applications to the cloud. This has improved productivity, flexibility and reduced costs while driving innovation. But, there are downsides; with no fixed perimeter to protect, the interaction between users and enterprise environments has become much more complex.

Network Down Means Firewall Down

Firewalls are a corporate network’s first line of defense. No organization can function securely without a border guard security system—the perimeter that protects the company’s critical, on-premises assets. But the proliferation of web protocols and their use by hackers for targeted attacks using malware hidden in encrypted traffic spurred the development of next-generation firewalls (NGFWs). Such solutions included a firewall and unified threat management services. These provided multi-layered security and deep packet inspection to enable organizations to better understand and control application performance and better prevent web-based attacks.

Cloud Computing Changed the World

The advent of cloud computing offered organizations a solution that was impossible to ignore: Unlimited computing power and storage capacity with significantly lower operating costs combined with the ability to quickly scale business operations, all without installing additional equipment on-premises. The massive migration of corporate data and applications to the cloud introduced new challenges. With no fixed perimeter to protect, the relationship between firewalls and networks have become more complex. Although cloud providers offered basic security, it was inferior in effectiveness to on-premises firewalls; especially NGFWs. This problem was exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic as a result of the rapid transfer of employees to remote work, which had several consequences:

  • Remote users were forced to redirect all outbound traffic to centralized firewalls over expensive MPLS connections, resulting in degraded network performance due to latency.
  • Implementing security appliances and replicating firewall policies at each remote site significantly increased capital and operating costs. In addition, such hardware does not scale to accommodate the growing volume of user traffic.
  • Remote users who connected directly to the cloud often bypassed local security systems. Because the firewalls did not see the traffic from these remote users, the security team could not control it.
  • On-premises firewalls have had difficulty interacting with cloud-native solutions such as secure web gateways (SWG) and cloud access security brokers (CASB), which hampered the deployment of secure access service edge (SASE) technologies.

Firewall-as-a-Service (FWaaS)

The now-distributed remote workforce increased the scale and diversity of the threat landscape. According to a report from McAfee Labs, the volume of malware threats recorded in the first quarter of 2021 averaged 688 per minute, an increase of 3% (40 threats per minute) compared to the last quarter of 2020.

SWG and CASB solutions can effectively deal with the security issues inherent in web and SaaS traffic, respectively, but how can organizations ensure the safety of the rest of the data flow? This is where firewall-as-a-service (FWaaS) systems come in.

At its core, FWaaS is a cloud-hosted firewall. It offers all the features of NGFW like advanced packet inspection, application-level filtering, intrusion detection and prevention, advanced threat protection and more. While at first glance, FWaaS is simply a NGFW migrated to the cloud, the business benefits of this model are broader and more relevant to today’s workforce. Here are some of these benefits:

  • Support for remote employees and protection from local internet connection interruptions thanks to direct connections to the cloud; as a result, users experience reduced network delays and improved user experience.
  • There is no need to redirect traffic from remote sites to centralized firewalls over VPN and expensive MPLS connections; as a result, FWaaS reduces deployment costs.
  • Significant cost savings as there’s no need to install equipment in branch offices.
  • Aggregation of network traffic from local data centers, clouds, remote branches and users with the provision of centralized visibility and uniform application of policies to all objects.
  • Easy scaling that takes into account rapidly changing traffic volumes and the need to scan encrypted traffic for threats and malware.
  • Centralized update and patch management; as a result, operating costs for repetitive tasks are significantly reduced.

FWaaS Tackles Remote Security Challenges

Despite the variety and magnitude of threats, FWaaS can help companies effectively tackle security challenges by offering not only advanced threat protection, intrusion detection and prevention, but also a host of other relevant functions for improving the security of remote employees. At the same time, the system saves a lot of money since there’s no need to buy, install and support additional equipment in remote offices.

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