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Firewall Management Best Practices

Regardless of how big or small your business is, one thing is a fact – without an efficient and strong firewall, you are more exposed to cyber-attacks, stolen data, and severe risks for your business, your employees, and your clients or partners. A firewall is your most reliable form of defense against hackers and unauthorized users. It guarantees that external users won’t be able to gain access to private business assets and valuable information.

According to The Global Risks Report 2020, cyberattacks are the 5th top-rated risk for 2020 in the private and public sectors. And the risk will only continue expanding as IoT cyberattacks are forecasted to increase almost twice by 2025. No industry is entirely protected and ensuring a high-quality cybersecurity system is of utter importance. This is where firewalls take centre stage.

In this article, we’ll quickly look at the main reasons why you need a firewall and we’ll explore some of the best practices for managing a firewall.

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Why does your business need a firewall?

Before we dig deeper into firewall management best practices, it’s worth exploring why you need a firewall in the first place. Apart from protecting your organization from unauthorized individuals or external users, a firewall can also:

  • Block access to certain websites that are considered unapproved
  • Inspect traffic from and to your network in search of threats like viruses, worms, spam, and others
  • Limit the network bandwidth going through for certain things like music, photos, or non-business related content
  • Offer site-to-site connectivity via VPN

In general, firewalls make all network-related activities and operations a lot safer and ensure that your business data is protected. After all, a breach of data can not only harm your internal business operations but can dramatically damage your business reputation and lose your clients’ trust.

So what can you do to ensure your firewall is in perfect working order and condition?

Best practices for firewall management

Due to the fact that a range of factors impact the network, security, and system processes of your business, the management, configuration, and troubleshooting of your firewall could be a lot more challenging than it sounds. Proper firewall management by network administrators will guarantee that the IT infrastructure is protected and secured from threatening traffic external to the network or any unauthorized traffic. Here are a few best practices for firewall management that could be helpful.

Plan routine firewall security audits

In order to spot any policy violations, it’s essential for your IT security team to carry out regular and routine firewall security audits. The audits are designed to check if the firewall rules are in accordance with organizational security regulations or compliance requirements that come from the outside. Firewall policy changes that have not been authorized could lead to non-compliance and a range of other threats and problems.

Ongoing firewall rule changes may lead to exposure to other networks, therefore it’s vital to have the ability to identify the hosts that are threatened by services based on:

  • NAT rules
  • Routing
  • ACLs
  • Anti-proof settings

Once they have been identified, the rules responsible for threats, vulnerabilities, and risks should be isolated. An audit will make it easier for you to predict how your security profile will be affected by changes to the network. It’s recommended to conduct a firewall security audit every time:

  • A new firewall is installed
  • A firewall migration activity is being conducted on the network
  • A lot of configuration changes are carried out on the firewall

Supervise user access & control users who can change firewall configuration

Considering that your firewall is your defense against cyberattacks and hackers, it’s only natural that people with no authorization should be prohibited access to your network and external users should not have the authority to change your firewall configuration. Putting in place strict and reliable network-access security and user-permission control will help guarantee that authorized users are the only ones able to make amends to firewall rules.

Here are a few tips that could help you achieve this:

  • Use user profiles and create different access levels for IT employees who work with firewall management.
  • Guarantee that you’re able to revert to a previous state of the firewall in case of false configuration or unexpected changes.
  • Check for break-in attempts by observing firewall logs
  • Follow firewall configuration changes in real-time by using network configuration management techniques

Make sure the firewall software is updated on time

As with any type of app or software that you use, there are regular updates released by vendors which provide upgrades to the security of the firewall. If you want to prevent any risks and ensure your firewall is working to its full potential, make sure that it is regularly updated. When updated, it’s also recommended to conduct a vulnerability test to detect any potential weak spots or imperfections in the software. If necessary, make changes to guarantee no weaknesses are left behind.

Have a firewall change management plan in place

In order to guarantee that your firewall rules are evolving and are becoming even more reliable for securing and eliminating any risks to your network, it’s vital to have firewall changes. Without any changes, your security stays the same while hackers and malicious software become better. However, just because you’re considering a change doesn’t mean that things will get better.

A change that hasn’t been thought through can create loopholes in your network security and could make your network easy to break into. This is why it’s essential to have a clear, well-defined, and complete firewall change management plan in place. It should comprise of:

  • A full list of changes and what they aim to achieve
  • An overview of estimated risk as a result of the policy changes, how they’ll impact the organization, and a mitigation plan
  • Information on who was responsible for the change, when it was put in place, the reasons for the change, and the results
  • A workflow of the management and control of the change and policy that is centralized and informative about the activities between network teams involved

Change is a good thing but it does require a level of preparation and planning beforehand. Make sure you’re fully aware of the implications of your firewall policy changes.

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Inspect the consequences of firewall policy changes

Before implementing a new rule or changing a current rule in your firewall policy, test it to see the outcomes. Working in a test environment before implementing the change in the actual system could help you spot any threats, weaknesses, or other areas that you may need to pay attention to before making the change official. This could help you prevent any undesired consequences in terms of network traffic flow, firewall performance, and influence on other devices or systems.

One of the ways to do this is by using a virtual sandbox or a security management tool for predictive change modelling, which will help you to simulate the change.

Upgrade your firewall rule base and keep it clean

If you want to upgrade your firewall security, boost your firewall performance, and increase its efficiency, it’s essential to clean up your firewall rule base and optimize it. Chaos and confusion may be caused by an abundance of firewall rules, redundancies, duplicate rules, or bloated rules.

Here are some negative consequences that you can avoid by ensuring regular clean-up and optimization:

  • Backdoor entry points as a result of conflicting rules
  • Vital rules can be left unimplemented due to shadowed rules
  • Rule malfunctioning as a result of incorrect rules with inaccuracies
  • A slow firewall performance due to duplicate rules
  • Complex rule management or new security risks created via orphaned rules

To avoid these negative scenarios, all you have to do is ensure all unnecessary rules are safely removed and the ones that you do need are optimized and properly maintained.

Firewall management is essential for protecting your business

Firewalls are a vital part of your business but just like any other software, device, or app, they do require a level of attention and maintenance in order to function to their fullest potential and provide results. Leaving your firewall to simply function according to faith won’t guarantee the security of your business’ network. In fact, it could only make things worse and attract hackers as it is likely to be an easy hit with a poor firewall system.

To prevent any malicious devices or software from having access to your network, it’s vital to abide by these firewall management best practices. We hope that you’ll find these tips and hints useful and they’ll help you keep your organization protected from the diverse range of cyber threats out there.