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What Is The Difference Between a Firewall And a Next-Generation Firewall?

Firewalls are a valuable tool to protect networks against cyber threats and maintain data security. And while this remains the fundamental function of all firewalls, they do vary in features and capabilities. Here’s a look at the differences between a firewall and the next-generation firewall (NGFW). 

What Is A Firewall?

What is known as a ‘traditional’ firewall, this software is designed to monitor the flow of traffic entering and exiting a network. The elements analysed by a firewall include the port, protocol, source and destination address. 

What Is A Next-Generation Firewall?

As the name suggests, the next-generation firewall is a step up in firewall technology, providing advanced network protection. In addition to the traditional firewall features, NGFW includes application-level inspection and intrusion prevention. 

Where They Overlap

To get a base understanding of the firewall and NGFW features, here’s a look at what both include (in some form or another):

  • Stateful inspection / dynamic packet filter: This checks the validity of all connections 
  • Static packet filtering: Blocks packets based on certain ports, protocols and addresses
  • Network address translation: This re-maps IP addresses in packet headers
  • VPN (Virtual Private Network) support: This maintains security features of the private network where it traverses the internet

What Are The Features Of A Next-Generation Firewall?

The NGFW will include all the aforementioned features, as well as some additional protective measures. These include:

  • Deep packet inspection (DPI) – In a traditional firewall, the packet inspection will only check the header, whereas a DPI will check the actual contents of the packet as well, including the source. 
  • Application awareness – This feature will allow an organisation to check the context of the packet by using an application-specific guide. Once identified, users can either allow, block or limit applications.
  • Intrusion prevention system (IPS) – The traditional firewall uses an intrusion detection system (IDS), and the IPS effectively stops the intrusion once it’s detected. Further to this, the IP address will be blacklisted to prevent further intrusions. 
  • Stateful inspection – Where a traditional firewall will check the individual packet in isolation, the NGFW has stateful inspection capabilities, allowing it to identify the packet’s operating state. Through stateful inspection, the firewall determines whether a packet is safe, malicious, or somewhere in between. 
  • Centralised management – This management system allows organisations to perform log analysis and implement policy management. Administrators can monitor the security dashboard to assess traffic patterns and potential network risks. 
  • Monitor encrypted traffic – The NGFW allows for the monitoring of all SSL and HTTP traffic flows. By supporting inbound and outbound SSL decryption capabilities, users can prevent threats in encrypted network streams.  
  • Anti-virus and anti-bot – An inbuilt anti-virus allows the NGFW to inspect https traffic for any infected files. They also identify malware from internet-accessed files.  
  • Security integration – Because the NGFW can integrate with other security solutions, the overall system’s security is enhanced. 

The next-generation firewall’s differentiating features equip it to address Advanced Persistent Threats (APT). They offer organisations the option of elevating network security systems through all-inclusive software.

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