One of the most commonly used – yet misunderstood – terms in all of network security is the “next generation firewall”. When we look under the covers, we see that most “next generation” firewalls are still relatively limited, providing only application and user ID awareness. Visibility into how the network is being used might produce a report that may make for a curious read. But there’s so much more going on in your network, app and ID just don’t go far enough to help administrators with actionable security enforcement. For example, knowing which interns are the heaviest Facebook users is one thing; knowing that the majority of their network traffic is due to video uploads to Facebook – and having the ability to disallow those uploads – is quite another.
Think of it this way. In scenarios that require additional context beyond what can be provided by a classic firewall, current next generation firewalls still lack the level of visibility required for administrators to make intelligent security decisions. I liken it to a knock at your door at midnight, and the porch light is out. How many of us would open the door anyway, without knowing who or what is on the other side? Of course, the safest thing to do is to keep the door closed and locked, rather than opening it to a potential threat. That’s exactly what so many firewall administrators are doing today – in fear of opening the network to unknown attacks, they say “no” to users, applications, devices, and new use cases that can tremendously improve the efficiency of the organization.
Unfortunately, the behavior with “next generation” firewalls isn’t much different. Though our porch light may be on now, it’s dim and we can’t see much out of the peephole in the door. What’s more, we only have two options – either completely open the door or leave it completely closed. This is because next generation firewalls don’t offer the level of granularity required, so entire applications must be allowed or denied. Think of a complex application with an array of micro-applications such as Facebook; current next generation firewalls on provide administrators with the capability to “allow” or “deny”, without the additional granularity to “Allow Facebook, but deny Farmville”.
As a result, we still have to be weary of opening the door, since we can’t truly know who or what is out there. Bottom line, unless we’re sure, it’s still safer to say “no”. That means saying no to the growing number and types of devices that are being used to access the corporate network, including iPhones, iPads, and Android devices; it also means locking down applications such as Facebook and Twitter, which have legitimate business uses. So not only is having to always say “no” a dark, lonely place to be – it also puts an artificial cap on corporate productivity!
Today’s announcement of Cisco ASA CX Context-Aware Security changes all of this by extending the ASA platform with unprecedented visibility and control. ASA CX uses the Cisco SecureX framework to gain end-to-end network intelligence from the local network using Cisco AnyConnect Secure Mobility, and to gain near-real-time global threat information from Cisco Security Intelligence Operation (SIO). As a result, ASA CX empowers enterprises to finally say “yes” to applications, devices, and the evolving global workforce while maximizing protection and control.
Going back to our example of a knock at our door, ASA CX is like looking through a picture window at noontime, rather than the peephole at midnight. While the firewall itself is powerful, what really makes ASA CX so exceptional compared with current “next generation” firewalls is its capability to gather extraordinary amounts of intelligence from throughout the local and global network, including deep application visibility; identity of users, as well as the devices they are using to access the network; and proactive, reputation-based threat protection backed by global correlation. It makes this intelligence available in a simple, intuitive interface. This, in turn, enables administrators to truly understand what’s happening throughout the network, so that they can make more informed security decisions and write more effective policies. As a result, they can strike a real balance between flexibility and control!
So now that we know what true visibility really is, who would still settle for making decisions based on looking through the peephole at midnight?
For more information, visit http://www.cisco.com/go/asacx or the following video.