NordLayer - Network Security

What is Firewall as a Service (FWaaS)?

By NordLayer
20 Dec 2022
7 min read
What is Firewall as a Service

A firewall is a barrier that helps prevent unauthorized network traffic. This is done by actively monitoring incoming and outgoing traffic and enforcing additional organization security policies. Originally, firewalls were deployed internally to protect on-site networks, but changing cyber-landscape required adapting this functionality for the modern age.

It created an entirely new subset of next-generation firewall (NGFW) operating within the 7th layer of the OSI model. Therefore, the capabilities included access controls, advanced threat prevention, intrusion prevention systems, and DNS security solution.

Meanwhile, Firewall as a service, or FWaaS, creates a remotely delivered cybersecurity solution licensed on a subscription basis. Let’s take a deeper look into FWaaS solutions.

How does FWaaS work?

Similarly to NGFWs, Firewall as a Service filters network traffic to secure the organization from various threats. The key difference is that it operates within the cloud infrastructure model. Otherwise, FWaaS service provides standard firewall features like packet filtering, network monitoring, IPsec security, IP mapping capabilities, and deeper content inspection and analysis features.

Each FWaaS provider’s customer is equipped with virtual instances to avoid overlaps between the separate clients. Therefore, separate clients can’t modify each other’s settings or inspect their traffic. Network administrators use a centralized console to configure firewalls to align with their internal policies ensuring network security.

Firewall’s position on the network chart

As FWaaS is positioned between a network and the internet, all traffic must pass through a firewall. Every single passed data packet’s header is analyzed, searching for behaviors that could be flagged as malicious. Deep packet inspection can look within the packet’s data, as well looking for headers that could be malicious.

As most components of business infrastructure are increasingly moved to the cloud, the same holds for firewalls, as well. Having a firewall embedded within the fabric of your network has the additional benefit of greater synergy.

Why do companies need FWaaS?

FWaaS platform adoption is growing because it addresses several significant network security areas.

Cloud computing is generally seen as a cheaper and more flexible option, so there’s been a huge push to transition from on-premises setups. This often means outsourcing infrastructure, software, and other services to the cloud, including FWaaS. The cloud provider, then, maintains hardware infrastructure, powering your solution. Usually, a service agreement is signed to clearly outline the provided features, depending on the chosen subscription plans.

The second main reason is seen as better efficiency. Most traffic originating from outside the organization will remain in the cloud. This means that it’s simply inefficient to backhaul this data through on-premises servers. The whole setup, in most cases, will be more efficient when it is operating from the cloud. Not to mention that as all users are connected through a single logical firewall, this also provides a unified security policy enforcement.

Therefore, high flexibility and greater efficiency are the main driving forces behind widespread FWaaS adoption. It provides a cloud-based firewall without expensive investments into on-premises WAN infrastructure. It also advances business IT maturity making it easier to transition into Secure Access Service Edge territory. 

Benefits of FWaaS

Adopting Firewall as a Service brings a handful of additional benefits. Consider these advantages when comparing FWaaS with on-premises solutions.

Unified security policy

FWaaS allows the combining of several security mechanisms into a single solution. This means that such a firewall can tackle a much wider variety of cyber threats. It helps avoid redundant purchases where multiple solutions handle the same threats. A single service provider, in this sense, takes care of multiple facets of your cybersecurity architecture, streamlining the internal security processes.

Such an approach helps to avoid internal compatibility issues between different security solutions. As different providers put their focus on different areas, this could mean leaving open gaps in security that could be exploited. A unified solution provides a holistic overview of the company’s security.

Easy deployment

When comparing the lengths that an organization would have to go to set up an in-house firewall and FWaaS, it’s no contest. The service provider takes the responsibility of deployment and maintenance with little or no input needed from the company itself. Only the basic information is required to get started, while in more particular cases, like custom configurations, it’s easily adjustable. FWaaS solutions are ready to be deployed from the data centers as soon as the contract is signed.

Internal deployments can be lengthy, even without factoring in procurement. So the whole operation could be dragging months if your organization chooses to pick the route of internal setup. FWaaS helps save time and resources by providing an instant solution ready to be used from the get-go.

Flexible scalability

In cases when the business doesn’t need as many resources allocated, or on the contrary — when the business is growing faster than anticipated, it’s easy to make adjustments. All it takes is to have a word with your Firewall as a Service provider, and they can reallocate their infrastructure to suit your needs. Even if the scaleup proves ineffective, it’s easy to roll back to your previous configuration. That is nearly impossible to pull off with on-premises solutions. For the most part, your organization will have to live with the aftermath of its decisions, even if that means maintaining excessive server stacks.

FWaaS providers have everything already set up, so they only allocate small portions of their resources, which is a fundamentally different mode of operation from the hardware stack you need to manage.

FWaaS vs. NGFWs

Although both FWaaS and NGFWs are firewall solution types, they have some distinct differences. They also should be key differentiating factors that could make the case of prioritizing one or the other, depending on your unique business case.

overlaps between cloud firewall and next-generation firewall

Let’s start with some basics: NGFW contains Intrusion Prevention System, Deep Packet Inspection, and application control. Meanwhile, FWaaS is a cloud firewall that a cloud vendor manages. It’s important to emphasize that FWaaS can have NGFW capabilities, and NGFW can also be hosted on the cloud, but it’s not a key requirement, so it won’t always be included by default.

Differences between FWaaS and NGFW chart

Still, Firewall as a Service provides faster cloud applications performance than standard NGFW. For cases when NGFW is set up on-premises, this would mean sending data back to the HQ to pass the firewall before sending it back to the internet again. With huge workloads, this could hurt performance.

In cases when an organization has several locations, this would also mean setting up NGFW on each of them individually. On the other hand, setting FWaaS on the cloud and linking all sites through it could be done once. It’s a much more straightforward approach.

Finally, there is a difference between some capabilities. While NGFW uses machine learning to identify new malware variants before they’re widely known, it can stumble in other areas. For instance, NGFW could need additional software to adequately inspect SSL traffic while all FWaaS natively inspects it.

What’s the difference between a regular firewall and FWaaS?

Traditional firewalls were a product of an era when there was a clear separation between on-premises and external networks. They inspected the data coming to corporate offices with the main goal of protecting internal networks. For this reason, they were also set up on-premises and were fully maintained by the in-house IT personnel.

As businesses shift towards cloud infrastructure, FWaaS becomes a more reasonable approach to counter an ever-evolving threat landscape. It’s a cloud-native solution that’s simply more useful when securing data, keeping endpoints safe, and carrying out security inspections. Delivered as an all-inclusive package, the service provider fully maintains it.

When the SaaS segment popularity is rising, traditional firewalls are rapidly being phased out by ​​FWaaS or NGFW solutions. Regular firewalls aren’t really an option for the cloud-based infrastructure as the whole system heavily relies on external connections. Being strict with the access rules would risk interrupting job functions and being ineffective in terms of security.

FWaaS address the modern organization’s needs in terms of cybersecurity while also being a much more flexible solution. Its operation protects externally hosted resources while being strict about who can access them. This takes care of both the security and convenience aspects that network administrators are the most concerned about.

When is FWaaS right for your organization?

Whether the FWaaS is right for your organization will depend on your infrastructure. If your IT infrastructure is already moved to the cloud, then FWaaS is the only reasonable solution. You’ll likely get the best possible efficiency, especially if your workflows rely heavily on cloud applications.

However, if your infrastructure is hybrid or relies on physical infrastructure, you shouldn’t be hasty when deciding. You should evaluate how much you rely on cloud applications and whether your company’s IT should transition to the cloud. Otherwise, it might be a much better fit to stick with NGFWs. The bottom line is that a firewall should follow your applications and resources, not the other way around.

FWaaS provides the best combination of security and efficiency when it’s organically implemented in your organization to complement your existing infrastructure. This allows you to streamline your internal processes and better resist various cyber threats.

How can NordLayer help?

SaaS applications blend flexibility with affordable pricing plans, companies can find an effective solution addressing their specific needs. As security is often looked at as a secondary need, companies are often exposed to various threats.

NordLayer helps to address various cybersecurity concerns by providing an SSE-focused solution that helps to secure your networks. NordLayer is a complementary addition to your IT infrastructure, from access management to network security. It allows steering clear of potential cyber threats when running a globally distributed organization.

Firewall as a Service coming soon to NordLayer

NordLayer clients will soon be able to create rules for their Virtual Private Gateways by allowing or denying access to specified destinations. The organization’s owner will be able to define who is allowed to access the organization’s cloud resources based on the following:

  • The traffic source (teams and standalone members)

  • The traffic destination (resource being accessed online)

  • Services (ports and protocols used to access the resource)

Firewall rules will be applied on a  member level during their connection to the organization’s Virtual Private Gateway. This means that when these rules are active, every user can only operate within an allowed perimeter defined by their organization owner.

This new feature will allow modern organizations operating within the cloud to have more granular control over access to their resources and infrastructure. FWaaS extends the range of traditional firewall capabilities and centralized network security for businesses looking to move forward with the Zero Trust framework.

Get in touch with our experts today, and learn how NordLayer could improve your network security with a click of a button.

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