Using firewalls is a common practice to secure private networks, and it’s pretty much the standard now. But there is a fine line between using a firewall and using it effectively, and it all comes down to the configurations. Firewall configurations are the single most important thing governing how well your firewall is working. There are several best practices you can follow to maximize the security level, and we are here to talk about them.
That’s why we created this comprehensive guide; you’ll see everything from defining your network to using firewalls with other security services to get a better result. Let’s jump into the article to start learning how we can leverage firewall solutions to build a bulletproof security structure.
Understanding the Importance of Proper Firewall Configuration
A firewall act as a real wall between your network and the dangers of the vast world of the Internet. They control incoming and outgoing traffic based on their configurations and the set of rules implemented by the professionals.
The primary objective of a well-configured firewall is to protect your network against unauthorized access, data breaches, and other malicious attacks. A proper firewall configuration ensures that it denies any suspicious traffic while simplifying legitimate communications and network activities.
Without a secure configuration, your network becomes vulnerable to various types of attacks and cybercriminals who are looking to exploit them. This can disrupt your operations, cause profit and sensitive data loss. Or, it can hinder legitimate operations and make your employees virtually impossible to work.
Defining Your Network: Internal and External Traffic
Before getting started with the configuration, it is important to define the boundaries of your network and the traffic that goes through it. This is to understand your business and security needs and set up the rules based on them.
Internal traffic denotes communication and data exchange within your company’s private network. It includes interactions among devices like computers, printers, and servers used by employees in the local area network (LAN). When configuring the firewall for internal traffic, allow only essential services and protocols for smooth communication while blocking illegal attempts to access critical information. By doing so, organizations can foster effective cooperation and mitigate risks from internal threats.
External traffic refers to the communication between your network and the Internet, or other external networks. This traffic is usually more prone to security risks than internal traffic since it involves unknown entities. External traffic configurations should therefore be more strict. Implementing a least-privilege approach here is one of the best practices to follow.
The Principle of Least Privilege in Firewall Configuration
The Principle of Least Privilege (PoLP) is vital in firewall configuration. The main idea behind this principle is providing the least possible access rights to users to still allow them to work seamlessly, but prevent access to any unnecessary resource. By doing so, you will minimize the attack surface and unauthorized access attempts, thus preventing internal threats.
When implementing PoLP, specify allowed IP addresses, ports, and protocols. To control it individually, assign access based on devices and employees. When you make any changes, test it in a staging environment so it does not lead to security gaps.
PoLP is especially important since the human factor is significant in cybersecurity. If you have a team of employees that knows their boundaries and responsibilities, you basically have a human firewall.
Setting Up Default Deny: Why It’s Crucial
Enforcing a “Default Deny” policy in your firework configuration is essential for the maximum level of security you’re looking for in a firewall. This term refers to the practice of denying all external or internal traffic, other than the ones specifically allowed. The default Deny approach minimizes the risk of a data breach and unauthorized access.
However, it is essential to carefully create a list of allowed sources so the firewall allows legitimate communication, and does not interfere with them. The setting of the firewall is more effective and secure if you routinely evaluate and change these rules. By implementing a Default Deny policy, you create a robust security posture that better protects your network and digital assets.
Importance of Egress Filtering in Firewall Configuration
Egress filtering is a vital aspect of network security as it goes beyond inbound traffic. Egress filtering involves controlling the flow of outbound traffic from your network to the Internet or other external networks. By doing so, it protects the network from external threats and ensures compliance.
A properly configured egress filtering system acts as a vital barrier, stopping unlawful data exfiltration and keeping sensitive data inside the organization’s network. This safety precaution is essential to preventing negative outcomes brought on by data leaks and illegal external transfers.
Regular updates in egress filtering enable you to keep up with the changing needs of your business and safeguard your network against unauthorized data transfers. Implementing egress filtering addresses both inbound and outbound traffic effectively, and protects sensitive information.
Role of Intrusion Detection Systems in Firewalls
Intrusion detection systems give the best result when working in collaboration with firewalls. Similar to firewalls, IDS is designed to monitor a network and detect any potential security incidents as soon as possible. By helping firewalls, IDS solutions extend the level of perimeter security. There is a significant distinction between the two though; while firewalls practically control the access to the network, IDS mainly look for anomalies.
IDS functions primarily in two modes: anomaly-based and signature-based. While anomaly-based IDS spots change from typical network activity, signature-based IDS recognizes well-known attack methods. The efficacy of the system is increased by integrating both types.
It is important to understand that while IDS is a great way to extend detection capabilities, it needs to be regularly updated, rules should be reviewed, and it should constantly be monitored to be effective.
Regular Firewall Audits: The Key to Maintaining Security
Same as any other security tool you can think of, firewalls are not always perfect. That’s why you need to prioritize regular firewall audits and aim to make it better at every step. These audits are the best way to understand the current security level of your firewall and patch up vulnerabilities.
When conducting the audits, make sure to review firewall logs and try to gain an understanding of how your firewall reacts to certain access requests. Check if you can see any attack patterns to take proactive measures in the future. Assess your least-privilege access rights to ensure they are still up to date and in accordance with the current roles and responsibilities.
Case Studies: Successful Firewall Configurations and Their Impact
Adventist Health, a healthcare organization in the US, has dozens of hospitals and then thousands of employees. This huge network was too complicated to manage effectively, and it was causing configuration issues and complex policies.
To prevent further issues with their firewalls, the organization gets the firewall service from an online vendor. They centralized the firewall management, simplify the configurations, and set up a straightforward set of rules. This progress in their firewall structure resulted in better network protection, improved ability to detect potential risks, and facilitated management. The example of Adventist shows how firewall configurations and policies can change the way it works.