Now that we’ve been through the drivers for evolved, application-aware firewalls, and a lot of the technology enabling them, how does the selection process need to evolve to keep pace? As with most of our research at Securosis, we favor mapping out a very detailed process, and leaving you to decide which steps make sense in your situation. So we don’t expect every organization to go through every step in this process. Figure out which are appropriate for your organization and use those.

To be clear, buying an enterprise firewall usually involves calling up your reseller and getting the paperwork for the renewal. But given that these firewalls imply new application policies and perhaps a different deployment architecture, some work must be done during selection process to get things right.

Define Needs

The key here is to understand which applications you want to control, and how much you want to consider collapsing functionality (IDS/IPS, web filtering, UTM) into the enterprise firewall. A few steps to consider here are:

  • Create an oversight committee: We hate the term ‘committee’ to, but the reality is that an application aware firewall will impact activities across several groups. Clearly this is not just all about the security team, but also the network team and the application teams as well – at minimum, you will need to profile their applications. So it’s best to get someone from each of these teams (to whatever degree they exist in your organization) on the committee. Ensure they understand your objectives for the new enterprise firewall, and make sure it’s clear how their operations will change.
  • Define the applications to control: Which applications do you need to control? You may not actually know this until you install one of these devices and see what visibility they provide into applications traversing the firewall. We’ll discuss phasing in your deployment, but you need to understand what degree of granularity you need from a blocking standpoint, as that will drive some aspects of selection.
  • Determine management requirements: The deployment scenario will drive these. Do you need the console to manage the policies? To generate reports? For dashboards? The degree to which you need management help (if you have a third party tool, the answer should be: not much) will define a set of management requirements.
  • Product versus managed service: Do you plan to use a managed service for either managing or monitoring the enterprise firewall? Have you selected a provider? The provider might define your short list before you even start.

By the end of this phase you should have identified key stakeholders, convened a selection team, prioritized the applications to control, and determined management requirements.

Formalize Requirements

This phase can be performed by a smaller team working under the mandate of the selection committee. Here the generic needs determined in phase 1 are translated into specific technical features, and any additional requirements are considered. You can always refine these requirements as you proceed through the selection process and get a better feel for how the products work (and how effective and flexible they are at blocking applications).

At the conclusion of this stage you will develop a formal RFI (Request For Information) to release to vendors, and a rough RFP (Request For Proposals) that you’ll clean up and formally issue in the evaluation phase.

Evaluate Products

Increasingly we see firewall vendors starting to talk about application awareness, new architectures, and very similar feature sets. The following steps should minimize your risk and help you feel confident in your final decision:

  • Issue the RFI: Larger organizations should issue an RFI though established channels and contact a few leading enterprise firewall vendors directly. Though in reality virtually all the firewall players sell through the security channel, so it’s likely you will end up going through a VAR.
  • Define the short list: Before bringing anyone in, match any materials from the vendor or other sources to your RFI and draft RFP. Your goal is to build a short list of 3 products which can satisfy most of your needs. You should also use outside research sources and product comparisons. Understand that you’ll likely need to compromise at some point in the process, as it’s unlikely any vendor can meet every requirement.
  • Dog and Pony Show: Instead of generic presentations and demonstrations, ask the vendors to walk you through how they protect the specific applications you are worried about. This is critical, because the vendors are very good at showing cool eye candy and presenting a long list of generic supported applications. Don’t expect a full response to your draft RFP – these meetings are to help you better understand how each vendor can solve your specific use cases and to finalize your requirements.
  • Finalize and issue your RFP: At this point you should completely understand your specific requirements, and issue a final formal RFP.
  • Assess RFP responses and start proof of concept (PoC): Review the RFP results and drop anyone who doesn’t meet your hard requirements. Then bring in any remaining products for in-house testing. Given that it’s not advisable to pop holes in your perimeter when learning how to manage these devices, we suggest a layered approach.
    • Test Ingress: First test your ingress connection by installing the new firewall in front of the existing perimeter gateway. Migrate your policies over, let the box run for a little while, and see what it’s blocking and what it’s not.
    • Test Egress: Then move the firewall to the other side of the perimeter gateway, so it’s in position to do egress filtering on all your traffic. We suggest you monitor the traffic for a while to understand what is happening, and then define egress filtering policies.

Understand that you need to devote resources to each PoC, and testing ingress separately from egress adds time to the process. But it’s not feasible to leave the perimeter unprotected while you figure out what works, so this approach gives you that protection and the ability to run the devices in pseudo-production mode.

Selection and Deployment

  • Select, negotiate, and buy: Finish testing, take the results to the full selection committee, and begin negotiating with your top two choices, assuming more than one meets your needs. Yes; this takes more time; but you want to be able to walk away from one of the vendors if they won’t play on with pricing, terms, or conditions.
  • Implementation planning: Congratulations, you’ve selected a product, navigated the procurement process, and made a sales rep happy. But now the next stage of work begins – the last phase of selection is planning the deployment. That means making sure of little details, lining up resources, locking in an install schedule, and even figuring out the logistics of getting devices to (and installed at) the right locations.

I can hear your groans from small to medium sized business who look at this process and think this is a ridiculous amount of detail. Once again, we want to stress that we deliberately created a granular selection process, but you can pare this down to meet your organization’s requirements. We wanted to ensure we captured all the gory details some organizations need to go through for a successful procurement. The full process outlined is appropriate for a large enterprise, but a little pruning can make it manageable for small groups. That’s the great thing about process: you can change it any way you see fit at no expense.

With that, we end our series on Understanding and Selecting an Enterprise Firewall. Hopefully it will be useful as you proceed through your own selection process. As always, we appreciate all your comments on our research. We’ll be packaging up the entire series as a white paper over the next few weeks, so stay tuned for that.

Other Posts in Understanding and Selecting an Enterprise Firewall

  1. Introduction
  2. Application Awareness, Part 1
  3. Application Awareness, Part 2
  4. Technical Architecture, Part 1
  5. Technical Architecture, Part 2
  6. Deployment Considerations
  7. Management
  8. Advanced Features, Part 1
  9. Advanced Features, Part 2
  10. To UTM or not to UTM