Dirty secrets of network firewalls

Sophos has announced the findings of its global survey: “The dirty secrets of network firewalls”, which revealed that IT managers cannot identify 45% of their organisation’s network traffic. In fact, nearly one in four cannot identify 70% of their network traffic. 

The lack of visibility creates significant security challenges for today’s businesses and impacts effective network management. The survey polled more than 2 700 IT decision-makers from mid-sized businesses in 10 countries, including the US, Canada, Mexico, France, Germany, UK, Australia, Japan, India and South Africa. 

Considering the debilitating impact cyber attacks can have on a business, it’s unsurprising that 84% of respondents agree that a lack of application visibility is a serious security concern. Without the ability to identify what’s running on their network, IT managers are blind to ransomware, unknown malware, data breaches and other advanced threats, as well as potentially malicious applications and rogue users. 

Network firewalls with signature-based detection are unable to provide adequate visibility into application traffic due to a variety of factors, such as the increasing use of encryption, browser emulation and advanced evasion techniques. 

“If you can’t see everything on your network, you can’t ever be confident that your organisation is protected from threats. IT professionals have been flying blind for too long, and cyber-criminals take advantage of this,” says Brett Myroff, MD of Sophos distributor, Netxactics. “With governments worldwide introducing stiffer penalties for data breach and loss, knowing who and what is on your network is becoming increasingly important. This dirty secret can’t be ignored any longer.” 

On average, organisations spend seven working days remediating 16 infected machines per month. Smaller organisations (100 to 1 000 users) spend on average five working days remediating 13 machines, while larger organisations (1 001 to 5 000 users) spend on average 10 working days remediating 20 machines per month, according to the survey. 

“A single network breach often leads to the compromise of multiple computers, so the faster you can stop the infection from spreading, the more you limit the damage and time needed to clean it up,” Myroff says. “Companies are looking for the kind of next-generation, integrated network and endpoint protection that can stop advanced threats and prevent an isolated incident from turning into a widespread outbreak. Sophisticated exploits such as MimiKatz and EternalBlue reminded everyone that network protection is critical to endpoint security and vice versa. Only direct intelligence sharing between these two can reveal the true nature of who and what is operating on your network.” 

IT managers are aware that firewalls need an upgrade in protection. In fact, the survey revealed 79% of IT managers polled want better protection from their current firewall. Ninety-nine percent want firewall technology that can automatically isolate infected computers, and 97% want endpoint and firewall protection from the same vendor, which allows for direct sharing of security status information. 

Security not the only risk to businesses 

Following security risks, lost productivity was cited as a concern for 52% of respondents when it comes to a lack of network visibility. Business productivity can be negatively impacted if IT is unable to prioritise bandwidth for critical applications. 

For industries that rely on custom software to meet specific business needs, an inability to prioritise these mission-critical applications over less important traffic could be costly. Fifty percent of IT professionals who had invested in custom applications admitted their firewall could not identify the traffic and therefore were unable to maximise their return on investment. Lack of visibility also creates a blind spot for the potential transfer of illegal or inappropriate content on corporate networks, making companies vulnerable to litigation and compliance issues.  

“Organisations need a firewall that protects their investment in business-critical and custom applications by allowing employees to have prioritised access to the applications they need,” Myroff adds. “Increasing network visibility requires a radically different approach. By enabling the firewall to receive information directly from the endpoint security, it can now positively identify all applications, even obscure or custom applications.” 

The survey was conducted by Vanson Bourne, an independent specialist in market research, in October and November 2017. This survey interviewed 2 700 IT decision-makers from organisations of between 100 and 5 000 users.

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