Remember firewalls? They’re simply a standard part of the overall security fabric now—analogous to XML in networks—but they’ve never gone away.

The firewall has been around since the earliest days of network security.

For a long time, they were the last line of defense in a network. However, with changing types of threats, ever-growing numbers of bad guys—and, in fact, organizations and countries—that are up to no good, and general IT advances, there has been increasing discussion about the firewall’s place in the network. Is a firewall still relevant in an age in which almost any security measure can be bypassed in a workaround? eWEEK and security policy management provider AlgoSec outline some major milestones in the history of the firewall, beginning from its early days as a proxy to packet filtering and continuing to next-generation firewalls (NGFWs), which include cloud-based versions. In addition, this slide show will present predictions on how the firewall and firewall management are likely to evolve.

Firewall Evolution: 5 Milestones, 5 Predictions
By Chris Preimesberger

Milestone: The Firewall as a Proxy
In the early 1990s, the firewall was a primitive piece of technology—really just a proxy. During this period, the proxies were often pushed to the perimeter of a network and used to proxy traffic resources within the internal network.

The traffic could be filtered and shaped to certain resources.

Milestone: Packet Filters
During the early 1990s, there were also packet filters, which ran on servers that inspected traffic coming into the network.

This is where administrators would create security policies and, in effect, rudimentary rule bases, which performed packet filtering based on five attributes of TCP/IP: Source IP, Source Port, Destination IP, Destination Port and Destination Protocol.

Milestone: Stateful Firewalls
While packet filtering only looks at an individual packet at a time, using stateful packet inspection, firewalls are able to retain packets until there is enough information to make a sound “yes” or “no” decision. Stateful firewalls are still used today, but that is starting to change.

Milestone: Unified Threat Management Becomes the Latest Buzzword
In the early 2000s, unified threat management (UTM) devices emerge in the market, providing an all-in-one appliance that combines Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) virtual private networks, anti-virusware, intrusion-prevention systems (IPSes), and firewalls.

Milestone: Next-Generation Firewalls (NGFWs)
The latest evolution in firewall IT is the next-generation firewall, which filters packets based on much more granular policies for application and user traffic.

Additionally, these NGFWs can integrate IPSes as well as many other security functions into the firewalls’ decisions to block malicious traffic.

Prediction: Firewalls Are Becoming Virtual
Over the next few years, organizations will see firewalls becoming much more virtual, instead of being a stagnant appliance on networks. Like a traditional firewall, these virtual/hypervisory-level firewalls will inspect packets and use security policy rules to block unapproved communication between virtual machines.

While these virtual/hypervisor-level firewalls will not replace dedicated firewalls operating at or near wire speeds, there will be more demand for these firewalls as organizations begin to mix workloads with different security requirements on the same physical box.

Prediction: Cloud-Based Firewalls
Since there is a rise in both cloud computing and mobile devices, analysts have predicted that there might be an increase in cloud-based firewalls that will become more focused by services, such as Web application firewalls (WAF).

Prediction: More Cross-Pollination With Other Security Capabilities
We’ve already seen a lot of integration with UTM technology and NGFWs, and we will move beyond simply adding more capabilities onto a box and more effectively integrating the data and capabilities to get faster and better decisions made.

For example, this would mean having a security information and event management, or SIEM, platform correlate data from the gateway and dynamically adapt the firewall rules to mitigate specific threats.

Prediction: Deeper Content Inspection
Content inspection can always be improved as new generations of firewalls come into the market.

As each generation of inspection software enters the market, it runs leaner and faster and is generally more efficient.

Prediction: Managing Firewalls With the Business in Mind
More decisions in larger organizations will be made from the perspective of a business application, rather than from strictly a firewall/security perspective as networks become increasingly complex.

This is a trend throughout the software industry. By business application, we mean—as one example—a credit card processing service that is necessary for an e-commerce organization to run and make money.

Therefore, if a firewall rule is preventing the application from working or slowing down the performance, then the organization will suffer.

This is a new way of looking at how firewalls are managed, which continues to evolve.

Chris Preimesberger was named Editor-in-Chief of Features & Analysis at eWEEK in November 2011. Previously he served eWEEK as Senior Writer, covering a range of IT sectors that include data center systems, cloud computing, storage, virtualization, green IT, e-discovery and IT governance. His blog, Storage Station, is considered a go-to information source. Chris won a national Folio Award for magazine writing in November 2011 for a cover story on and CEO-founder Marc Benioff, and he has served as a judge for the SIIA Codie Awards since 2005. In previous IT journalism, Chris was a founding editor of both IT Manager’s Journal and and was managing editor of Software Development magazine. His diverse resume also includes: sportswriter for the Los Angeles Daily News, covering NCAA and NBA basketball, television critic for the Palo Alto Times Tribune, and Sports Information Director at Stanford University.

He has served as a correspondent for The Associated Press, covering Stanford and NCAA tournament basketball, since 1983.

He has covered a number of major events, including the 1984 Democratic National Convention, a Presidential press conference at the White House in 1993, the Emmy Awards (three times), two Rose Bowls, the Fiesta Bowl, several NCAA men’s and women’s basketball tournaments, a Formula One Grand Prix auto race, a heavyweight boxing championship bout (Ali vs. Spinks, 1978), and the 1985 Super Bowl.

A 1975 graduate of Pepperdine University in Malibu, Calif., Chris has won more than a dozen regional and national awards for his work.

He and his wife, Rebecca, have four children and reside in Redwood City, Calif.Follow on Twitter: editingwhiz

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