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Palo Alto Alternatives: Similar Firewalls

You've probably heard of next-generation firewalls and the incredible features they carry. These firewalls are becoming incredibly popular in small and medium businesses and across larger enterprises. For those of you who aren't familiar with the concept, here's a simple definition:

A next-generation firewall (NGFW) is the third generation of firewall technology that offers additional deep packet inspection of incoming and outgoing network traffic, comprehensive application control, and visibility among other additional features.

Next-generation firewalls are essentially built using the base features of existing firewalls. However, these firewalls are better equipped for deep packet inspection for all types of traffic. These firewalls are becoming increasingly popular day by day. This isn't all that surprising when you consider the need for more comprehensive cybersecurity measures. Even the most advanced firewalls can be breached but next-generation firewalls are offering a new additional level of protection we haven't seen before.

Palo Alto is one such next-generation firewall that is quite popular among business owners, both small and large. Their security features are truly incredible, it's no wonder Gartner has given them the top standing position in the 2021 Gartner Magic Quadrant for Network Firewalls (that's the tenth time for Palo Alto!). Their innovation in network firewall deployment, advanced threat protection, and some major one-of-a-kind NGFW features are the reason behind their success.

The Palo Alto Firewall can comprehensively be described as:

"a complete multiplayer robust network firewall categorized as a next-generation firewall offering a modern secure management interface to its users."

Their next-generation firewall allows for protection against modern threats by inspecting all incoming and outgoing traffic and tying it to the user, regardless of device type or location. Their ability to successfully discover unknown threats, reduce response time to incidents or threat detection and streamline security deployment sets them apart from their competitors.

While there are plenty of next-generation firewalls being developed and released for public use, Palo Alto is considered one of the best network firewalls you can get, ahead of other providers such as Fortinet, Cisco, Sophos, and Juniper.

Here are some of the unique capabilities Palo Alto has to offer:

  • The ability to accurately identify application sources from traffic, not just the port/protocol source.
  • Ability to inspect SSL encrypted traffic and applications.
  • Real-time content scanning against threats including malware, zero-day threats, and advanced persistent threats (ATPs).
  • Detailed graphical visualization of applications on your network
  • Line-rate, low-latency performance even under load
  • Ability to identify unknown malicious files by executing them in a virtual environment

While the benefits of Palo Alto next-generation firewalls are plenty, many might be looking for alternatives to the software, either in the hopes of securing a better deal or a more budget-friendly option. (Palo Alto after all has some of the most expensive firewalls in the world.) Luckily for you, there are a number of great alternatives to Palo Alto available that you can make use of. Some notable mentions are Zenarmor, Juniper, and Sophos.

Here we'll be discussing some of the top alternatives to Palo Alto Firewalls you should be considering, their features and what sets them apart from Palo Alto.

Palo Alto NGFW alternatives

Figure 1. What are the alternatives of Palo Alto NGFW

1. Zenarmor (Sensei)

Our first mention is Zenarmor. Zenarmor (Sensei) is a software-based instant next-generation firewall that can be deployed anytime and anywhere virtually. It is uniquely suited to both small-scale networks such as those at home or larger deployments.

As long as your device or platform has network connectivity you can implement the Zenarmor firewall onto your system whether on the cloud or on your perimeter. It acts as a plugin for the OPNsense firewall which gives the firewall next-generation security features such as application control, network analytics, and TLS inspection.

Some of the enterprise security features Zenarmor supports includes Layer 2 - Layer 7 packet filtering, advanced network analytics, application control, user-based and device-based filtering, policy-based filtering, web filtering and security, DNS security, and TLS inspection (Zenarmor claim to the industry's first packet inspection engine with naive TLC inspection).

Moreover, their pricing is incredibly flexible, they have a number of pricing models and plans you can choose from starting from the very basic free version to the home edition ($9.99/month) which includes web filtering, advanced security protection, cloud management, real-time threat blocking and limited filtering policies.

Many people prefer to use Zenarmor as opposed to Palo Alto due to its flexible pricing plans which are better suited for smaller businesses connected over limited devices. While Palo Alto provides many enterprise-level security features, it can only be useful for those who can afford it. Comparatively, Zenarmor is a great firewall solution that also includes a number of useful features and is more budget-friendly.

2. Sophos

Second up on our list is the Sophos firewall, another powerful next-generation firewall solution that is uniquely built for both hardware appliance models as well as cloud-based and virtual software deployments.

Jumping into the features Sophos firewall has to offer, there are a number of useful features you'll find:

  • Deep packet inspection (DIP) using the XStream DPI engine for high performance traffic scanning
  • TLS inspection that allows you to decrypt and inspect TLS traffic (covers all ports/protocols)
  • Zero-day threat and ransomware instant identification and threat management before they get on your network
  • Next-generation cloud sandbox technology powered by deep learning to protect your network against zero-day threats and targeted attacks
  • Web protection, identifying and blocking web threats
  • Advanced threat protection to instantly identify and block advanced threats from entering your network using intelligent firewall policies
  • User identity based policies and truly unique user risk analysis
  • Complete application control and visibility across your network for all applications
  • Complete web traffic visibility and control
  • Content control (control of keyword content + downloadable content)
  • Email protection, anti-spam, phishing and data loss protection.

As you may have noticed, Sophos has numerous security features that can provide you with incredible security against external threats. However, when we compare it to Palo Alto we find that some categories are missing (e.g. IoT security).

Many however prefer Sophos because it still provides many features that other firewall solutions lack at an affordable cost. Moreover, Sophos firewall is also available with a free trial version, Palo Alto does not. At the same time, many might find the Palo Alto firewall slightly complicated to configure as opposed to the Sophos firewall.

To sum it up, we'd recommend Sophos for small businesses or mid-market businesses while enterprise-level businesses may benefit from Palo Alto.

3. Forcepoint

Forcepoint next-generation firewall (NGFW) provides its clients with seamless, centrally managed network security solutions protecting the data used throughout an enterprise network. Forcepoint firewall, like the Sophos firewall, can be deployed physically, virtually, and on-cloud premises.

What's also interesting is that Forcepoint NGFW has one of the top-rated Intrusion Prevention systems (IPS) built-in. It was also included in Gartner's 2017 Magic Quadrant for enterprise firewalls owing to its security features.

Speaking about features, here are some of the notable features Forcepoint NGFW offers:

  • Inspection and control of encrypted traffic transmissions, both incoming and outgoing.
  • Inspection of HTTPS and other SSL/TLS based protocols efficiently.
  • Network traffic inspection, anti-malware scanning, and advanced malware detection
  • Sandboxing to uncover and block malicious code rapidly.
  • Strong protection against intrusions using Advanced Threat Protection
  • Integrated URL filtering and web access policies to block phishing sites from accessing your network

Moving on, how does Forcepoint differ from Palo Alto? Forcepoint lacks some features that Palo Alto provides such as anti-bot features, DHCP functionality, and DNS proxy functionality. Forcepoint also lacks application-based policies.

The real difference lies in the categories they are better suited to. Many argue that Forcepoint is particularly suited to web gateway and email security as opposed to Palo Alto is a complete network security firewall. As for pricing, Forcepoint is still more budget-friendly than Palo Alto and you can also try out their trial version for 30 days!

4. Juniper Firewall

Juniper's next-generation firewall (NGFW) provides its users with a wide range of cybersecurity features that help secure your network. It delivers integrated threat protection with application awareness, user identity, and content inspection among other features.

This next-generation firewall provides visibility, control, and prevention at the network edge, detecting threats in real-time. Like the previously discussed firewall, this one too can be delivered on-premise or deployed on the cloud.

Here are some notable features of the Juniper Firewall:

  • Accurate identification of applications regardless of port or protocol
  • Detailed analysis of application usage and volume to successfully identify high-risk applications
  • Rich QoS capabilities that prioritize applications based on customers' business and bandwidth needs
  • User firewall feature that allows for the creation of firewall policies that are associated with specific users
  • SSL proxy features to intercept encrypted traffic, preventing users from downloading malware within encrypted traffic
  • Intrusion Prevention System (IPS) for comprehensive protection against security exploits
  • Juniper Advanced Threat Protection for sophisticated malware detection
  • Encrypted traffic insights to determine malicious connections
  • URL filtering to prevent web-borne threats

The reason why users prefer Juniper Firewall is its easy implementation and management, overall good value for money. Many also prefer Juniper Firewall over Palo Alto for the same reasons, ease of use and setup. All in all, Juniper is a great investment for small to medium business owners who wish for a simpler UI.

5. Cisco

Cisco next-generation firewalls are built to prevent data breaches, get deep visibility to detect and block threats and automate your network and security operations to work more efficiently. Cisco protects your systems 24/7 and automatically prevents breaches so your business never had to come to a standstill.

Cisco Network's next-generation firewalls provide the following features:

  • Breach prevention through NGIPS (Next-Generation Intrusion Prevention System)
  • URL filtering
  • Policy enforcement and built-in sandboxing
  • Deep network visibility including activity and data visibility in real-time to detect malicious activity
  • Flexible management to deploy, customize and manage your security products in any way
  • Rapid detection of high-risk threats through Advanced Threat Intelligence

If we talk about pricing, the Cisco firewall starts at just under $1000 and goes on higher. It is still a more pocket-friendly option as opposed to the Palo Alto firewall. Moreover, Cisco UI is a lot easier to work with despite the product complexity. Moreover, the Cisco support network is quite strong when it comes to vendor support.

6. Fortinet

Fortinet is another cutting-edge next-generation firewall. Gartner in 2022 has ranked Fortinet NGFW as the best in 3 of the 5 use cases in the 2022 Gartner Critical Capabilities For Network Firewalls. Fortinet provides its users with industry-leading enterprise security with complete visibility and threat protection services. With Fortinet, users can achieve ultra-fast end-to-end security, real-time defense against threats, and automated workflows for operational efficiency.

Here are some notable features of the Fortinet next-generation firewall:

  • SSL inspection (including TLS 1.3) to protect against malware hiding in SSL/encrypted traffic
  • Automated threat protection
  • Web filtering and DNS (Domain Name Security) security services
  • Ability to create ultra-scalable security-driven networks
  • Easy to use centralized management console
  • Deep visibility and granular control of applications

Coming to how Fortinet differs from Palo Alto, the former is generally reported to offer greater pricing flexibility and lower costs as opposed to the latter. You can get Fortinet entry-level appliances starting at $500 which can go up to $400,000. Moreover, many find Fortinet a bit easier to implement and intricate.

But on the other hand, it is quite apparent that Palo Alto Networks NGFWs carry a lot more features and support for their users. If you're looking for superior firewall capability then you should go for Palo Alto but if you have limited resources to work with then you should consider Fortinet.

7. Barracuda CloudGen Firewall

Barracuda Cloudgen's next-generation firewall allows for comprehensive security features to ensure real-time network protection against a wide range of network threats, vulnerabilities, and exploits. The Barracuda firewalls can be deployed across physical locations on-premises or on Microsoft Azure, AWS, and Google Cloud platforms.

In simpler terms, Barracuda allows for multiple layers of threat detection including advanced threat signatures, behavioral and heuristic analytics, and sandboxing techniques to name a few.

Here are some of the notable features you'll find:

  • Advanced threat protection for full system simulation and deep visibility into malware behavior
  • Botnet and spyware protection against malicious sites and servers
  • Intrusion detection and prevention against a wide range of network threats including trojans, viruses, worms, spyware, SQL injections, and DoS/DDoS attacks.
  • Ability to detect malware or other potentially unwanted programs
  • Interception of SSL encrypted web traffic
  • Stateful deep packet inspection
  • Multi-factor authentication (MFA) to prevent unauthorized access to critical information inside your network
  • High-speed VPN connections
  • Application control
  • Web filtering through effective internet content access policies
  • User Identity awareness
  • Real-time reporting of application traffic on the corporate network

It's quite apparent that the Barracuda NGFW holds a wide range of useful features. This is why it is considered a perfect fit for any small to medium-size business with a basic firewall and security needs. The only real downside is that you'll find a steep learning curve to actually work the UI which may seem cluttered at times. Luckily for you, unlike Palo Alto, Barracuda is available with a free trial before you purchase their firewalls!

8. G2 Deals

If you aren't sure about the firewall that would best suit your business needs then it might be helpful to look up software resources and reviews for more insight. G2 Deals is such a website that provides its users with software and services reviews including both firewalls and next-generation firewalls.

You can get reviews on the features of your firewalls such as ease of use, VPN services, URL filtering, and other specific features you want to measure. The site will rate each feature for you so you can get in-depth information about their plus points and weak points.

G2 is considered one of the trusted sources that help operators make educated decisions. They are also one of the world's leading B2B software and service reviews platforms. It's no surprise that you'll find the resources you need for your firewall implementation as well!

What Should Be Considered While Choosing Palo Alto Alternatives?

Choosing a new next-generation firewall can be pretty tricky considering the options you have to weigh. When choosing an alternative to Palo Alto Next-Generation Firewall, there are a few things you should keep in mind.

  1. Pricing/Cost of Ownership: First of all you should consider price points, Palo Alto can be a pretty costly solution for many and that is why if you happen to choose an alternative try to go for a budget-friendly option.
  2. Interoperability: How easily can your NGFW interact with other network and security tools.
  3. Visibility: Most next-generation firewalls tend to vary on this particular area, the level of visibility and control they offer. This visibility should go down to the user level, not just your applications.
  4. Security features: You're purchasing a firewall, you should expect some next-generation features to come with it. This means looking for some must-have features of a next-generation firewall including VPN, secure remote access, intrusion prevention systems (IPS) to name a few.
  5. Scalability: Modern networks are built to grow and meet your projected expectations over time. This means choosing a firewall that can also grow to meet your company's demands.
  6. Centralized management and reporting: If you're running a larger business you may have multiple firewalls deployed. In this scenario, you'll notice a need for the central management to optimize management capabilities.
  7. Platform type: This might be overlooked but you should also pay due attention to where your firewall can be deployed. Large enterprises that can afford larger dedicated hardware prefer hardware-based firewalls, whereas small companies may prefer software-based firewalls. Alternatively, companies that have a number of remote workers spread out across locations may benefit from a cloud-based firewall or FWaaS.

What are the Best Palo Alto Firewall Alternatives for Enterprises?

Now moving on to the best firewall selection, we've enlisted a total of eight top-quality next-generation firewalls for deployment. However, Palo Alto has notably been used in enterprises for cybersecurity management and network security. As an alternative, you might hope to get a firewall that is equally suited for use in enterprises or large businesses. Here are some of the best Palo Alto firewall alternatives for larger enterprises:

  1. Cisco: Cisco is considered to be better suited to enterprise users who prioritize low maintenance and scalability. Not only does it provide proactive threat defense but also provides VPN remote access. If you're a large company working with plenty of remote employees then you can benefit from this feature.
  1. Fortinet: Second up is Fortinet. Often listed alongside Palo Alto as a popular next-generation firewall. Not only is it less expensive but it is also known for its user-friendly graphical user interface making it easy to manage. Even if you're a fresh techie you'll easily be able to configure the software.

What are the Best Palo Alto Firewall Alternatives for Small Business?

We've discussed enterprises, but what about small and medium-sized business owners? Palo Alto is a great NGFW but it can be too costly for small businesses and startups to invest in. On the upside, you'll also find plenty of Palo Alto NGFW alternatives that are better suited to small business usage. Here we'll be briefly going over some great alternatives you should probably try out:

  1. Zenarmor: Zenarmor is a great alternative to Palo Alto for use in small businesses. It comes with the ability to connect and secure small distributed networks easily. This NGFW also features a user-friendly interface for you to work with, and will successfully protect all your applications and devices without a fall in performance. This is why many small and medium-sized businesses prefer to use Zenarmor for their network protection.
  1. Sophos: The second on our list Sophos next-generation firewall. It offers comprehensive next-generation firewall features powered by deep learning and synchronized security. Since it is easy to configure and offers real-time monitoring, you'll find that it works brilliantly well for small network protection.