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What are Cloud Firewalls?

Your home and office networks are constantly threatened by hackers probing for your personal information or ways to take down your business operations for a number of hours or days. With external threats becoming more and more sophisticated, organizations have tightened their hold on more advanced cybersecurity measures.

The victim in nearly half of these cyberattacks is small businesses that do not have the means to invest in appropriate cybersecurity measures, either because they do not have the budget or they do not have the necessary hardware to support it.

The most important component of any cybersecurity setup is your firewall. They are considered the first line of defense against external attacks. Firewalls generally act as a shield or barrier that protects your device(s) from external malware or malicious network traffic that accesses your computer or network through the internet.

Any computer or device that is linked to the internet is immediately susceptible to attacks, firewalls are what stand between them and your network security. There are a number of firewall types available, but perhaps one of the most widely adopted types are the cloud firewalls.

Cloud firewalls are a type of software-based cybersecurity product that functions like a traditional firewall, filtering your network traffic from malicious activity, but unlike traditional firewalls, they are hosted in the cloud. These firewalls oversee the flow of information from the internal system to the outside and vice versa. They are also called Next Generation Firewalls.

A cloud-based firewall forms a virtual barrier around your cloud-based assets. This includes your data stories on clouds, cloud-based applications, and infrastructure. Cloud firewalls aren't simply limited to cloud-based assets, they also protect your internal network and on-premise assets.

With cloud firewalls, you can expect the same level of security as on-premises firewalls. They are able to block unauthorized access to your network, filter malicious traffic and protect your internal network. Some consider them to be more suitable for businesses owing to their ease of deployment and scalability,

But why should you be using cloud firewalls as opposed to traditional on-premise firewalls?

The reasoning lies in the rise of cloud computing. Nearly all institutions, organizations, and businesses are shifting a large part of their computing and data online. This has led to a need for cloud security. A type of cybersecurity measure specifically built for networks that rely on cloud computing. Cloud-based firewalls are an important part of this cloud security.

How does Cloud Firewall Work?

Cloud firewalls work a lot like traditional on-premise firewalls. They will form a barrier against external traffic entering your network and detect any malware that might potentially wreak havoc in your network. Such threats are then blocked before they can enter your network or are isolated before they can infect the entirety of your network and its devices.

How does it detect malware? Cloud firewalls work through active packet-scanning to carefully analyze incoming packets and verify secure packets so they may be granted access. In the scenario that incoming packets match any threats then the firewall will block them from entering your network. Your cloud firewall may also scan outgoing data packets for any malicious activity.

Another important part of the security cloud firewalls provide is their stateful inspection capabilities, a type of dynamic packet filtering. Stateful inspection is a capability of firewalls to filter incoming data packets based on "state" and "context" which includes information on the source and destination IP, sequence numbers, and other types of metadata.

Cloud firewalls have a set of policies in place that will determine what packets are to be given permission to enter and which are to be blocked. You can customize these policies according to your network to provide optimal security. Incoming packets of data are cross-checked for policies that allow them to cross the barrier, if the policies between the source and destination are not provided then the packets will be blocked. To get maximum benefits of cloud firewalls, you should implement them in conjunction with other security measures such as anti-virus software, VPN, data encryption, etc.

What are the Cloud Firewall Benefits?

There are a number of advantages of adopting cloud-based firewalls. Here are some notable advantages:

  • Scalability: Cloud-based firewalls are designed to be easily scalable so they can easily meet an increase in demand, should it occur. Since these are software-based firewalls, they come with unlimited scalability; they will automatically adjust according to the increase in bandwidth. Comparatively, on-site firewalls are more difficult to maintain and have limited scalability.
  • Availability: Cloud-based firewalls can easily be available 24/7 as long as you have an infrastructure built with redundant power, HVAC, internet access, and a backup strategy in the case of a site failure. Comparatively, on-premise firewalls are fully dependent on your existing IT infrastructure, can be more complex to manage, and are more costly to maintain and support.
  • Real-Time Updates: Cloud-based firewalls are able to get automatic updates over the internet in real-time, in this way they are constantly updated on the latest cyber attacks and can better protect your networks.
  • Easily Deployable: Cloud firewalls are essentially based on software and so can easily be deployed for your business. They consume much lesser time compared to traditional firewalls, cause minimum downtime for your business, and are incredibly easy to maintain once deployed.
  • Inexpensive: Cloud firewalls are much cheaper than on-premise traditional firewalls. This is because you do not need to invest in heavy hardware/appliances to host your firewalls, nor do cloud firewalls require the same level of maintenance as on-premise firewalls.
  • Extensibility: An on-premise firewall is generally limited when it comes to deployment, it must be deployed at a corporate location with enough space and resources to maintain the firewall. On the other hand, cloud firewalls can be installed virtually anywhere in an organization as long as they have a protected communications path.
  • Identity Protection: Cloud-based firewalls can filter traffic from multiple sources, the internet, between tenants, other virtual networks, etc. They are further capable of distinguishing between a bot or a human and are therefore better equipped to prevent bots from attacking your network.
  • Application Control: Cloud firewalls will identify the application that created a particular traffic flow and will actively block applications from any unauthorized activity that could compromise your network or put your data at risk.

Why are Cloud Firewalls Important?

When we talk about cybersecurity across a network, we must consider the "perimeter" around which your cybersecurity measures are active. Firewalls are a type of cybersecurity measure that essentially allows access to the network for all devices within the perimeter of the network. On the other hand, devices external to the perimeter are not allowed open entry inside the network. The aim of the firewall is to ensure that all your devices within the perimeter are kept secure from those outsides.

In real-world scenarios, this parameter is not as secure as it sounds. Simply consider how rapidly we've seen an increase in remote work. Modern organizations must incorporate remote workers within their perimeter. As your perimeter grows to accommodate these devices, it becomes unrealistic and difficult to maintain the same level of security.

This is where cloud-based firewalls step in. Since on-premise firewalls are limited in their capability to protect your network against the external traffic coming from a number of sources, you need to deploy cloud firewalls. Cloud firewalls, unlike traditional firewalls, are no longer tied to a physical location, they can be deployed virtually anywhere across your network.

Since they are easy to deploy and far more scalable than on-prem firewalls, cloud firewalls are better suited to the needs of modern businesses.

One of the benefits of cloud firewalls is that you need not deploy your firewall on your own. You can easily rely on a third party to fulfill all your firewall needs through their virtual firewall in the form of an FWaaS (Firewalls-as-a-Service). You can also alternatively rent out a server and set up your own firewall. Many businesses consider hiring a company to fix you with a fully-functioning firewall a far better option than creating one on your own since such companies have the expertise needed to deploy firewalls easily.

All in all, you should consider getting a cloud firewall if you wish for more adaptive protection for your business. They may prove to be a valuable asset to your network's overall cybersecurity measures.

What are the Disadvantages of Cloud Firewalls?

Cloud firewalls may have their advantages but like all things good, they too have their disadvantages. For starters, cloud-based firewalls can't exactly identify who the visitor really is. They simply scan incoming packers based on policies created in the firewall. If an attacker manages to bypass these policies by creating a fake replica then he may pass through your network undetected.

Moreover, cloud firewalls generally do not understand how a site really functions, which users are authenticated and what permissions are to be provided. They follow generic use cases which might work on normal threat detection but may fail to detect vulnerabilities that are software specific e.g. Plugin Variabilities.

Finally, FWaaS is usually dependent on the firewall service provider you hire, in the scenario that their service goes down, your network might be open for compromise. The same might happen if your service provider devices shut down their services. In this case, finding a new service to configure your system may cost you both time and money.

What are the Cloud Firewall Types?

There are two distinguishable types of cloud firewalls i.e. Next-Generation Firewalls (NGFWs) and Software as a Services (SaaS) firewalls. While they both function as cloud-based firewalls that offer packet inspection and filtering; they differ in the way they provide this security.

1. Next-Generation Firewalls

Next generations have many features that are in line with traditional firewalls but carry additional features such as deep packet inspection (DPI), intrusion prevention systems (IPS), advanced malware detection, integrated intrusion prevention, and application awareness and control. In simpler terms, they have the capability to address a greater variety of potential threats and better meet your organizational needs.

When you combine next generation firewall features with an in-cloud deployment, you receive a Next-Generation Cloud Firewall. These firewalls are deployed virtually as opposed to within an appliance and are used to protect an organization's own servers in the form of a "platform-as-a-service" or "infrastructure-as-a-service".

2. SaaS Firewalls

Software as a Service (SaaS) firewalls are also designed to secure your organization's network by filtering incoming traffic and successfully identifying threats. However, these are deployed off-site rather than on-premise. There are a number of further types of SaaS firewalls you may come across:

  1. Security-as-a-Service (SECaaS): A Security as a Service or SECaaS is a cloud-delivered cybersecurity service, in this case, a cloud-based firewall. It provides security services on the basis of a subscription through cloud providers. You outsource your security to a company that will deliver this service. You can easily look for a cloud-delivered service that provides subscription packages based on your business needs and so, these services are actually considered to be affordable for many.
  2. Software-as-a-Service (SaaS): A software as a service or SaaS are firewalls that are designed to secure an organization's network and its users and are deployed off-site. They help flag unauthorized traffic and block entry for malicious entrants. In this model, the software is hosted centrally and users can easily access it through a license.
  3. Firewall-as-a-Service (FWaaS): A firewall as a service or an FWaaS is a type of cloud firewall that is hosted by a third-party vendor. Like other cloud firewalls, it is deployed and managed in the cloud and is accessed over the internet. It comes with a number of distinct advantages, such as the ability to scale instantly, and it can be modeled according to the size, demands, and unique needs of your network.

Is Firewall-as-a-service (FWaaS) Different from Cloud Firewalls?

A Firewall as a Service (FWaaS) has a few distinct differences from cloud-based firewalls. If we consider next-generation firewalls, they are specifically used for systems that require next-level security features such as intrusion prevention systems (IPS), deep packet inspection (DPI), and application control. They additionally carry all features of traditional firewalls as well. Contrarily, all cloud firewalls do not necessarily have these features, they are limited in their security capabilities.

On the other hand, not all next-generation firewalls are necessarily cloud-based. They may also be deployed on-premise just as traditional firewalls are deployed. On the other hand, all cloud-based firewalls are only deployed on the cloud, not on-premise.

What is the Best Cloud Firewall?

There are a number of cloud-based firewalls available for use. Ever since the demand for cybersecurity protections on IT networks has increased, there has simultaneously been an increase in the adoption of cloud-based firewalls. Cloud-based firewalls are not simply limited to the use of large businesses or enterprises, they are also used actively in home-based networks and small businesses. Here we'll take a closer look at some firewalls that are better suited for use at home networks, in small business networks, and in larger enterprises:

  • Best Cloud Firewall For Home Networks: Cloudflare is an enterprise-class web application firewall, but it is also reliable for personal or home networks. What's important to immediately note is that their cloud firewall is available free of charge to subscribers on their free plan. The ruleset that helps prevent unknown and known threats from entering your network are managed by Cloudflare. As a free user, you can get access to the updates on this ruleset that will help protect your site from any new incoming threats that might compromise your network. The ruleset is specifically designed to identify a set of patterns and signals that dictate malicious traffic and so filter out any incoming threats. Threats that the pre-configured rulesets can provide you protection against include zero-day attacks, stolen/exposed credentials, extraction of sensitive data, and other common cybersecurity attack types. Since Cloudflare's WAF is capable of blocking a multitude of threat types through its pre-configured setup, users can easily deploy the firewall and automatically have their network secure. Users can also monitor the actions taken by the firewall and alter their firewall as required to meet their unique needs.
  • Best Cloud Firewall For Small Businesses: Sucuri is another option for those who wish to project their small business networks. It is a fully managed Security service provider for websites. Their monitoring technology functions as a cloud-based SaaS intrusion detection system, that is able to provide real-time security against malware detection, SEO spam, DNS changes, SSL certification, phishing attacks, etc. Their cloud-based firewall further allows for the interception and inspection of all incoming HTTP/HTTPS requests for real-time mitigations of threats. Some notable features of the Sucuri firewall include their ability to prevent DDoS attacks, prevention of vulnerability exploit attempts such as SQLi, XSS, protection against major common cybersecurity threats, and performance optimization. Moreover, the Sucuri firewall does not require that you install any software or make any application changes on your hardware. You need only go to the DNS settings for your domain and add an A record or switch to Sucuri nameservers to get access to their web security. As for pricing, the Sucuri basic plan starts from $199,99/year, $299.99/year for their Pro plan, and $499/year for their business plan. As a small business, you can easily get access to most of the features you require through their basic plan.
  • Best Cloud Firewall For Enterprises: For enterprises, there is Prophaze WAF, a native web cloud application firewall that allows for multiple attack detection algorithms to monitor all incoming traffic. Their services are generally designed to cater to the needs of customers in enterprise-level businesses. They call themselves the "all-in-one" web security platform. Prophaze has a number of notable features, it allows for secure DDoS protection, malware-based protection, zero-day threat protection, protection against OWASP top 10, secure CDN, managed threat intelligence, bot protection, API security, virtual patching, and advanced bot management to name a few. They claim to offer security services that meet your industry's needs, particularly those from the financial services, eCommerce sector, public sector, media and entertainment, aviation, healthcare, gaming, education, energy, and SaaS platforms. As for pricing, you can get the basic Prophaze web application firewall for free which comes with a number of basic features, or you can purchase one of their packages (custom built according to your needs).

How Cloud-Based Firewalls Help Businesses?

Today's global systems are in dire need of a cloud-delivered firewall solution. With more and more employees working remotely, you need to consider the issues usually linked with latency and performance when they access traditional data center firewalls. A cloud-delivered firewall can help connect mobile users to your global cloud network, providing them with the resources they need in a streamlined process.

While usability is a major benefit, we must also consider the visibility cloud-based firewalls can give to your IT team. You can set up a wide network that is secure from cyber attacks but that is maintained through a single browser-based interface that can easily be accessed at any time.

With traditional on-premise firewalls, this visibility was very much limited since most firewall appliances were to be deployed at specific points within the infrastructure of your organization and took time for patching, configuring, and updating their appliances. Cloud-based firewalls eliminate the need for such maintenance and instead can meet all your needs uniformly across all locations, while simultaneously being auto-updated over the cloud.

With the boom in cloud computing and a new mobilized remote workforce, the need for secure access to your company resources is required. One that cannot be threatened by external threats. Cloud-based firewalls can meet all these needs, and protect your corporate resources whilst giving access to verified users across the network.