One of the most essential components of any cyberdefense program is a powerful firewall configuration. Two ways to ensure your firewalls and web filters are operating at maximum capacity involve the application of robust analytics via firewall penetration testing tools and firewall security audits.
Leveraging Firewall Penetration Testing Tools and Audit Reports
There are two essential considerations for optimizing your firewall security analytics:
- Getting the most out of firewall security audit reports by tailoring them to your needs
- Getting the most out of firewall penetration testing tools with targeted applications
Below, we’ll cover both, with two specific strategies for audit reports and penetration testing, respectively. Implementing these is easiest with the help of a managed service provider.
How to Get the Most Out of Your Firewall Security Audit Reports
Firewall security audit optimization depends upon the configuration of your firewall programs. The more robust and complex your firewall settings are, the more types of traffic they are designed to scrutinize, the more powerful insights they provide your organizations during audits. Likewise, the more firewalls you have installed or, the more layers of filtering they provide, the more you can learn about both what they let in and what they block.
Firewalls are a basic yet critical part of any organization’s overall cybersecurity architecture implementation. Despite this fundamental nature, their configurations will establish a focus for the scrutiny they provide.
Therefore, firewall security audits should be dictated by the specific focuses themselves. This applies both to how and where they are installed—via hardware or software, or a monitoring scope that includes web applications—and the specific purposes they’re designed to address.
Firewall Security Audit Strategy #1: Focus on Known Vulnerabilities
Firewalls typically function as a base, external layer that keeps unwanted traffic out of protected spaces. These spaces may be as broad as your entire IT and security ecosystem, or they might be limited to internal corridors within a given system. In any case, firewalls are a critical part of holistic threat and vulnerability management, minimizing the amount and severity of threats.
The best firewall configurations are those empowered by robust, up-to-date threat intelligence. Security programs and the various tools they employ are most efficient and effective when informed by the risks most common to organizations comparable to yours. If your organization hasn’t yet done so (or done so recently), you may wish to conduct a risk assessment to determine your most valuable and vulnerable environment segments likely to be targeted.
As a result, one of the best ways to gauge your firewalls’ efficacy is by focusing on their ability to identify and neutralize any vulnerabilities or threats likely to impact your organization. These include threats, vulnerabilities, and cyberattack methods common to your industry, location, or client base, among other factors. You can assess this capability by filtering through blocked or allowed content to scan for common risks or indicators.
Firewall Security Audit Strategy #2: Prioritize Regulatory Compliance
Another approach to getting the most out of firewall audits is tailoring the assessment to your specific regulatory compliance needs. For example, consider three common areas where compliance requirements play a factor, along with firewall security audit strategies designed to meet the applicable regulations:
- Industry – Organizations subject to the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA) must abide by the Privacy Rule, which limits the use and disclosure of protected health information (PHI) to select parties. Optimize firewall security audits for HIPAA compliance by scanning all incoming and outgoing traffic for Permitted Uses.
- In addition to the Privacy Rule, adherence to the HIPAA Security Rule’s required periodic risk assessments provides an example of further informing necessary firewall configurations.
- Client location – If your organization controls data of Europeans or Californians, you’re likely subject to the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) or California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA), respectively. If so, you should focus firewall security audit reports on the various data subject rights you’re required to uphold, regardless of your location.
- Operations – If your organization processes credit card payments, you must comply with the Payment Card Industry (PCI) Data Security Standards (DSS). The first of twelve Requirements explicitly requires certain firewall configurations. You should run regular firewall rule audits to ensure that all specific sub-requirements are met or exceeded.
Many organizations are subject to overlapping compliance requirements. Therefore, a unified approach to assessment and patch monitoring can begin with a focus on baseline defenses—your firewalls.
How to Maximize the Impact of Firewall Penetration Testing Tools
The other major component of optimizing firewalls is engaging in firewall penetration testing. Pen testing is an advanced method of assessing defenses that involves staging an attack or so-called “ethical hack” of your systems to observe the behavior of the “attacker.” This can be applied to an organization’s entire cyberdefense system or focused on any single component thereof.
There are two primary kinds of penetration tests companies can conduct across any or all systems:
- External – These attacks begin from an external vantage point, where the tester has no prior knowledge of the organization’s systems nor any proximal or virtual access to data. These tests tend to focus on the tester’s initial point (or points) of entry into the system.
- Internal – These attacks begin with the tester assuming some prior knowledge about the organization’s cyberdefenses or with some form of access privileges to internal systems or data. These tests focus on how an attacker moves once already inside your defenses.
In most cases, a pen test focusing on firewalls will be primarily—or exclusively—external. However, companies can maximize their firewall pen testing ROI by including an internal focus, as well.
Firewall Penetration Test Strategy #1: Run Combination or Hybrid Tests
Although most traditional pen tests are either internal or external—sometimes called white box or black box, respectively—some organizations optimize their penetration testing insights with assessments that incorporate elements of both. This is sometimes called grey box testing. In these tests, the simulated attack may begin from an external position, but the tester(s) are provided with some prior knowledge about or access to the target’s systems.
Unlike in a purely external pen test, a hybrid approach might begin externally, then continue once the test has breached the organization’s defenses to assess additional, internal layers of security.
When testing firewall efficacy in particular, this type of grey box pen test could scan for any additional incoming or outgoing traffic that indicates permanent damage to the firewall. Note that security teams should give special consideration to any information that wouldn’t normally pass through the firewall, in either direction, prior to the simulated attack.
Firewall Penetration Test Strategy #2: Test Additional Filtering Layers
As noted above, the insights that firewall analytics can provide depend heavily on the overall robustness of the firewalls themselves. Therefore, you can also optimize firewall penetration testing tools by applying them to other, similar elements of your cybersecurity architecture.
For example, suppose your organization uses a proactive web filter such as the Cisco Umbrella. In that case, it should test the filtering layer both in conjunction with and separately from its other firewall configurations. With complex, integrated cyberdefenses, assessment in isolation is insufficient.
Web filters typically work in conjunction with firewalls, applying additional scrutiny to files and other information that passes through them. The most powerful proactive filters should be explicitly trained to look for information designed to bypass firewalls. Analysis focused on these layers would thus provide insights into the efficacy of both the filters and the firewalls proper. These can then inform re-calibration of either to better fit security or compliance needs.
Professional Firewall Implementation and Management Services
All computer users, private individuals, and business entities alike need to implement firewalls around their digital environments to prevent cybercrime threats. However, these threats are much more pronounced for business entities, especially those with large amounts of sensitive data to protect.
Firewall security audits and firewall penetration testing tools can help any organization meet and exceed its security (and related compliance) requirements, especially with professional guidance.
Contact RSI Security today to optimize your firewall and firewall analytics!