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Healthcare Network Firewalls Include Next-Generation Features

As the first line of defense, healthcare network firewalls need to be dynamic and up-to-date to protect organizations from external threats.

healthcare network firewalls

Source: Thinkstock

By Elizabeth O'Dowd

- Organizations looking for healthcare network firewalls should consider the features that make each vendor unique, so they can select a solution that best meets their needs, according to Gartner’s latest Magic Quadrant report.

Gartner predicts that by 2022, 15 percent of enterprise firewall RFPs will include a requirement for the vendor to support and manage IaaS-native firewall policies. The research firm also predicts that virtualized versions of enterprise network firewalls will grow from 5 percent of the market today, to 15 percent of the market by 2023.

Firewalls are the first line of defense for securing healthcare network against the public internet. Firewalls are digital walls that stand between protected health data and potentially dangerous malware.

Following an established set of rules, firewalls actively monitor incoming and outgoing traffic. In doing so, a firewall blocks the secure network from the internet and only allows pre-cleared data to pass through.

Organizations can block access from inside the network to public websites they deem harmful or deny access to the network based on specifically outlined credentials. Firewalls can be adjusted to allow remote access as needed and can be included in mobility or virtualization solutions.

READ MORE: Legacy Hardware Threatens HIT Infrastructure Security

Firewalls also protect the network from malware, specifically viruses and worms, along with phishing tools and rootkits. Firewalls recognize malware and block a website, user, or file from being accessed by a user from within the network.

All firewall vendors must be able to support single-enterprise firewall deployments as well as large and complex deployments. They also must be able to give all customers the option to deploy versions within Amazon Web Services (AWS), Microsoft Azure, and Google Cloud environments. These features are all included under the “next generation firewall (NGFW)” label.

“All enterprise firewall vendors offer NGFW features to better enforce policy (application and user control) and detect new threats (intrusion prevention systems [IPSs], sandboxing and leveraging threat intelligence feeds),” said Gartner’s latest report. “Enterprise firewall is now synonymous with NGFW. Enterprise firewalls continue to replace stand-alone network IPS appliances at the enterprise edge.”

“In some cases, the enterprise firewall intrusion detection and prevention system (IDPS) is good enough to deploy behind an enterprise firewall — replacing the previous stand-alone IDPS solution — if the IT security and risk leader is evaluating the enterprise firewall to replace the incumbent IDPS vendor. Although this is happening now, some enterprises will continue to choose to have best-of-breed IDPSs. Many enterprises are looking to firewall vendors to provide cloud-based malware detection instances to aid them in their advanced threat detection efforts, as a cost-effective alternative to stand-alone sandboxing appliances.”

However, organization must not rely on firewalls as an all-inclusive security solution. This is especially true for large health systems.

READ MORE: Increasing Healthcare Cloud Security with Bring-Your-Own-Key

Network firewalls are some of the oldest enterprise security solution and are the first line of defense between the network and external threats. As a result, firewalls need to constantly evolve to keep up with advancing threats.

Firewalls have high penetration rates across all industries, according to Gartner. This means that organizations must stay on top of updates and add improved capabilities made available by vendors to increase performance. Network security policy management (NSPM) products are being added to manage the increasingly complex environments.

Gartner reassures that firewalls are not dead and that the demise of the technology has been greatly exaggerated.

“The argument is that all infrastructure and applications will move to various clouds, rendering traditional firewalls obsolete,” said the report. “However, experience shows that such massive transitions are extremely slow; as firewall management platforms become primary orchestration points for multiple cloud-delivered services, they will remain critical pieces in an enterprise’s security puzzle. Certainly, over time, infrastructure changes will begin slowing firewall growth, but not for several years.” 

The NGFW features have been supported by vendors and users over the past several years. These features include integrated deep packet inspection intrusion prevention, application identification and granular user control.

READ MORE: Threat Intelligence Supports Advanced Health IT Security

“The key differentiators in these areas are IPS effectiveness, as demonstrated through third-party testing under realistic threat and network load conditions, and fine-grained, user-based policy enforcement in the top business and social media applications. Identity-based policy enforcement, or the ability to enforce policy on thousands of applications, remains a defining feature,” the report explained.

Firewalls are one of the oldest and most consistent building blocks of secure IT infrastructure. Firewalls deny access to most malware intending to harm an organization’s network and act as the foundation for all other network security.

A solid firewall protects the network from the most common blunt attacks. It can also provide IT departments with insight into the most common types of attacks the network is receiving to build up protection where it is needed.

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