Industry Perspectives

Do You Know Where All Your Firewalls Are?

May 19, 2020 | by David Strom |

When I was growing up, the evening news  would start with the tag line, “It’s ten o’clock, do you know where you children are?” I know, it seems quaint now, especially since many of us haven’t left home in weeks. The modern equivalent might be, “It’s whatever o’clock. Do your know where your enterprise’s firewalls are?”

This is not a rhetorical question. Answering it will give you some insight into how your network infrastructure is governed (or not, as the case might be), and what actionable steps to take to fix it.

I wrote in a recent blog post that as more of us work from home (WFH), we must go back to basics. One of those basics is understanding our network topology and where the firewalls are located. An informal Twitter survey conducted by researcher Kate Brew showed that less than half of those who responded don’t know the basics of their network configurations. Some didn’t even know the number of firewalls in their organization’s network. This is a depressing thought. Granted, this was not a scientific study, but illustrates a potential on-the-ground truth.

Why is this a big deal? Networks are evolving rapidly. Take the situation of new data flows related to higher proportions of remote users. In healthcare facilities, personal devices are being used and provisioned in different ways to facilitate communication between patients and their families or health workers and patients’ families. Given that many security managers are juggling numerous crises at once to keep their networks running, finding your firewalls is something which needs quick attention.

This topic is important now because the bad guys have already sharpened their phishing lures: RSA research (and the FBI) report that disruption-related fraud attacks are on the rise. You must up your game, before someone finds a wormhole and makes off with your most precious data.

Let’s take this a step further. It isn’t just the number or location of the enterprise firewalls, but also what happens to them. Let’s posit that you have put in place a series of “emergency” exceptions to your well-crafted rule set. You did this as a response to fix your network traffic flows to handle the rise in remote workers. Great. But, let’s move into the future a few months when those exceptions have remained in place, long forgotten and leaving a large-enough hole in your network for attackers.

Now is the time to focus on risk and data governance. If the future of business is going to be 95% remote, then make sure you plan your networks and security strategies accordingly. In other words:  figure out a network topology that will be more secure and have the right tools and hardware.

If you view this in another light, the uncertainty over your firewall locations is really a proxy for the conflict between the network and the security teams at your company. This is an old issue (see this Sandra Gittlen piece in Network World from several years ago), and I am not suggesting you should combine them into a single unit. Gittlen cites sources who point out that the two teams can collaborate better when they are separated because they have different responsibilities and jobs to do. Security should track down issues, vulnerabilities and risks; the network folks should fix things and prevent future problems. Both need to work on security from the beginning of any new project, what is commonly called “security by design.” Still, as the article states, “There is value in security teams learning networking’s language.”

Take the time to know where the organization’s firewalls are located and use this as a teachable moment to better understand how you have set up their rulesets and other basic configuration details. Realize that now is the time to be extra vigilant about your network security and keep track of critical network topology changes.

This post was sponsored by RSA, but the opinions do not necessarily represent RSA's positions or strategies.

David Strom is an independent writer and expert with decades of knowledge on the B2B technology market, including: network computing, computer hardware and security markets. Follow him @dstrom.

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