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Seven Firewall Monitoring Rules for MSPs

Setting up a firewall is one of the first steps organizations take to establish network security. Firewalls help protect your devices and networks from an array of security threats—including, as a managed services provider (MSP), unauthorized access from outside your customers’ networks. Firewalls are also able to inform you of any potentially threatening attempts to connect from within customer networks.

You should be able to effectively communicate their role to your customers, so they understand their importance. This guide will cover what a firewall is, how they differ from antivirus solutions, and which firewall monitoring rules your MSP should implement.

How does a firewall work?

Firewalls are hardware or software solutions that act as a filtration system. A network firewall security system will scan the data packets attempting to enter your computer or network to identify attack vectors or malicious code. If a data packet is flagged as a security risk, the firewall will prevent it from accessing your computer or infiltrating your network.

There are numerous ways of conducting firewall monitoring and regulating your network traffic. These methods include:

  • Packet filtering: When a firewall uses packet filtering, monitoring packets control network access. The firewall will observe the source and destination IP addresses, protocols, and ports, to decide whether to send them through or stop them due to suspected threats.
  • Proxy servers: This firewall monitoring method is designed to be highly secure, although there are some disadvantages. They’re slower than other firewall types and are limited in their support for applications. Instead of filtering, proxy servers act as go-betweens. They create a mirror of the computer behind the firewall and prevent connections between incoming packets and the customer device. This helps protect your network from bad actors.
  • Stateful inspection: While packet filtering examines the packet headers, stateful inspection firewalls analyze an array of data packet elements, comparing them with a database of trusted information. Incoming data packets must match with trusted information before the firewall grants them access.

The difference between firewall and antivirus

It’s important to understand the difference between firewalls and antivirus because each is vulnerable to different risks and more effective in different scenarios. Firewalls help control network traffic in the system by acting as a barrier to incoming traffic. A firewall inspects data flowing from the internet to your device.

Antivirus solutions, on the other hand, help protect systems against attacks by identifying malicious files and viruses. Antivirus takes procedural steps to examine malicious programs. They detect, identify, and remove when necessary. Regardless of these differences, both antivirus software and firewalls are part of a wider cybersecurity strategy that safeguards IT systems.

Firewall best practices 

To help your MSP refine its firewall management strategy, these seven firewall monitoring and firewall log monitoring best practices are a great place to start:

1. TRACK FIREWALL RULE MODIFICATIONS

This is a firewall monitoring best practice you should adopt within your own organization—but it’s important to encourage customers to adopt this practice as well. Firewalls don’t have change management processes built into them. Because of this, many IT administrators responsible for firewall monitoring and management don’t document rule changes.

But when there’s a new rule change, it can conflict with other rules or business processes—requiring the IT team to review all current rules in a time-consuming attempt to identify the cause of the issue. When rule changes are appropriately tracked on a regular basis, identifying the cause of a conflict is faster and easier—resulting in far less downtime.

2. MONITOR FOR RULE BLOAT

As your company grows, you’ll likely change your work processes and tools. As your processes evolve, your approach to firewall rule configurations should too. When you discontinue business processes or resources, firewall rules designed to support them may remain in place. This increases the likelihood of rule conflicts occurring. Firewall monitoring software is the best way for companies to check for old and obsolete rules so they eliminate them. Like rule modifications, you should also make your customers aware of the risk of rule bloat so they can improve their own firewall monitoring strategy.

3. AUDIT FIREWALL EVENT LOG

Firewall log monitoring involves periodically auditing your event logs to check for changes or anomalies that might indicate your firewall settings have been modified. This practice can help you identify which rules are being triggered most often and which security rules aren’t being triggered at all—which may be cause for rule elimination.

4. COLLABORATE WITH THE BUSINESS

Periodically, your firewall manager should meet with the business unit to get updates on the business and its operations. With this insight, firewall managers will be better able to keep pace with important changes and make modifications to rules and settings as needed. If the business unit decides to discontinue a service, for example, the firewall manager might need to adjust the firewall’s settings to optimize network efficiency. It’s recommended you hold monthly or quarterly meetings between the firewall manager and the business unit so all parties can be kept aware of relevant changes.

5. BLOCK TRAFFIC BY DEFAULT

A common firewall monitoring best practice is to block all the traffic coming into your network by default, and only allow specific traffic to certain known services. This gives you full control over who can access your network and helps prevent security breaches from occurring.

The firewall is your first layer of defense against security threats, so it’s important you restrict the ability to alter configurations to those individuals in your team who require it. Moreover, when an authorized administrator does modify a configuration, this must be recorded in the log to demonstrate compliance and to assist during audits. This also allows your team to rapidly detect unwarranted configuration changes.

To provide various levels of granular access to your IT team, you can create separate user profiles. You should also regularly monitor your firewall logs so you can more easily detect and remediate any unauthorized break-ins.

6. ESTABLISH A CONFIGURATION CHANGE PLAN

A firewall isn’t static. It will need you to update or modify it from time to time for any number of reasons. Because of this, you should establish a change management plan. Unplanned configuration changes may leave a loophole in your security, and a change management plan can help prevent this from happening.

A robust and secure firewall change management plan should include a:

  • Definitions of the required changes and their objectives
  • List of the risks involved, their potential impacts on the network, and an explanation of the mitigation plan
  • Structure for the change management workflow between teams
  • Proper audit trail that accounts for who made each change, why each change was made, and when each change was made

7. TAKE ADVANTAGE OF FIREWALL MONITORING TOOLS

Although the firewall monitoring best practices mentioned above can all technically be implemented manually, network firewall security is at its best when you’re utilizing the right firewall monitoring software. With so many elements to keep track of, firewall monitoring software can help you proactively monitor the effectiveness of your firewall so you can adjust when necessary.

These tools let you keep track of current rule configurations, event logs, and alerts, giving you more comprehensive insight and control over your firewall. Without a firewall monitoring tool, it can be difficult to make informed decisions about firewall rule configurations. This is especially important when it comes to identifying obsolete firewall rules that need to be removed to avoid firewall bloat.

FIREWALL MONITORING SOFTWARE MADE FOR MSPS

If you’re looking for firewall monitoring software that can get you up and running immediately, SolarWinds® Remote Monitoring and Management (RMM) is the perfect solution for you. This all-in-one tool gives growing MSPs what they need to establish a robust and comprehensive security strategy. RMM helps you secure, maintain, and improve your customers’ IT systems and manage both firewalls and antivirus with ease. What’s more, it gives you access to fast and safe remote access, out-of-the-box monitoring templates, patch management, web protection, data-breach risk intelligence, and backup recovery—all in one centralized dashboard.

If you have a highly diverse customer base and you’re looking for ways to offer powerful customization capabilities, SolarWinds N-central® is likely a better fit for you. The N-central software’s powerful automation allows you to onboard, configure, and patch hundreds of devices with a rules-based workflow, allowing your technicians to focus on the more difficult tasks that need their attention. It uses advanced security technology to help you protect your customers, resolve issues rapidly with a robust remote support offering, and self-heal to significantly improve customer uptime.

Both RMM and N-central were designed with MSPs in mind and offer sophisticated and easy-to-use firewall monitoring capabilities for your customers. To learn more, access a 30-day free trial of N-central here or a 30-day free trial of RMM here .

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