What is a Firewall as a Service?

representational image of a cloud firewall
(Image credit: Pixabay)

Firewalls have been with us as long as the internet. Just like the internet firewalls, they have had to keep up with a tireless march of technology or fade into obscurity. The first firewall came into existence as a method of permitting or restricting the flow of traffic to particular network resources and protecting data inside host computers. Since then, it has surpassed a simple packet-filtering system and application gateway, and transformed into an all-inclusive security solution.

Now, firewalls are capable of enforcing various network security policies, monitoring user activity, and safeguarding networks from all sorts of outside cyber threats. However, protecting all your sensitive data solely by building a firewall around it can't cut it today.

The progress of cloud solutions was followed by the expansion of cloud-based security services introducing new technologies, firewalls included. Enter firewall as a service (FWaaS), a stand-alone security solution, and a crucial component of any comprehensive security system.

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So, what is FWaaS? 

We know that FWaaS emerged to replace hardware-based firewalls, but what exactly is FWaaS? FWaaS is a complete cloud-based security solution that delivers “state-of-the-art“ next-generation firewall capabilities including access control such as URL filtering, protection from cyber threats, an intrusion prevention system, and domain name system security.

In some ways, FWaaS is much like a traditional on-premises hardware firewall, but with more scalability, power, and potential for the future. Since it exists as a part of a company's cloud infrastructure, FWaaS simplifies the IT infrastructure by utilizing a simple-to-use centralized console system. What's more, being based in the cloud, FWaaS can be shaped in line with the size, configuration, and security needs of your business.

How does FWaaS work?

As suggested above, FWaaS functions in a similar fashion to traditional firewall services, but with a lot more flexibility. They both enforce custom standards that IT administrators set to block parts of the network (such as a certain website) they don’t want a particular group of people to see. In case someone on the network accesses something that’s perceived as perilous (or simply unsuitable), the firewall will block this connection and send a fitting notice. The same rules apply in case a person that’s trying to access the network is seen as potentially dangerous.

From a centralized console available via the internet, a company can blacklist (or whitelist) particular URLs, block IP addresses and precise geographic locations, as well as create custom access rules for users inside and outside the network alike.

Configuring an FWaaS solution isn’t overly complicated and usually involves changing your router settings and that’s about it. Once your router and FWaaS provider are connected, your network traffic will be routed through their system which will act as a gateway that checks and filters the traffic from all sorts of threats. An FWaaS is also capable of performing deep packet inspection (DPI) to check the data in the network packets that are being transmitted.

Why do companies need FWaaS?

In the not-so-distant past, companies kept all of their data in an on-site data center, which is why they needed on-the-spot firewall appliances as well. However, more and more companies are choosing cloud computing services, utilizing cloud storage, and using applications running on third-party infrastructure. So, without having clear-cut network perimeters, visibility and lack of control became a serious problem.

As if this wasn't enough, cyberattacks are becoming more frequent and ever-evolving malware is threatening to cripple network security while businesses of all sizes are struggling to catch on with cyber-security trends.

Finally figuring out that they couldn’t put the security and safety of their businesses solely into the hands of cloud service providers, these companies had to reinvent their security approach and come up with superior solutions. Thanks to FWaaS, companies can stack up traffic from multiple sources into the cloud, enforce security strategies across all locations, and secure complete visibility of their networks.

Advantages of using FWaaS?

Companies searching for a spry security solution will find that FWaaS can offer more than a few striking advantages, but for the sake of convenience, we’ll stick to five of them.

1. Simplified configuration

Since FWaaS’ are cloud-based firewalls, they can be simply and swiftly configured to perform specific tasks, which is not the case with traditional firewalls. In most cases, the only thing you truly need to do is to tell your third-party service provider what must be done. The rest should be handled by their technical teams.

2. Superior scalability

Not only are FWaaS solutions simple to set up and configure, but they’re also easier to scale up and down. Again, your only task is to talk to your service provider and get a recommendation based on your business’s size and ambitions. And if your new configuration turns out to be overkill, you can roll back to your old configuration without too much trouble.

3. Greater visibility and control

As a result of traffic unification over a simpler architecture, FWaaS enables IT teams to monitor and manage the entire network and the data traveling through it with a cross-functional dashboard. Thanks to this any IT team can easily keep an eye on network regulations and policies, and enforce new ones.

4. Simple maintenance

With no IT equipment involved, maintaining a FWaaS solution is much simpler than its hardware-based counterparts. Since you’ll spend less time tackling the nuts and screws of your security solution, you might as well invest the time you saved to boost your productivity and performance. 

5. It protects remote workers as well

All of us that work from the comfort of our home or have workers that do will be glad to hear that FWaaS is excellent at extending network defenses to remote workers as well. By connecting to FWaaS via their designated client, they’ll gain automatic security each time they use the internet or access their company’s cloud resources.

Should you switch to FWaaS straight away?

With an abundance of advantages that a FWaaS solution can offer to its users, we suppose you are thinking that there must be some sort of catch? Truth be told, there might be a couple of them.

Since FWaaS is still practically a newbie (albeit one that’s rapidly evolving), implementing one in your security system can be pretty pricey.

What’s more, considering that FWaaS is a cloud-based solution, its ability to function is completely dependent on the network connection, meaning that any amount of downtime could be disastrous for the security of your business.

Nevertheless, since the advantages of switching to FWaaS clearly outweigh the inevitable disadvantages, you should at least give it a shot.

Sead Fadilpašić

Sead is a seasoned freelance journalist based in Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina. He writes about IT (cloud, IoT, 5G, VPN) and cybersecurity (ransomware, data breaches, laws and regulations). In his career, spanning more than a decade, he’s written for numerous media outlets, including Al Jazeera Balkans. He’s also held several modules on content writing for Represent Communications.