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What Is a Distributed Firewall?

Increased internet access speeds and compute-intensive protocols make it difficult for traditional firewalls to analyze traffic and result in them becoming congestion points. Distributed firewalls offer a solution by processing power across an entire network instead of the single cluster or machine a firewall is installed on.

distributed firewall is a security software application that protects an organization’s whole network against potential intrusions. It can be deployed alongside traditional firewalls to add further protection to the network and maintain a high level of throughput for network traffic.

Why Do Enterprises Need a Distributed Firewall?

The most significant difference between traditional firewalls and distributed firewalls is the manner in which they operate. A conventional firewall is deployed on a single computer to monitor the traffic it uses on a network. A distributed firewall architecture operates across an entire enterprise network using resources from multiple computers.

Traditionally, firewalls operated by defending an enterprise’s perimeter, whereby they guarded malicious traffic that came from outside the network. A distributed firewall also protects networks against malicious activities from inside an organization, such as those that target Internet Protocol security (IPsec) or IPsec VPN protocols, which have become increasingly prevalent in the modern security landscape.

Firewalls are critical to mitigating the threat of cyberattacks by monitoring for and blocking suspicious or unusual traffic from public networks like the internet. A distributed firewall configuration provides capabilities beyond what traditional firewalls can deliver by looking for specific telltale signs of a potential cyberattack, such as suspicious Internet Protocol (IP) addresses.

Advantages of a Distributed Firewall

Distributed firewalls offer a range of benefits for enterprises that need to provide employees with access to public networks. Distributed firewall advantages include:

Protection from Insider Attacks

A significant advantage of distributed firewalls is protecting hosts that are not within the traditional confines of enterprise networks. This is especially important with the rise of remote working and users accessing networks from disparate locations. A distributed firewall enables enterprises to protect user machines whenever and wherever they attempt to access networks.

Intrusion Detection

Traditional firewalls typically do not understand the intention of a host and rely on the features of various protocols. This could lead to, for example, incoming Transmission Control Protocol (TCP) packets that originate from incoming attacks being presumed legitimate. 

However, sending hosts know the intention, so it is more secure to use distributed firewalls, which understand this intention and can reject illegitimate traffic.

Service Exposure and Port Scanning

Distributed firewalls ensure traffic throughput is no longer limited by firewall speed and eliminates the single point of failure that can isolate entire networks. Some enterprises attempt to address this by deploying multiple firewalls, which can result in an insecure firewall-to-firewall protocol.

Features of a Distributed Firewall

Distributed firewalls provide an extra layer of defense against cyberattacks and malicious activity. They do this using specific capabilities, including:

Central Management System

Distributed firewalls enable organizations to configure and push consistent security policies through their central management system. This ensures they gain centralized reporting, which makes it easier to update and apply firewall policies consistently. 

Security Policy Distribution

Traditional firewalls offer security policy capabilities that enable enterprises to allow or deny access to resources based on defined criteria. Distributed firewalls add to this basic functionality by guaranteeing the integrity of a security policy while data is in motion.

Enhanced Access Control

Distributed firewalls enable enterprises to deploy fine-grained access control around their resources. This goes well beyond the access control levels that traditional firewalls are capable of without increasing complexity and processing requirements.

Host-end Execution

A distributed firewall supports both push and pull distribution methods. The pull option checks that the central management server is active before requesting policies, while the pull capability ensures host policies are constantly updated.

How Fortinet Can Help

Fortinet provides security for distributed enterprises with its FortiGate next-generation firewalls (NGFWs). Fortinet NGFWs provide industry-leading enterprise security with complete visibility of networks and advanced real-time threat protection. They use artificial intelligence and machine-learning technologies to virtually patch and protect against known and unknown threats and advanced attack vectors. This capability safeguards enterprises as their network edge expands and as users access networks from disparate locations.