Firewalls are a critical form of defense to protect your organization’s network, data, and other resources. This is true whether your firewall is on premises, in the cloud, or a hybrid of both. But keeping up with all the changes required for your firewall can be challenging, especially if your process is a manual one. One wrong configuration can open your firewall to hackers and data breaches.

A recent report by Gartner said that 99% of all firewall breaches will be caused by misconfiguration issues. But one way to lessen the challenge is by automating your firewall configuration process, according to a report released Tuesday by FireMon.

SEE: Firewall Buyer’s Guide (PDF) (TechRepublic)

For its sixth annual “State of the Firewall” report, FireMon surveyed more than 573 network and security engineers, IT Ops Managers, and C-Level executives about the processes they use to deal with firewall configuration changes. Among the respondents, 65% said that they use manual processes for their firewall change system. For C-level executives, 68% gave the same response, while 38% said their change process is ad hoc.

The number of firewall changes needed on a regular basis can tax network and security staffers. Some 45% of those surveyed said that they process between 10 and 99 firewall change requests each week. Among that group, many said that their firewall change process is done manually or ad hoc, such as through spreadsheets or email requests to firewall administrators. And a number of those changes are requested in response to mistakes. Some 36% of the respondents said that misconfigurations, inaccuracies, or issues with a network account encompass 10%-24% of the firewall changes that require rework.

Learning about firewall configuration problems is yet another challenge for many network and security staffers. Some 38% of the respondents said they find out about issues triggered by a misconfigured firewall via urgent communications through email, text, or phone call. But 34% acknowledged that they have less than 50% real-time visibility into network security risks and compliance. Beyond leading to data breaches, the lack of visibility can cause compliance issues. Some 24% of those surveyed weren’t sure or wouldn’t admit if they had failed a compliance audit in the past 12 months.

But firewalls remain a vital part of network security, with 95% of the respondents saying they’re as critical as ever. Almost one-third of those surveyed said they have 100 or more firewalls on their network. More than three-fourths use two or more different vendors to help manage their firewalls, while 80% said they have firewalls set up in the cloud.

Survey respondents shared their top firewall challenges as:

  • Complexity of firewall rules and policies
  • Optimizing firewall rules
  • Managing multiple vendors and types of firewalls
  • Gaps in firewall enforcement
  • Lack of automation

To help network and security staff better manage and maintain their firewall configuration, FireMon recommends a more automated process. But such automation isn’t just something you can turn on and off. Rather, organizations should implement flexible levels of automation to suit their pace and confidence levels.

Automating firewall configuration changes can help businesses in several ways, according to FireMon:

  • Reduce human error by eliminating misconfigurations that could increase the attack surface.
  • Eliminate the friction between DevOps and SecOps so they can deliver faster security solutions.
  • Increase security agility while shortening the timeframe as set in service-level agreements.
  • Maximize efficiency while reducing operational and security costs.
  • Prevent compliance violations by continuously monitoring global security policies across a hybrid environment.

Image: iStockphoto/EvgeniyShkolenko