Cisco ASA Firewall Review

Gives us visibility into potential outbreaks as well as malicious users trying to access the site

What is our primary use case?

We use them for perimeter defense and for VPN, and we also do web filtering.

We're using ASAs at the moment. Going forward, we'll probably look at the FirePOWERs. We currently have anywhere from low end to the mid-range, starting with 5506s all the way up to 5555s. Everything is on-prem.

We have a total of five different security tools in our organization. A couple of them complement each other so that's one of the reasons that we have so many, instead of just having one. For an organization like ours, it works out pretty well.

We are a utility owned by a municipality, with a little over 200 employees in multiple locations.

How has it helped my organization?

Our response time has improved considerably. Rather than getting an alert from an antivirus which could be instantaneous or missed, we can take a look at the console of the Sourcefire Defense Center and identify the device. We can peek into it and see the reason it was tagged, what kind of event it encountered. We can then determine if it was something legit — a false positive — or a positive.

It has improved the time it takes to do mediation on end-user devices. Instead of it being anywhere from ten to 15 to 30 minutes, we can potentially do it within about five minutes or under, at this point. In some cases, it can even be under a minute from when the event happens. By the time end-user gets a message popping up on their screen, a warning about a virus or something similar from one of the anti-malware solutions that we have, within under a minute or so they are isolated from the network and no longer able to access any resources.

What is most valuable?

For us, the most valuable features are the IPX and the Sourcefire Defense Center module. That gives us visibility into the traffic coming in and going out and gives us the heads-up if there is a potential outbreak or potential malicious user who is trying to access the site. It also helps us see traffic generated by an end device trying to reach out to the world. 

Sourcefire is coupled with Talos and that provides us good insight. It gives us a pretty good heads-up. Talos is tied to the Sourcefire Defense Center. Sourcefire Defense Center, which is also known as the management console, periodically checks all the packets that come and go with the Talos, to make sure traffic coming and going from IP addresses, or anything coming from email, is not coming from something that has already been tagged in Talos.

We also use ESA and IronPort firewalls. The integration between those on the Next-Gen Firewalls is good. They are coupled together. If the client reports that there is a potential for a file or something trying to access the internet to download content, there are mediation steps that are in place. We don't have anything in the cloud so we're not looking for Umbrella at this point.

What needs improvement?

We've seen, for a while, that the upcoming revisions are not supported on some of 5506 firewalls, which had some impact on our environment as some of our remote sites, with a handful of users, have them. 

We were also not too thrilled when Cisco announced that in the upcoming new-gen ASA, iOS was not going to be supported, or if you install them, they will not be able to be managed through the Sourcefire. However, it seems like Cisco is moving away from the ASA iOS to the Sourcefire FireSIGHT firmware for the ASA. We haven't had a chance to test it out. I would like to test it out and see what kind of improvements in performance it has, or at least what capabilities the Sourcefire FireSIGHT firmware is on the ASA and how well it works.

For how long have I used the solution?

We've been using next-gen firewalls for about four years.

What do I think about the stability of the solution?

With the main firewall we haven't had many issues. It's been pretty stable. I would rate it at 99.999 percent. Although I think it's very well known in the industry that there was a clock issue with the 5506 and the 5512 models. Their reliability has been far less. I wouldn't give those five-nine's. I would drop it down to 99 percent. Overall, we find the product quite stable.

What do I think about the scalability of the solution?

We are a very small environment. Based on our scale, it's been perfect for our environment.

How are customer service and technical support?

Their tech support has been pretty good. If the need arises, I contact them directly. Usually, our issues get resolved within 30 minutes to an hour. For us, that's pretty good.

Which solution did I use previously and why did I switch?

We were using multiple products in the past. Now, we have it all centralized on one product. We can do our content filtering and our firewall functions in the same place. The ASAs replaced two of the security tools we used to use. One was Barracuda and the other was the because of tools built into the ASAs, with IPX, etc.

When we switched from the Barracuda, familiarity was one of the biggest reasons. The other organizations I've worked in were pretty much doing Cisco. I'm not going to deride the Barracuda. I found it to be pretty close, performance-wise. In some cases, it was pretty simple to use versus the Sourcefire management console. However, when you went into the nitty gritty of things, getting down to the micro level, Sourcefire was far ahead of Barracuda.

How was the initial setup?

We found the initial setup to be pretty straightforward the way we did it. We ended up doing one-on-one replacement. But as the environment grew and the needs grew, we ended up branching it off into different segmentations.

Going from two devices to five devices took us a little over a year. That was all at one location though. We branched it off, each one handling a different environment. 

For the first one, since it was new to us and there were some features we weren't familiar with, we had a partner help us out. Including configuring, install, bringing it into production, and going through a learning process — in monitoring mode — it took us about two to three days. Then, we went straight into protective mode. Within three years we had a Sourcefire ruleset on all that configured and deployed.

It was done in parallel with our existing infrastructure and it was done in-line. That way, the existing one did all the work while this one just learned and we watched what kind of traffic was flowing through and what we needed to allow in to build a ruleset.

It took three of us to do the implementation. And now, we normally have two people maintain the firewalls, a primary and a secondary.

What about the implementation team?

We use JKS Systems. We've been with them for 16-plus years, so our experience with them has been pretty good. They help with our networking needs.

What was our ROI?

On the engineering side we have definitely seen ROI. So far, we haven't had much downtime in our environment.

What's my experience with pricing, setup cost, and licensing?

Pricing varies on the model and the features we are using. It could be anywhere from $600 to $1000 to up to $7,000 per year, depending on what model and what feature sets are available to us.

The only additional cost is Smart NET. That also depends on whether you're doing gold or silver, 24/7 or 8/5, etc.

What other advice do I have?

The biggest lesson I've learned so far from using the next-gen firewall is that it has visibility up to Layer 7. Traditionally, it was IP or port, TCP or any protocol we were looking for. But now we can go all the way up to Layer 7, and make sure STTP traffic is not a bit torn. That was something that we did not have before on the up-to-Layer-3 firewall.

Do your research, do your homework, so you know what you're looking for, what you're trying to protect, and how much you can manage. Use that to narrow down the devices out there. So far, in our environment, we haven't had any issues with the ASA firewalls.

From the first-gen, we have seen that they are pretty good. We are pretty content and happy with them.

The solution can help with the application visibility and control but that is one portion we have really not dived into. That's one of the things we are looking forward to. As a small utility, a small organization, with our number of employees available, we can only stretch things so far. It has helped us to identify and highlight things to management. Hopefully, as our staff grows, we'll be able to devote more towards application visibility and all the stuff we really want to do with it.

Similarly, when it comes to automated policy application and enforcement, we don't use it as much as we would like to. We're a small enough environment that we can do most of that manually. I'm still a little hesitant about it, because I've talked to people where an incident has happened and quite a bit of their devices were locked out. That is something we try to avoid. But as we grow, and there are more IoT things and more devices get on the network, that is something we'll definitely have to do. As DevNet gets going and we get more involved with it, I'm pretty sure more automation on the ASA, on the network side and security side, will take place on our end.

We do find most of the features we are looking on the ASA. Between the ASA firewall and the Sourcefire management console, we have pretty much all the features that we need in this environment.

In terms of how the solution future-proofs our organization, that depends. I'm waiting to find out from Cisco what their roadmap is. They're still saying they're going to stick with ASA 55 series. We're also looking at the Sourcefire FireSIGHT product that they have for the firewalls. It depends. Are they going to continue to stick with the 55s or are they going to migrate all that into one product? Based on that, we'll have to adjust our needs and strategize.

If I include some of the hiccups we had with the 5506 models, which was a sad event, I would give the ASAs a nine out of ten.

Which deployment model are you using for this solution?

**Disclosure: IT Central Station contacted the reviewer to collect the review and to validate authenticity. The reviewer was referred by the vendor, but the review is not subject to editing or approval by the vendor.
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