Cisco Firepower NGFW Firewall Review

Gives us valuable insights about encrypted traffic on the web, with statistics up to Layer 7

What is our primary use case?

Our primary use cases for FTD are IPS, intrusion detection, and to get visibility into the network and the traffic that is going on in some sites. We always have them in-line, meaning that they're between two networking connections, and we analyze the traffic for the purposes of internal detection.

In production, from the FTD line, we mostly have 2110s and 2130s because we have a lot of small sites, and we are starting to put in some 4110s. We only have FirePOWER here, but we don't use them most of the time as next-gen firewalls but more as an IPS.

Everything is on-premises. We don't use public clouds for security reasons.

How has it helped my organization?

When you put FTD between your internet and network units, you can get valuable insights about your encrypted traffic on the web, DNS traffic, and the like. It gives us statistics up to Layer 7.

Although I can't go into the details, the way the solution has helped our organization is more on the root-cause side when there is an incident, because we get very detailed information.

FTD's ability to provide visibility into threats is very good, if the traffic is clear. Like most companies, we have the issue that there is more and more encrypted traffic. That's why we use Stealthwatch instead, because we can get more information about encrypted traffic. But FTD is pretty good. It gives us a lot of details.

We put them in in-line and in blocking mode and they have stopped some weird things automatically. They help save time every day. We have 150,000 people all over the world, and there are times when computers get infected. It helps save time because those infections don't propagate over the network.

The fact that we can centrally manage clients for our IPS, and that we can reuse what we type for one IPS or one firewall, makes it easy to expand that to multiple sites and multiple devices. Overall, it has been a great improvement.

What is most valuable?

The IPS, as well as the malware features, are the two things that we use the most and they're very valuable.

Cisco Talos is also very good. I had the chance to meet them at Cisco Live and during the Talos Threat Research Summit. I don't know if they are the leader in the threat intelligence field but they are very competent. They are also very good at explaining complicated things easily. We use all of their blacklist, threat intelligence, and malware stuff on our FTDs. We also use the website from Talos where you can get web reputation and IP reputation.

What needs improvement?

For the new line of FTDs, the performance could be improved. We sometimes have issues with the 41 series, depending on what we activate. If we activate too many intrusion policies, it affects the CPU. We have great hopes for the next version. We have integrated Snort 3.0, the new Snort, because it includes multi-threading. I hope we will get better performance with that.

What do I think about the stability of the solution?

The stability depends on the version. The latest versions are pretty good. Most of the time, we wait for one or two minor version updates before using the new major version because the major versions go through a lot of changes and are still a bit unstable. For example, if you take 6.3, it started to be pretty stable with 6.3.03 or 6.3.04.

What do I think about the scalability of the solution?

Scalability depends on the site. At some sites we have ten people while at others we have a data center with a full 10 Gig for all the group. We have had one issue. When there are a lot of small packets — for example, when our IPS is in front of a log server or the SNMP servers — sometimes we have issues, but only when we get a peak of small packets.

How are customer service and technical support?

We've got a little history with tech support. We have very good knowledge within our team about the product now. We have a lab here in Montreal where we test and assess all the new versions and the devices. Sometimes we try to bypass level-one tech support because they are not of help. Now, we've have someone dedicated to work with us on complex issues. We use them a lot for RMAs to return defective products.

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

In our company, we have used another firewall which we developed based on FreeBSD.

I, personally, used to work with Juniper, Check Point, and Fortinet. I used Fortinet a lot in the past. If you use the device only for pure firewall, up to Layer 4, not as an application or next-gen firewall, Fortinet is a good and cheaper option. But when it comes to a UTM or next-gen, Cisco is better, in my opinion. FortiGate can do everything, but I'm not sure they do any one thing well. At least with Cisco, when you use the IPS feature, it's very good.

How was the initial setup?

Setting up an FTD is a bit more complex with the new FTD line. They integrated the FXOS, but the OS is still not fully integrated. If you want to be able to fully manage the device, you still need to use two IP addresses: One for FXOS and one for the software. It's complicating things for the 4110 to have to, on the one hand manage the chassis and the hardware on one, and on the other hand to manage the logical device and the software from another one.

But overall, if you take them separately, it's pretty easy to set up and to manage.

The time it takes to deploy one really depends. I had to deploy one in Singapore and access the console remotely. But most of the time, once I get my hands on it, it can be very quick because we have central management with FMC. Setting up the basic configuration is quick. After that, you have to push the configuration that you use for your group IPS and that's it. My experience is a bit different because I lose time trying to get my hands on it since I'm on the other side of the world. But when I get access to it, it's pretty easy to deploy. We have about 62 of them in production, so we have a standard for how we implement them and how we manage them.

We have Professional Services and consultants who work with us on projects, but not for the deployment. We have our own data centers and our own engineers who are trained to do it. We give them the instructions so we don't need Cisco help for deployment. We have help from Cisco only for complex projects. In our case, it requires two people for deployment, one who will do the configuration of the device, and one who is physically in the data center to set up the cables into the device. But that type of setup is particular to our situation because we have data centers all around the world.

For maintenance, we have a team of a dozen people, which is based in India. They work in shifts, but they don't only work on the FTDs. They work on all the security devices. FTD is only a part of their responsibilities. Potentially we can be protecting 140,000 people, meaning all the employees who work on the internal network. But mostly, we work for international internal people, which would be roughly 12,000 people. But there are only three people on my team who are operators.

What was our ROI?

ROI is a difficult question. We have never done the calculations, but I would say we see ROI because of some security concerns we stopped.

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

Cisco changed its price model with the new FTD line, where the appliances are a bit cheaper but the licensing is a bit more expensive. But that's not only Cisco, a lot of suppliers are doing that. I don't remember a lot of the licensing for Fortinet and Check Point, but Cisco's pricing is high, at times, for what they provide.

What other advice do I have?

FTD is pretty good. You can stop new threats very quickly because you can get the threat intelligence deployed to all your IPSs in less than two hours. Cisco works closely with Talos and anything that Talos finds is provided in the threat intelligence of the FTDs if you have the license. It's pretty good to have the Cisco and Talos teams working closely. I know Palo Alto has an similar arrangement, but not a lot of suppliers get that chance.

Our organization's security implementation is pretty mature because we try to avoid the false positives and we try to do remediation. We try to put threat intelligence over a link to our IPS next-gen firewalls.

Overall, we have too many tools for security in our organization — around a dozen. It's very complicated to integrate all of them. What we have done is to try to use the Elastic Assist Pack over all of them, as a main point of centralization of log information. The number of tools also affects training of teams. There are issues because one tool can't communicate with the another one. It can be very hard, in terms of technical issues and training time, to have everybody using all these processes.

We also use Cisco Stealthwatch, although not directly with the FTD, but we hope to make them work together. There is not enough integration between the two products.

Overall, FTD is one part of our security strategy. I wouldn't rely only on it because we've got more and more issues coming from the endpoints. It lets you decipher everything but sometimes it is very complicated. We try to use a mix and not rely only on the FTDs. But for sure it's great when you've got a large network, to give you some visibility into your traffic.

I rate it at eight out of ten because it's pretty good technology and pretty good at stopping threats, but it still needs some improvement in the management of the new FTD line and in performance.

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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1 Comment

author avatarAnshul Kaushik (Cisco Systems, Inc.)
Real User

FTD is the recommended release now and is more stable in terms of features and functions. The new HW models Firepower 1K are 2-3 times better in performance as compared to the legacy ASA 5500-x series at the same price. The addition of new 41xx models are more efficient at the same price as compared to previous 41xx models.
The current release of FTD is 6.5 , got released last month.