Preventing your organization from being the victim of an inevitable cyber-attack is paramount so it is important for us to kick off this blog with an important risk question.
Do you know whether or not your organization‘s firewall is inspecting HTTPS traffic traversing its networks?
I have polled this question on numerous webinars I have conducted over the past year. The results consistently showed the majority of organizations have yet to perform HTTPS inspection as part of their defense strategy. With HTTPS on the rise, accounting for nearly two-third of your organization’s internet traffic today, hackers have expanded their craft to use the protocol to obfuscate their attacks and malware from security systems. Your timely response to this new threat could mean the difference between experiencing a material breach versus successfully averting one. Of course, the latter would be desirable. So, should you have the slightest doubt about your organization’s security posture to deal with encrypted threats, I want you to immediately pause and resume reading this post after you have spoken to your IT security leaders. I’d like you to raise your concerns about the potential millions of intrusions and tens of thousands of malware attacks launched against your organization each and every hour – many of which are likely new versions of ransomware delivered inside of HTTPS sessions. If the firewall is not inspecting this traffic, it would not have the ability to understand what is inside that traffic – whether a file is benign or malicious, credit cards being stolen or financial and health records were being shared with an external system. I hope you return to this blog with a sigh of relief that your organization is not among the majority of respondents that do not.
You got the good news that your organization is inspecting HTTPS traffic. The next logical question is:
“Has your organization experienced frequent network service disruptions or downtime as a result of a total collapse of your firewall performance when inspecting HTTPS traffic?”
Inspecting encrypted traffic is not without its set of big challenges. There are two key components of HTTPS inspection that severely impact firewall performance – establishing a secure connection and decrypting and later re-encrypting packets for secured data exchange. Unlike inspecting internet traffic in plain text, encrypted traffic introduces six additional compute processes that must occur before data is sent back and forth between a client’s browser and the web server over an HTTPS connection. Each process is highly complex and compute-intensive. Most firewall designs today don’t provide the right combination of inspection technology and hardware processing power to handle HTTPS traffic efficiently. They often collapses under the load and subsequently disrupt business-critical operations. According to NSS Labs, the performance penalty on a firewall when HTTPS inspection is enabled can be as high as 81 percent. In other words, your firewall performance is degraded to a level that it is no longer usable.
This leads us to the final and most important question:
“How can you scale firewall protection to prevent performance degradation, lag and latency of your network when inspecting HTTPS traffic?”
The right answer begins with the right inspection architecture as the foundation. Most modern firewalls today have deep packet inspection (DPI) capability claiming to solve many of the above security and performance challenges. However, not all firewalls perform equally or as advertised in the real world. In fact, many of them have inherent design inefficiencies that reduce their ability to handle today’s massive shift towards an all-encrypted Internet. You have one of two choices when it comes to inspection technology. These are Reassembly-Free Deep Packet Inspection (RFDPI) and Packet Assembly-based. Each uses different inspection method to scan and analyze data packets as they pass the firewall. You will quickly discover the performance of most firewalls will collapse under heavy HTTPS load. To avoid a post-deployment surprise, my recommendation is to do your due diligence. Thoroughly qualify and measure all firewalls under consideration and select one that meets both your desire level of performance and security effectiveness without hidden limitations. These are fundamental metrics that you want to heavily scrutinize when selecting a firewall to perform HTTPS inspection. Establishing the right firewall foundation will give you the agility to scale your security layer and solve the performance burden of inspecting HTTPS traffic inside your data center operations.
Uncovering evasive threats hiding inside encrypted network traffic is central to the success of your network defense. For more detail information, read our Executive Brief titled, “The Dark Side of Encryption – Why your network security needs to decrypt traffic to stop hidden threats.”