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Cisco Firepower NGFW Firewall OverviewUNIXBusinessApplication

Cisco Firepower NGFW Firewall is #4 ranked solution in best firewalls. IT Central Station users give Cisco Firepower NGFW Firewall an average rating of 8 out of 10. Cisco Firepower NGFW Firewall is most commonly compared to Fortinet FortiGate: Cisco Firepower NGFW Firewall vs Fortinet FortiGate.Cisco Firepower NGFW Firewall is popular among Large Enterprise, accounting for 67% of users researching this solution on IT Central Station. The top industry researching this solution is Comms Service Provider, accounting for 32% of all views.
What is Cisco Firepower NGFW Firewall?

Cisco NGFW firewalls deliver advanced threat defense capabilities to meet diverse needs, from
small/branch offices to high performance data centers and service providers. Available in a wide
range of models, Cisco NGFW can be deployed as a physical or virtual appliance. Advanced threat
defense capabilities include Next-generation IPS (NGIPS), Security Intelligence (SI), Advanced
Malware Protection (AMP), URL filtering, Application Visibility and Control (AVC), and flexible VPN
features. Inspect encrypted traffic and enjoy automated risk ranking and impact flags to reduce event
volume so you can quickly prioritize threats. Cisco NGFW firewalls are also available with clustering
for increased performance, high availability configurations, and more.
Cisco Firepower NGFWv is the virtualized version of Cisco's Firepower NGFW firewall. Widely
deployed in leading private and public clouds, Cisco NGFWv automatically scales up/down to meet
the needs of dynamic cloud environments and high availability provides resilience. Also, Cisco NGFWv
can deliver micro-segmentation to protect east-west network traffic.
Cisco firewalls provide consistent security policies, enforcement, and protection across all your
environments. Unified management for Cisco ASA and FTD/NGFW physical and virtual firewalls is
delivered by Cisco Defense Orchestrator (CDO), with cloud logging also available. And with Cisco
SecureX included with every Cisco firewall, you gain a cloud-native platform experience that enables
greater simplicity, visibility, and efficiency.
Learn more about Cisco’s firewall solutions, including virtual appliances for public and private cloud.

Cisco Firepower NGFW Firewall is also known as Cisco Firepower NGFW, Cisco Firepower Next-Generation Firewall, FirePOWER, Cisco NGFWv.

Cisco Firepower NGFW Firewall Buyer's Guide

Download the Cisco Firepower NGFW Firewall Buyer's Guide including reviews and more. Updated: October 2021

Cisco Firepower NGFW Firewall Customers

Rackspace, The French Laundry, Downer Group, Lewisville School District, Shawnee Mission School District, Lower Austria Firefighters Administration, Oxford Hospital, SugarCreek, Westfield

Cisco Firepower NGFW Firewall Video

Pricing Advice

What users are saying about Cisco Firepower NGFW Firewall pricing:
  • "I like the Smart Licensing, because it is more dynamic and easier to keep track of where you are at. If we have a high availability firewall pair and they are deployed in active/standby rather than active/active, I would expect that we would only pay for one set of licenses because you are using only one firewall at any one time. The other is there just for resiliency. The licensing, from a Firepower perspective, still requires you to have two licenses, even if the firewalls are in active/standby, which means that you pay for the two licenses, even though you might only be using one firewall any one time. This is probably not the best way to do it and doesn't represent the best value for money. This could be looked at to see if it could be done in a fairer way."
  • "Cisco is not for a small mom-and-pop shop because of the cost, but if you're in a regulated industry where a breach could cost you a million dollars, it's a bargain."
  • "I know that licensing for some of the advanced solutions, like Intrusion Prevention and Secure Malware Analytics, are nominal costs."

Cisco Firepower NGFW Firewall Reviews

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TG
Lead Network Administrator at a financial services firm with 201-500 employees
Real User
Top 20
Enables analysis, diagnosis, and deployment of fixes quickly, but the system missed a SIP attack

Pros and Cons

  • "With the FMC and the FirePOWERs, the ability to quickly replace a piece of hardware without having to have a network outage is useful. Also, the ability to replace a piece of equipment and deploy the config that the previous piece of equipment had is pretty useful."
  • "We had an event recently where we had inbound traffic for SIP and we experienced an attack against our SIP endpoint, such that they were able to successfully make calls out... Both CTR, which is gathering data from multiple solutions that the vendor provides, as well as the FMC events connection, did not show any of those connections because there was not a NAT inbound which said either allow it or deny it."

What is our primary use case?

These are our primary edge firewalls at two data centers.

How has it helped my organization?

Today I was able to quickly identify that SSH was being blocked from one server to another, and that was impacting our ability to back up that particular server, because it uses SFTP to back up. I saw that it was blocking rule 22, and one of the things I was able to do very quickly was to take an existing application rule that says 22, or SSH, is allowed. I copied that rule, pasted it into the ruleset and edited it so that it applied to the new IPs — the new to and from. I was able to analyze, diagnose, and deploy the fix in about five minutes.

That illustrates the ability to utilize the product as a single pane of glass. I did the troubleshooting, the figuring out why it was a problem, and the fix, all from the same console. In the past, that would have been a combination of changes that I would have had to make both on the ASDM side of things, using ASDM to manage the ASA rules, as well as having to allow them in the FMC and to the FirePOWER.

Overall, as a result of the solution, our company's security posture is a lot better now.

What is most valuable?

With the FMC and the FirePOWERs, the ability to quickly replace a piece of hardware without having to have a network outage is useful. Also, the ability to replace a piece of equipment and deploy the config that the previous piece of equipment had is pretty useful. 

The administration is a little easier on the FirePOWER appliances because we're not using two separate products. For example, in the ASAs with FirePOWER Services, we were using the FMC to manage the FirePOWER Services, but we were still using ASDM for the traditional Layer 2 and Layer 3 rulesets. That is all combined in FMC for the FirePOWER devices.

Our particular version includes application visibility and control. Most next-gen firewalls do. The product is maturing with what they call FirePOWER Threat Defense, which is the code that runs on the firewalls themselves. The FirePOWER Threat Defense software has matured somewhat. There were some issues with some older versions where they didn't handle things in a predictable manner. Applications that we didn't have a specific rule for may have been allowed through until it could identify them as a threat. We reorganized our rules, because of that "feature," in a different way so that those extra packets weren't getting through and we weren't having to wait so long for the assessment of whether they should be allowed or not. We took a different approach for those unknowns and basically created a whitelist/blacklist model where applications on the list were allowed through.

Then, as you progressed into the ruleset, some of those features became more relevant and we stopped this. We looked at it as "leaky" because it was allowing some packets in that we didn't want in, while it made the determination of whether or not those applications were dangerous. Our mindset was to assume they're dangerous before letting them in so we had to adjust our ruleset for that. As the product matures, they've come out with better best practices related to it. Initially, there wasn't a lot of best-practice information for these. We may have been a little early in deploying the FirePOWER appliances versus continuing on with the adaptive security appliances, the old PIX/ASA model of firewalls. Cisco proposed this newer model and our VAR agreed it would be a benefit to us.

There was a bit of a transition. The way they handle the processing of applications is different between the ASAs and the FirePOWERs. There were growing pains for us with that. But ultimately, the ability to have this configured to the point where I could choose a specific user and create a rule which says this user can use this application, and they'll be able to do it from whatever system they want to, has been advantageous for our functionality and our ability to deliver services more quickly.

There haven't been a lot of specific use cases for that, other than troubleshooting things for myself. But having the knowledge that that functionality is there, is helpful. Certainly, we do have quite a few rules now which are based on "this application is allowed, this whole set of applications is blocked." It does make that easier because, in the past, you generally did that by saying, "This port is allowed, this port is blocked." Now we can say, not the ports; we're doing it by the services, or instead of by the services we're doing it by the applications. It makes it a little bit easier. And Cisco has taken the step of categorizing applications as well, so we can block an entire group of applications that fall under a particular category.

For the most part, it's very good for giving us visibility into the network, in conjunction with other products that give us visibility into users as well as remote items. It's really good at tracking internal things, really good at tracking people, and really good at giving us visibility as to what's hitting us, in most situations.

In general, Cisco is doing a pretty good job. Since we started the deploy process, they've increased the number of best-practice and configuration-guidance webinars they do. Once a month they'll have one where they show how we can fix certain things and a better way to run certain things. 

The product continues to improve as well. Some of the features that were missing from the product line when it was first deployed — I was using it when it was 6.2 — are in 6.4. We had some of them in ASDM and they were helpful for troubleshooting, but they did not exist on the FirePOWER side of things. They've slowly been adding some of those features. They have also been improving the integration with ISE and some of the other products that utilize those resources. It's getting better.

What needs improvement?

Regarding the solution's ability to provide visibility into threats, I'm not as positive about that one. We had an event recently where we had inbound traffic for SIP and we experienced an attack against our SIP endpoint, such that they were able to successfully make calls out. There is no NAT for that. So we opened a case with the vendor asking how this was possible? They had to get several people on the line to explain to us that there was an invisible, hidden NAT and that is how that traffic was getting in, and that this was by design. That was rather frustrating because as far as the troubleshooting goes, I saw no traffic.

Both CTR, which is gathering data from multiple solutions that the vendor provides, as well as the FMC events connection, did not show any of those connections because there wasn't a NAT inbound which said either allow it or deny it. There just wasn't a rule that said traffic outside on SIP should be allowed into this system. They explained to us that, because we had an outbound PAT rule for SIP, it creates a NAT inbound for us. I've yet to find it documented anywhere. So I was blamed for an inbound event that was caused because a NAT that was not described anywhere in the configuration was being used to allow that traffic in. That relates to the behavior differences between the ASAs and the FirePOWERs and the maturity. That was one of those situations where I was a little disappointed. 

Most of the time it's very good for giving me visibility into the network. But in that particular scenario, it was not reporting the traffic at all. I had multiple systems that were saying, "Yeah, this is not a problem, because I see no traffic. I don't know what you're talking about." When I would ask, "Why are we having these outbound calls that shouldn't be happening?" there was nothing. Eventually, Cisco found another rule in our code and they said, "Oh, it's because you have this rule, that inbound NAT was able to be taken advantage of." Once again I said, "But we don't have an inbound NAT. You just decided to create one and didn't tell us."

We had some costs associated with those outbound SIP calls that were considered to be an incident.

For the most part, my impression of Cisco Talos is good. But again, I searched Cisco Talos for these people who were making these SIP calls and they were identified as legitimate networks. They had been flagged as utilized for viral campaigns in the past, but they weren't flagged at the time as being SIP attackers or SIP hijackers, and that was wrong. Obviously Talos didn't have the correct information in that scenario. When I requested that they update it based on the fact that we had experienced SIP attacks for those networks, Talos declined. They said no, these networks are fine. They should not be considered bad actors. It seemed that Talos didn't care that those particular addresses were used to attack us.

It would have protected other people if they'd adjusted those to be people who are actively carrying out SIP attacks against us currently. Generally speaking, they're top-of-the-game as far as security intelligence goes, but in this one scenario, the whole process seemed to fail us from end to end. Their basic contention was that it was my fault, not theirs. That didn't help me as a customer and, as an employee of the credit union, it certainly hurt me.

For how long have I used the solution?

We've been using the FMC for about five years. We've only been using the FTD or FirePOWER appliances for about a year.

What do I think about the stability of the solution?

The stability is pretty good. We went through several code revisions from being on the ASAs on 6.2, all the way through the new FirePOWERs, moving them to 6.4.

Unfortunately, we had the misfortune of using a particular set of code that later was identified as a problem and we had a bit of an upgrade issue. We were trying to get off of 6.3.0 on to 6.3.0.3. The whole system fell apart and I had to rebuild it. I had to break HA. We ended up having to RMA one of our two FMCs. I'm only now, a couple of months later, getting that resolved.

That said, I've had six or seven upgrades that went smoothly with no issues.

What do I think about the scalability of the solution?

The scalability is awesome. That's one of those features that this product adds. Not only does it scale so that we can add more firewalls and have more areas of deployment and get more functionality done, but we have the ability that we could replace a small-to-medium, enterprise firewall with a large enterprise firewall, with very little pain and effort. That's because that code is re-appliable across multiple FirePOWER solutions. So should a need for more bandwidth arise, we could easily replace the products and deploy the same rulesets. The protections we have in place would carry forward.

We hairpin all of our internet traffic through the data centers. Our branch offices have Cisco's Meraki product and use the firewall for things that we allow outbound at that location. Most of that is member WiFi traffic which goes out through the local connections and out through those firewalls. We don't really want all of the member Facebook traffic coming through our main firewalls. I don't foresee that changing. I don't see us moving to a scenario where we're not hairpinning all of our business-relevant internet traffic through the data centers. 

I don't foresee us adding another data center in the near future, but that is always an option. I do foresee us increasing our bandwidth requirements and, potentially, requiring an additional device or an increase in the device size. We have FirePOWER 2100s and we might have to go to something bigger to support our bandwidth requirements.

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

The previous usage was with an ASA that had FirePOWER services installed.

How was the initial setup?

The transition from the ASA platform to the FirePOWER platform was a little difficult. It took some effort and there were some road bumps along the way. After the fact, they were certainly running all over themselves to assist us. But during the actual events, all they were trying to do was point out how it wasn't their fault, which wasn't very helpful. I wasn't interested in who was to blame, I was interested in how we could fix this. They wanted to spend all their time figuring out how they could blame somebody else. That was rather frustrating for me while going through the process. It wasn't as smooth as it should have been. It could have been a much easier process with better support from the vendor.

It took about a month per site. We have two data centers and we tackled them one at a time.

We set up the appliances and got them configured on the network and connected to the FirePOWER Management console. At that point we had the ability to deploy to the units, and they had the ability to get their code updates. At that point we utilized the Firewall Migration Tool that allowed us to migrate the code from an ASA to a FirePOWER. It was well supported. I had a couple of tickets I had to open and they had very good support for it. We were able to transition the code from the ASAs to the FirePOWERs.

It deployed very well, but again, some of these things that were being protected on the ASA side were allowed on the FirePOWER side; specifically, that SIP traffic. We didn't have any special rules in the ASA about SIP and that got copied over. The lack of a specific rule saying only allow from these sites and block from these countries, is what we had to do to fix the problem. We had to say, "This country and that country and that country are not allowed to SIP-traffic us." That fixed the problem. There is a certain amount missing in that migration, but it was fairly easy to use the toolkit to migrate the code.

Then, it was just that lack of knowledge about an invisible NAT and the lack of documentation regarding that kind of thing. As time has gone by, they've increased the documentation. The leaky packets I mentioned have since been added as, "This is the behavior of the product." Now you can Google that and it will show you that a few packets getting through is expected behavior until the engine makes a determination, and then it'll react retroactively, to say that that traffic should be blocked.

Certainly, it's expected behavior that a few packets get through. If we'd known that, we might have reacted differently. Not knowing that we should have expected that traffic made for a little bit of concern, especially from the security team. They had third-party products reporting this as a problem, but when I'd go into the console, it would say that traffic was blocked. But it wasn't blocked at first, it was only blocked now, because that decision had been made. All I saw is that it was blocked. From their point of view, they were able to see, "Oh, well initially it was allowed and then it got blocked." We were a little concerned that it wasn't functioning correctly. When you have two products reporting two different things, it becomes a bit of a concern.

What was our ROI?

We have probably not seen ROI yet. These are licensed under Cisco ONE and you usually don't see a return on investment until the second set of hardware. We're still on our first set of hardware under this licensing.

That said, our ASAs were ready to go end-of-life. The return on investment there is that we don't have end-of-life hardware in our data center. That return was pretty immediate.

What other advice do I have?

The biggest lesson I have learned from using this solution is that you can't always trust that console. In the particular case of the traffic which I was used to seeing identified in CTR, not seeing that traffic but knowing that it was actually occurring was a little bit of a concern. It wasn't until we actually put rules in that said "block that traffic" that I started to see the traffic in the console and in the CTR. Overall, my confidence in Cisco as a whole was shaken by that series of events. I have a little bit less trust in the brand, but so far I've been happy with the results. Ultimately we got what we wanted out of it. We expected certain capabilities and we received those capabilities. We may have been early adopters — maybe a little bit too early. If we had waited a little bit, we might've seen more about these SIP issues that weren't just happening to us. They've happened other people as well.

The maturity of our company's security implementation is beyond the nascent stage but we're not what I would call fully matured. We're somewhere in the middle. "Fully matured" would be having a lot more automation and response capabilities. At this point, to a large extent, the information security team doesn't even have a grasp on what devices are connected to the network, let alone the ability to stop a new device from being added or quarantined in an automated fashion. From my point of view, posture control from our ISE system, where it would pass the SGTs to the FirePOWER system so that we could do user-based access and also automated quarantining, would go a long way towards our maturity. In the NISK model, we're still at the beginning stages, about a year into the process.

Most of our tools have some security element to them. From the Cisco product line, I can think of about ten that are currently deployed. We have a few extras that are not Cisco branded, three or four other items that are vulnerability-scanning or SIEM or machine-learning and automation of threat detection.

The stuff that we have licensed includes the AMP for Networks, URL filtering, ITS updates and automation to the rule updates, as well as vulnerability updates that the product provides. Additionally, we have other services that are part of Cisco's threat-centric defense, including Umbrella and AMP for Endpoints. We use Cisco Threat Response, or CTR, to get a big-picture view from all these different services. There's a certain amount of StealthWatch included in the product, as well as some of the other advantages of having the Cisco Talos security intelligence.

The integration among these products is definitely better than among the non-Cisco products. It's much better than trying to integrate it with non-Cisco functionality. That is probably by design, by Cisco. Because they can work on both ends of, for example, integrating our AMP for Endpoints into our FirePOWER Management Console, they can troubleshoot from both ends. That probably makes for a better integration whereas, when we're trying to troubleshoot the integration with, say, Microsoft Intune, it's very hard to get Cisco to work together with Microsoft to figure out where the problem is. When you have the same people working on both sides of the equation, it makes it a little easier. 

Additionally, as our service needs have progressed and the number of products we have from Cisco has increased, they've put us onto a managed security product-support model. When I call in, they don't only know how to work on the product I'm calling in on. Take FMC, for example. They also know how to work on some of those other products that they know we have, such as the Cisco Voice system or Jabber or the WebEx Teams configurations, and some of those integrations as well. So, their troubleshooting doesn't end with the firewall and then they pass us off to another support functionality. On that first call, they usually have in-house resources who are knowledgeable about all those different aspects of the Threat Centric defenses, as well as about routine routing and switching stuff, and some of the hardware knowledge as well. We're a heavy Cisco shop and it helps in troubleshooting things when the person I'm talking to doesn't know only about firewalls. That's been beneficial. It's a newer model that they've been deploying because they do have so many customers with multiple products which they want to work together.

In most cases, this number of tools improves our security operations, but recent events indicate that, to a large extent, the tools and their utilization, beyond the people who deployed them, weren't very helpful in identifying and isolating a particular issue that we had recently. Ultimately, it ended up taking Cisco and a TAC case to identify the problems. Even though the security team has all these other tools that they utilize, apparently they don't know how to use them because they weren't able to utilize them to do more than provide info that we already had.

We have other vendors' products as well. To a large extent, they're monitoring solutions and they're not really designed to integrate. The functionality which some of these other products provide is usually a replication of a functionality that's already within the Cisco product, but it may or may not be to the extent or capacity that the information security team prefers. My functionality is largely the security hardware and Cisco-related products, and their functionality is more on the monitoring side and providing the policies. From their point of view, they wanted specific products that they prefer for their monitoring. So it wasn't surprising that they found the Cisco products deficient, because they didn't want the Cisco products in the first place. And that's not saying they didn't desire the Cisco benefits. It's just they have their preference. They'd rather see Rapid7's vulnerability scan than ISE's. They'd rather see the connection events from Darktrace rather than relying on the FMC. And I agree, it's a good idea to have two viewpoints into this kind of stuff, especially if there's a disagreement between the two products. It never hurts to have two products doing the same thing if you can afford it. The best thing that can happen is when the two products disagree. You can utilize both products to figure out where the deficiency lies. That's another advantage.

For deployment, upgrades, and maintenance, it's just me.

We were PIX customers when they were software-based, so we've been using that product line for some time, other than the Meraki MXs that we're using for the branch offices. The Merakis are pretty good firewalls as well.

We also have access here at our primary data centers, but they're configured differently and do different things. The MXs we have at our data centers are more about the LAN functionality and the ability to fail from site to site and to take the VPN connections from the branch offices. For remote access VPN, we primarily used the firewalls. For our site-to-site VPNs, we primarily use these firewalls. For our public-facing traffic, or what is traditionally referred to as DMZ traffic, we're primarily relying on these firewalls. So, they have a lot of functionality here at the credit union. Almost all of our internet bound traffic travels through those in some way, unless we're talking about our members' WiFi traffic.

Which deployment model are you using for this solution?

On-premises
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.
Reviewer43898
Engineering Services Manager at a tech services company with 201-500 employees
Reseller
The ability to implement dynamic policies for dynamic environments is important, given the fluidity in the world of security

Pros and Cons

  • "One of the most valuable features of Firepower 7.0 is the "live log" type feature called Unified Event Viewer. That view has been really good in helping me get to data faster, decreasing the amount of time it takes to find information, and allowing me to fix problems faster. I've found that to be incredibly valuable because it's a lot easier to get to some points of data now."
  • "The change-deployment time can always be improved. Even at 50 seconds, it's longer than some of its competitors. I would challenge Cisco to continue to improve in that area."

What is our primary use case?

It's deployed in multiple ways, depending on the use case. Generally speaking, we have them as edge firewalls, but I have some customers who use them as data center firewalls, and some customers who use them as VPN firewalls. And in some places, they're the east-west firewalls, as they would be called in a core network. We do have some that are for cloud firewalling, that we're using in Azure and AWS. But generally speaking, they're deployed as edge firewalls and on-prem.

How has it helped my organization?

In some cases that I'm aware of, when moving from specific platforms like Check Point, Firepower has offered a much easier way of working with the platform and deploying changes. For the customer, it's a lot easier in the newer platform than it was in the previous one.

I've done network assessments, where we wanted to get visibility into all flows. I used Firepower boxes for some of those, where we tapped a line and let Firepower see all the traffic. It was incredibly helpful in picking up all of the flows of data. As a result, I was able to give information to the customer, saying, "This is what it's doing and this is what it's seeing in your network." I find it very helpful to get all that type of data. It's got a lot more information than NetFlow-type systems.

There have also been use cases where I'm doing east-west and north-south in the same firewall box. That is possible with SGTs and SD-Access and Firepower. That ability has been critical in some of the designs we've done. A scenario would be that we have an underlay, a corporate network, and a guest network VRF-routed zone; big macro security zones. We are doing micro-segmentation at the edge with SD-Access, but the macro-segmentation between the zones is handled by the firewall. Because we didn't want to split up our east-west and north-south, because there really wasn't a budget for it, they're on the same box. That box is able to do both flows that go towards the internet and flows that go between the different interfaces on the firewall. We're using SGTs in those policies and we're able to extend the logic from the SD-Access environment into the firewall environment, which creates a very unified approach to security.

We're also able to implement dynamic policies for dynamic environments with 7.0. That's becoming more and more important every day. IPs are becoming less important; names and locations and where things live in the cloud mean things are becoming a lot more fluid in the world of security. It's very helpful to have objects and groups that can follow that fluidity along, as opposed to me trying to do it old school and static everything up. No one has time for that. Dynamic policy capabilities enable tight integration with Secure Workload at the application workload level. The IP is less relevant and the application or the VMware tag can be tied to a specific ruleset. It's very helpful to be able to have it be so dynamic now. We're using more and more of those dynamic group concepts.

When it comes to the solution’s tags for dynamic policy implementation in cloud environments, VMware is the primary one I'm seeing these days, but I expect Azure to pick up significantly. The use of these tags for dynamic policy implementation in cloud environments simplifies things. We don't have to have so much static stuff pinned up. We can just have a single rule that says, "If it's this tag, then do this," as opposed to, "If it's this IP and this IP and this other IP, then you're allowed to do this thing." By disconnecting it from the IP address, we've made it very flexible.

What is most valuable?

It may sound a bit strange, but one of the most valuable features of Firepower 7.0 is the "live log" type feature called Unified Event Viewer. That view has been really good in helping me get to data faster, decreasing the amount of time it takes to find information, and allowing me to fix problems faster. I've found that to be incredibly valuable because it's a lot easier to get to some points of data now.

Also, the new UI is always getting better from version to version. In the beginning, when it came to managing Cisco Secure Firewall, it wasn't always the easiest, but with 6.7 and 7.0, it's gotten easier and easier. It's a pretty easy system to manage. It's especially beneficial for people who are familiar with ASA logic because a lot of the Firepower logic is the same. For those people, they're just relearning where the buttons are, as opposed to having to figure out how to configure things.

I've used the backup VTI tunnel and that's a feature that lets me create some redundancy for my route-based stuff and it works pretty well. I haven't had any issues with it

Firepower 7.0 also has fantastic Dynamic Access Policies that allow me to replicate a lot of the configurations that were missing and that made it difficult to move off the old ASA platform for some customers. The addition of that capability has removed that limitation and has allowed me to move forward with implementing 7.0. 

Snort 3 is one of the biggest points on Firepower 7.0. I've been using Snort 3 for quite a while and, while I don't have a ton of customers on it, I do have some who are running on it and it's worked out pretty well. In their use cases, there wasn't a lot of risk, so that's why we started with it. Snort 3 has some huge advantages when it comes to performance and policy and how it's applying things and processing the flows.

Dynamic Objects have also been really critical. They're very valuable. Version to version, they're adding a lot more features onto Dynamic Objects, and I'm a big fan. 

I've also used the Upgrade Wizard quite a bit to upgrade the firmware. 

And on the management side, there are the health modules. They added a "metric ton" of them to the FMC [Firepower Management Center]. In version 6.7 they released this new health monitor which makes it a lot easier to see data and get to information faster. It's quite nice looking, as opposed to CLI. The new health modules really do stand out as a great way to get to some of that health data quickly—things like interface information, statistics, drops—that were harder to get to before. I can now see them over time, as opposed to at just a point in time. I've used that a lot and it has been very helpful.

In addition, there is the global search for policy and objects. I use that quite a bit in the search bar. It's a great way to get some information faster. Even if I have to pivot away from the screen I'm on, it's still great to be able to get to it very quickly there. 

In a lot of ways, they've addressed some of the biggest complaints, like the "housekeeping" stuff where you have to move around your management system or when it comes to making configuration changes. That has improved from version to version and 7.0 is different. They've added more and have made it easier to get from point A to point B and to consume a lot of that data quickly. That allows me to hop in and do some data validation much faster, without having to search and wait and search and wait. I can get to some of that data quicker to make changes and to fix things. It adds to the overall administrator experience. When operating this technology I'm able to get places faster, rather than it being a type of bottleneck.

There is also the visibility the solution gives you when doing deep packet inspection. It blows up the packet, it matches application types, and it matches web apps. If you're doing SSL decryption it can pinpoint it even further than that. It's able to pull encrypted apps apart and tell me a lot about them. There's a lot of information that 7.0 is bringing to the forefront about flows of data, what it is, and what it's doing. The deep packet inspection and the application visibility portion and Snort are really essential to managing a modern firewall. Firepower does a bang-up job of it, by bringing that data to the forefront.

It's a good box for visibility at the Layer 7 level. If you need Layer 7 visibility, Firepower is going to be able to do that for you. Between VLANs, it does a good job. It's able to look at that Layer 7 data and do some good filtering based on those types of rules.

What needs improvement?

I'd like to see Cisco continue its approach to making it easier to navigate the UI and FMC and make it easier to get from point A to point B. Generally, the room for improvement is going to be all UI-related. The platform, overall, is solid.

I'd also like them to continue to approach things from a policy-oriented perspective. They are moving more and more in that direction. 

Also, the change-deployment time can always be improved. Even at 50 seconds, it's longer than some of its competitors. I would challenge Cisco to continue to improve in that area. It's very reasonable at 50 seconds, it's not like it used to be in early versions of Firepower, where it was around seven minutes. Still, it could be quicker. The faster we can deploy changes, the faster we can roll back changes if we have messed something in the configuration. Low deploy times are really good to have. 

I would also like to see more features that will help us connect things to the cloud dynamically, and connect things to other sites dynamically. There should be more SD-WAN features in the boxes. If I can use one box to solve cloud connectivity problems, and not have to do stuff so statically, the way I have to do things today on them, that would be helpful.

For how long have I used the solution?

I am a Cisco partner and reseller and I actually beta test for the Firepower team. I work on Firepower boxes and have done so since the beginning. I have customers on Firepower 7.0 and I have been using Firepower 7.0 since its release.

What do I think about the stability of the solution?

I haven't really had any major complaints or issues with Firepower 7.0 stability.

What do I think about the scalability of the solution?

It scales, but it depends on the growth rate of the customer and the amount of bandwidth. It's usually a speed and feed problem: Is the firewall box big enough to handle the traffic? Snort 3 has made some improvements there and it's even given some life back to older boxes because of improvements in code and in how Snort processes data. But, overall, the box just has to be big enough for the amount of traffic you're trying to shove through it.

How are customer service and support?

I've been doing this a long time and I don't usually need to call tech support. But when I do need to call TAC, after working with a lot of the other vendors out there, Cisco TAC is still one of the best technical resources in the market. I do like TAC. That's not to say that every TAC engineer is great, but comparatively, they're one of the best support organizations.

How would you rate customer service and support?

Neutral

How was the initial setup?

The initial setup is straightforward, with the caveat that I've been doing this for a long time, so for me it is simple and makes sense. But it is pretty straightforward. You have overall policies that wrap up into your access policy, which is the base policy. You have DNS policies that will roll right up into it. Likewise, platform policies get attached to devices. Generally speaking, it's a lot of working through the logic of the rules: How do you want to block stuff, and how do you want to permit stuff? A lot of that is normal firewalling. When I say the setup is simple, it's because it involves normal firewalling issues. You have to deal with routing, NAT rules, ACLs, and VPNs. It's a matter of just kind of working through those same things that every firewall has to solve.

The deployment time depends on the customer and how many rules. If we're building out all their rule sets, it could range from 40 hours to hundreds of hours. It also depends on what we're coming from. We're not generally walking into environments that are green, meaning there's no box there today. It's almost always that there's something else there that we're replacing. We have to take what we're coming from, convert it, and then put it on Firepower. Small businesses might have a couple of rules, enterprises might have hundreds of rules.

Our implementation strategy is to go in, document the current state of the environment, and then work on a future state. We then work through all the in-between stuff. When we have the old firewall configuration, we determine what it will look like on the new firewall configuration. Does the firewall configuration need to be cleaned up? Are there things that we can optimize and improve or modify? A lot of it involves copying configuration from the old platform to the new one. We're usually not trying to change a ton in a firewall project because it increases the risk of problems arising. Usually, customers' networks are operating when we get into them. We prefer to do a cleanup project after implementation, but sometimes they coincide.

In our company, one person can usually do a firewall cutover. And maintenance of Firepower 7.0 usually requires one person. Maintenance will usually involve a firmware upgrade.

What was our ROI?

There is a lot of value with SecureX. Other customers struggle to bring all the data back to one place, the way you can with SecureX, across a product portfolio. The value of that capability is incredible. I don't know how to put a monetary value on it, but from an operational perspective, it's very helpful to have it all back in one place because you're not having to hop around to multiple UIs to find the data you're looking for.

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

With any vendor, prices are often a little bit negotiable. There are things like discounted rates. There's a list price and then, as a partner, we get a discounted rate based on how much product we're purchasing and our relationship with the vendor. 

But on the list-price side of things, there are three big licenses on an FTD [Firepower Threat Defense] box. There are the malware license, the threat license, and the URL filtering license. You can license them in one-year, three-year, and five-year increments. Each license will enable different features on the box. The malware license will enable AMP filtering or AMP detection. The threat detection enables use of the IPS solution, which is really Snort's bread and butter. And the URL filtering enables filtering based on URL categories.

Sometimes we use URL filtering and sometimes we don't. It depends on the customer and on whether they have a different URL filtering strategy, like Umbrella. The two big ones that we sell are malware and threat detection, with threat detection probably being the license we sell the most.

SMARTnet, the technical support component, covers the box. When you purchase the hardware, you buy it with SMARTnet. Licenses cover features, SMARTnet covers support.

Which other solutions did I evaluate?

We continue to support, integrate, and sell three out of the major four vendors: Palo Alto, Fortinet, and Cisco. Every vendor has been a great partner with us, so I don't want to showcase one firewall platform over another.

Palo Alto is arguably the most mature out of the group when it comes to the firewall in general, but they've also been developing on the same platform for quite a long time.

FortiGate, on the other hand, is great in a lot of use cases.

Cisco's strength is how it integrates with the security portfolio at Cisco. When you have a lot of other security products or integrations, Firepower really stands out above the rest. Palo Alto and Fortinet, although they can integrate with SDA to some degree, they don't integrate to the same depths as Firepower. You really start to see the benefits of Firepower in your organization when you're looking at the Cisco security stack. That's what I would argue is one of the biggest benefits of Cisco in general, that stack of products.

With Cisco, it's not necessarily about a single piece, it's definitely about how they all can communicate and talk to each other, and how information is shared between the components, so that you can create a unified approach to security. Their SecureX product is an integration point. It brings together a lot of that information from different product lines in one place. That's really Cisco's game. Some of the other security vendors struggle to keep up with the breadth and depth of what Cisco is doing in all those different spaces.

In terms of ease of management, Firepower is an enterprise product. While FDM [Firepower Device Manager] is really easy to use, FMC has a lot more knobs to turn. Comparing FortiGate to FMC, a lot of the capabilities of FortiGate are still at the CLI level only. Palo Alto is 100 percent UI-based, not that you can't configure a Palo Alto from CLI, but I don't think anybody does that.

What other advice do I have?

My advice is that you need to know your flows. If you're upgrading to Firepower, you should know what traffic matters and what traffic doesn't matter. If you really want to be successful, you should know all the flows of traffic, how they function, what they do. That way, when you get the box up and running, you know exactly how it should operate.

You can split Firepower users into two buckets: help desk and admin. Help desk will usually be read-only and admin will be read-write. If there's one engineer at a customer, he might have admin rights. If there's a help desk and one senior firewall guy, he might have admin rights where his help desk has read-only. It varies by the size of the customer. Most midsize organizations have one or two firewall guys. When you get into the big enterprises, the number goes up.

Regarding Firepower's Snort 3 IPS allowing you to maintain performance while running more rules, the "book answer" is yes, it's supposed to. We're not really running Snort 3 a ton on those yet because of some of the risk and because some of those customers haven't upgraded to 7.0 yet. Those that are on Snort 3 are just not running policy sets that are large enough that to notice any major or even minor improvements. I have seen an uptick in performance improvements with Snort 3, even on firewalls that are not 100,000-rule firewalls. We are seeing improvements with Snort 3. It's just that Snort 2 performance hasn't really affected the box overall, it just runs a little hotter.

When I mentioned the risk for Snort 3 for our larger clients, what I meant is that with new things come new risks. Snort 3 is one of those new things and we have to evaluate, when we upgrade a customer to it, whether the risk of the upgrade warrants doing it for the customer. In some cases, the answer is no, because of burn-in time. With some of our riskier locations or locations that require 24/7, it makes more sense to run Snort 2, which has been out there since forever on the Firepower platform. It's a lot more stable on Snort 2 and the problems are known problems, from a design perspective. We've mitigated those and worked around them. With Snort 3, there could be new bugs or problems, and in some environments, we want to mitigate that risk.

My expectation is that by 7.1 or 7.2 we will upgrade more generally to Snort 3. It's not that it's far away. It's just that with 7.0 being the first release of Snort 3, and 7.0 only having one or two patches under its belt, we thought it better to remove some risk and just use Snort 2.

Cisco Secure Firewall helps to reduce firewall operational costs, depending on the firewall vendor it's replacing. In some cases, customers are coming from old platforms where the security wasn't nearly at the same level as a next-gen firewall, so the advantage of moving to a next-gen firewall is the increase in security. But that comes with an operational burden no matter the firewall type. There is a lot more visibility and capability out of the NGFW platform, but it comes at a cost. There's more data to work through and more things to configure. Still, in most cases, Cisco Secure Firewall is going to decrease operational usage with the caveat that it has to be an "apples-to-apples" situation, which is very hard to come across these days. 

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. The reviewer's company has a business relationship with this vendor other than being a customer: Reseller
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Learn what your peers think about Cisco Firepower NGFW Firewall. Get advice and tips from experienced pros sharing their opinions. Updated: October 2021.
543,424 professionals have used our research since 2012.
Matt Back
Cyber Security Practice Lead at Eazi Security
Real User
Top 5Leaderboard
You can have granular accounts with its role-based access control

Pros and Cons

  • "One of the nice things about Firepower is that you can set it to discover the environment. If that is happening, then Firepower is learning about every device, software operating system, and application running inside or across your environment. Then, you can leverage the discovery intelligence to get Firepower to select the most appropriate intrusion prevention rules to use for your environment rather than picking one of the base policies that might have 50,000 IPS rules in it, which can put a lot of overhead on your firewall. If you choose the recommendations, as long as you update them regularly, you might be able to get your rule set down to only 1,000 or 1,500, which is a significant reduction in a base rule set. This means that the firewall will give you better performance because there are less rules being checked unnecessarily. That is really useful."
  • "FlexConfig is there as a bridge for features that are not yet natively integrated into Firepower. It is a way of allowing you to be able to configure things that wouldn't otherwise be possible until the development team can add them into Firepower's native capability. There is still some work that needs to be done around FlexConfig. There are still quite a few complex things, like policy-based routing, that have to be done in FlexConfig, and it doesn't always work perfectly. Sometimes, there are some glitches. It is recommended that you configure FlexConfig policies with Cisco TAC. It would be good to see Cisco accelerate some of those configurations that you can only do in FlexConfig into the platform, so that they are there natively."

What is our primary use case?

The primary use case is mainly around perimeter security at the HQ and the branch. This will include using the Next-Generation Intrusion Prevention System (NGIPS), using advanced malware protection for networks on the firewall, and remote access VPN as well as site-to-site VPN.

I work for a Cisco partner and managed service provider. We have a number of customers. Typically, the standard setup that we have is a Firepower Management Center Virtual, running in VMware, with physical FTD appliances (as the firewalls) on-premises.

We work with more mid-size organizations who typically have email security, web security, endpoint security, and perimeter security. In terms of products, that would be:

  • Cisco Umbrella
  • Cisco Cloud Email Security
  • Cisco Secure Endpoint
  • Firepower, for the perimeter. 

That would be a typical technology mix. Sometimes, some customers will consume something like Duo Security for multi-factor authentication.

We are primarily running ASA Firewalls with the FTD image. We are also running some Firepower 1000 Series. 

How has it helped my organization?

One of the nice things about Firepower is that you can set it to discover the environment. If that is happening, then Firepower is learning about every device, software operating system, and application running inside or across your environment. Then, you can leverage the discovery intelligence to get Firepower to select the most appropriate intrusion prevention rules to use for your environment rather than picking one of the base policies that might have 50,000 IPS rules in it, which can put a lot of overhead on your firewall. If you choose the recommendations, as long as you update them regularly, you might be able to get your rule set down to only 1,000 or 1,500, which is a significant reduction in a base rule set. This means that the firewall will give you better performance because there are less rules being checked unnecessarily. That is really useful. 

Cisco implemented a role-based access control for Firepower, so you can have very granular accounts. For example, a service desk analyst could have read-only access. If we have a security operations team, then they could have access to update IPS vulnerability databases. A network engineer could have access to update ACLs, not rules, which is quite useful. Also, you can selectively push out parts of the policy package based on your role-based access control. So, if you have one job role and work on one part of the configuration, and I work on another job role working on a different part of the configuration, then I could just deploy the changes that I have made without affecting what you are doing (or without pushing out your changes). It is quite nice to be able to do that in that way.

What is most valuable?

The most valuable feature is the Next-Generation Intrusion Prevention System. For customers who don't have a SIEM platform, Firepower Management Center offers some SIEM-like functionality that clearly categorizes intrusion prevention alerts. So, they are rated with flags, from zero to four. If I see a level 1 flag, then this means that the attempted intrusion, not only relates to a real vulnerability, but we likely have a system in our environment somewhere that could be exploited by that vulnerability. In that sense, it helps us quickly target which intrusions should be investigated versus what is noise. A level 2 flag just identifies where an intrusion relates to a known vulnerability. It doesn't mean that you are vulnerable to it, because you may not have the particular hardware/software combination that the vulnerability relates to. Therefore, being able to quickly determine where to focus your investigation is important.

All Cisco security technologies have API integrations. We have all Cisco security products for all our customers integrated into SecureX for overall visibility of threat detections across all security appliances. Cisco Advanced Malware Protection is a good example. It is not just a product but a capability that has been integrated into multiple products or technologies. We see in Firepower that we can benefit from Advanced Malware Protection at a network level, but that same technology is also available on email security as well as endpoint security. So, if a threat is detected in one place that can be blocked everywhere, almost at the same time, then the integration is very good. 

If we look at something like Cisco Umbrella, then we see Umbrella integrated with Cisco Meraki appliances, both on firewalls and access points. So, there does seem to be a good level of integration.

Integrations are primarily API-driven. You just generate an API. You have an identifier and generate an API key. It is normally five minutes or under to integrate something. Cisco has SecureX, which is their security management platform. They also have Cisco SecureX threat response, which is a threat hunting tool. With both of these tools, they can take the API keys from any Cisco products as well as some third-party products, then you can integrate them in just a couple of minutes. It is pretty easy.

What needs improvement?

FlexConfig is there as a bridge for features that are not yet natively integrated into Firepower. It is a way of allowing you to be able to configure things that wouldn't otherwise be possible until the development team can add them into Firepower's native capability. There is still some work that needs to be done around FlexConfig. There are still quite a few complex things, like policy-based routing, that have to be done in FlexConfig, and it doesn't always work perfectly. Sometimes, there are some glitches. It is recommended that you configure FlexConfig policies with Cisco TAC. It would be good to see Cisco accelerate some of those configurations that you can only do in FlexConfig into the platform, so that they are there natively.

For how long have I used the solution?

I have been using it for around 18 months.

What do I think about the stability of the solution?

The product has significantly improved over the last two years. I am aware that the Cisco product team has made significant strides forward in addressing oversights that may have previously existed in the platform. I don't have that much in the way of improvements now. We are running the latest code, the 6.7 code, on all our environments. It addresses so many issues that previously existed in earlier versions of the code. From 6.6, the code has improved significantly and introduced many feature benefits.

The new code, 6.6 and higher, seems to be very stable. Now, you don't need to deploy the entire policy package every time you make a change. You can just deploy the segment of the configuration that has been changed. This has increased how quickly you can deploy the configuration, which is a good improvement. We seem to have less bugs and glitches in the newer code. I can't think of any real bugs or glitches that I have seen since we have been running 6.6. With 6.5 and earlier, there were some problems. Now, it seems to be very stable.

What do I think about the scalability of the solution?

The thing that restricts the scalability would be Firepower Management Center. It is constrained by how many events it can record. It suits customers who have a smaller number of sites, like a dozen or maybe 20 sites. You can still record your connection and intrusion event history for a significant period of time. But, if you are talking about a customer with hundreds of firewalls, then Firepower Management Center probably is not the right proposition.

If I am a customer with a dozen sites, I probably don't have the money to pay for a dedicated SIEM platform. So, Firepower Management Center is great for me because it is like a mini SIEM from a perimeter security perspective. I can store my connection and intrusion event history. I can get an idea of which IPS intrusions are things I should focus my attention on. These are the things that a SIEM could help you with. I can manage my firewalls from a single management location, which is really good. However, if I am a customer who has hundreds of firewalls, then it is not really scalable because I wouldn't be able to store the amount of intrusion and connection events that I would need for those firewalls.

Cisco Defense Orchestrator would probably be the better option if you had an environment that had hundreds of sites with hundreds of firewalls. Even if you acknowledge that Cisco Defense Orchestrator doesn't store events per se, it just allows you to manage and deploy policies to the firewalls, when you have an environment with hundreds of firewalls, then you will definitely have the budget for a SIEM platform. At that point, you would be scaling by having separate platforms for separate functions rather than one platform to do everything.

Firepower Management Center is great for some customers with whom we work because they don't have hundreds of sites with hundreds of firewalls. They just have somewhere between two and 10 sites. So, it is a good fit for that kind of customer.

How are customer service and technical support?

Cisco Talos is one of the largest private security, threat hunting, research organizations, but non-governmental. It is quite powerful when we explain to customers the threat intelligence injected into Cisco products. I have attended some Cisco Talos workshops, webinars, etc., and they do seem to be amongst the best in their field. So, I have a high degree of confidence in Cisco Talos, and it is one of the most powerful capabilities that Cisco has as a security vendor. You could have the best features for a product, but if the security intelligence is not good nor current, and if it can't accurately predict new threat trends in a timely way, then it still may not help you.

The technical support is absolutely brilliant. When I call Cisco TAC and have a case, every single engineer that I get assigned to any case is an expert in their field. I feel like they understand the product that we are talking about inside out. I have never raised a case for Firepower and not been able to get a resolution. I have a high degree of confidence in them.

The support may not be one of the features documented in the data sheet, but I have worked with other vendors where their quality of support is not comparable. When you are looking at the total cost of a solution, you need to look at more than what the face value of the product is. You need to look at:

  • How complicated is this going to be to configure? 
  • How complicated will this be to operate? 
  • How long will it take me to get a resolution if I have a problem? 

From my experience with Cisco TAC, the resolution will always be very quick. More often than not, it is within a couple of days, if it is a P3. If it is a P1, then it is the same day. I couldn't ask for better.

How was the initial setup?

I find the initial setup fairly straightforward. I wouldn't say it is simple, but it is not a simple piece of technology. You have different policies for different areas of the system, e.g., you have a policy for access control, NAT, FlexConfig, remote access, VPN, etc. There are a lot of policies that you either have to create or configure. However, it is fairly intuitive. Once you have done it once, you know where everything is.

If we assume the most basic variables, one FMC and one FTD on the same LAN, then the FMC can be provisioned with the policies in a day. The appliance can be imaged and added to the FMC with the policies pushed out on another day. If you add remote access VPN into the mix, especially if you have an Active Directory integration, I would probably add another day. You could probably have a working setup in three to four days, depending on if you have any issues with the licensing portal. 

It is very easy to deploy site-to-site VPN tunnels between Firepowers. I appreciate that Cisco deprecated all legacy cypher standards. This means you need to use the modern, robust cipher standards that cannot be broken right now. This is a good thing. However, if you are using two Firepower devices, then it is easy to set up a site-to-site VPN tunnel and use the strongest cipher standard, which is also good.

What about the implementation team?

We normally always try to pre-stage, spinning up virtual FMC and VMware, then configure as much as possible before adding an appliance in. It can be a bit more challenging if you have a lot of FTDs at different sites because you need to be aware that you may be managing a device on an internal IP address while you are pre-staging, but that address may change when you deploy the solution. You just have to think that through, in terms of how Firepower Management Center will keep its connectivity to the device once you deploy it. So, if Firepower Management Center and appliances are all on the same local area network, then it is straightforward. However, it is when you have multiple appliances at different sites that it can be a bit more tricky to make sure that the connectivity is maintained when you deploy. I think some more guidance around this would be good. We have a process that works for us, but it took a bit of figuring out with Cisco TAC to make sure we were not missing anything. If they could maybe document it a bit better, that would be good.

Normally, someone like myself could set everything up, so you wouldn't need a big team. However, if you are doing integrations with something like Active Directory, then you need the person who administers that system to be involved. Likewise, if you are doing site-to-site VPN tunnels with third-parties, then you probably need someone from that third-party organization involved. Most of the configurations can be done by one person. You do need to let the Firepower discovery run for around two weeks before you then run the recommendations around which IPS rules to apply, but it would be possible to just select one of the base policies and leave it at that.

You could choose to run the network discovery, which you should do anyway because there are added benefits, for two weeks then choose the Firepower recommendations. However, if you didn't have time to do that, or that wasn't an option for some reason, you could just choose one of the base IPS policies, like Security over Connectivity or Balance, and that would work out-of-the-box.

What was our ROI?

Everyone who uses the platform has felt more confident in their perimeter security. The Firepower platform makes it very easy to keep track of what software revision you are on, what your revision is versus what the latest is. It makes it really easy to schedule tasks to download the latest geolocation and vulnerability updates, automate backups, and copy backups to a remote location. Operationally as well as from a security perspective, everything has been positive in terms of the feedback.

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

I like the Smart Licensing, because it is more dynamic and easier to keep track of where you are at. If we have a high availability firewall pair and they are deployed in active/standby rather than active/active, I would expect that we would only pay for one set of licenses because you are using only one firewall at any one time. The other is there just for resiliency. The licensing, from a Firepower perspective, still requires you to have two licenses, even if the firewalls are in active/standby, which means that you pay for the two licenses, even though you might only be using one firewall any one time. This is probably not the best way to do it and doesn't represent the best value for money. This could be looked at to see if it could be done in a fairer way. For example, you can only deploy MX firewalls in active/standby. There are no other options. You only need one license for those firewalls because you can only use one at a time. This seems quite fair. They may need to look again at this from a Firepower perspective.

Which other solutions did I evaluate?

I work for a Cisco partner, so we are very Cisco-focused. Most of our customers consume predominantly all Cisco solutions. We have some customers who may have the odd product that is not Cisco, but a majority of their security suite will be Cisco.

I have some experience with budget firewall platforms, like SonicWall and WatchGuard, but these are not really comparable to Cisco in terms of being direct competitors. It would be like me trying to compare a performance car against a budget economy car. It is not a fair comparison.

What other advice do I have?

I would probably ask, "How long do you want to keep the connection and intrusion events for?" You need to remember that Firepower Management Center can only keep a certain amount of events. I think you need to have that in mind as one criteria to make your decision against. 

You need to look at what hardware platform you are going to be deploying. We have a lot of customers who are running ASAs, but they are running the Firepower Threat Defense image on their ASA. For all intents and purposes, those ASAs act as FTDs. Now, try to remember those ASAs were never designed originally to run the FTD code. Now, they can run the FTD code, but some of the dedicated Firepower appliances have a split architecture. So, they have separate physical resources, CPU, and memory for running the traditional firewalling capabilities versus the next-generation firewall capabilities, like IPS, AMP for Networks, and AVC. Maybe, have a think about the hardware platform, because you need to try to assess what throughput you are trying to put through the firewall and how that will impact the performance of the box.

There is definitely some advantage moving to the dedicated Firepower appliances rather than putting the Firepower code on an ASA. Although, it does allow you to leverage an existing investment if you put the FTD code onto the ASA, but you need to be mindful of the limitations that it has. Also, if you are looking to do SSL decryption, then you need a much bigger firewall than you think you need because this puts a lot of overhead on the appliance. However, this would be the same for any vendor's firewall. It is not Cisco specific.

If 10 is the most secure, then our customers are typically in the middle, like a five, in terms of maturity of their organization’s security implementation. This will be because they won't necessarily have things like Network Access Control, such as Cisco ISE. They also won't necessarily have security analytics for anomaly detection, like Stealthwatch or Darktrace. For some of these more sophisticated security technologies, you need to be a large enterprise to be able to afford or invest in them.

While Firepower provides application visibility and control, we don't use it much simply because we use Cisco Umbrella. Firepower gives you application visibility control on a location-by-location basis. So, if we have a firewall at the head office or a firewall at the branch, then we get application visibility control by firewall. However, because we use Cisco Umbrella, that gives us very similar application and visibility control but on a global level. So, we tend to do application visibility and control more within Cisco Umbrella because we can apply it globally rather than on a site-by-site basis. Sometimes, it is useful to have that granular control for an individual site, but it is not something that we use all the time.

I would rate the solution as a nine out of 10.

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. The reviewer's company has a business relationship with this vendor other than being a customer: Partner
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MK
IT Administrator / Security Analyst at a healthcare company with 11-50 employees
Real User
Reliable, good support, good documentation makes it straightforward to set up

Pros and Cons

  • "We get the Security Intelligence Feeds refreshed every hour from Talos, which from my understanding is that they're the largest intelligence Security Intelligence Group outside of the government."
  • "It would be great if some of the load times were faster."

What is our primary use case?

I am an IT administrator and my job is probably 80% security analyst. We are a HIPAA environment, so we're a regulated industry and my job is to keep us from being breached. It's extremely difficult and an ever-changing, evolving problem. As such, I spend a couple of hours a day just reading everything threat report from every source I can get. 

We have a pair of 2110 models, with high availability set up.

There are multiple licenses that you can get with this firewall, and we subscribe to all three. A few months ago, we made the decision to do an enterprise agreement just because of the amount of security software we have. We subscribe to the threat, the URL, and the malware licensing. We use it for IPS, URL blocking, IP blocking, and domain blocking.

We've embraced the Cisco ecosystem primarily because I think they made some very intelligent acquisitions. We talk about security and depth and they've really done a good job of targeting their acquisition of OpenDNS Umbrella. It's all part of our ecosystem.

I take the firewall information and using SecureX, Cisco Threat Response, AMP for Endpoints, and Umbrella, I'm able to aggregate all that data with what I'm getting from the firewalls and from our email security, all into one location. From my perspective, being a medium-sized organization, threat hunting can be extremely difficult.

How has it helped my organization?

This product enriches all of the threat data, which I am able to see in one place.

There's nothing I personally have needed to do that I haven't been able to do with the firewall. It integrates so tightly into how I spend the majority of my day, which is threat response.

Much of this depends on any given organization's use case, but because I was an early adapter of Cisco Threat Response and was able to start pulling that data into it, and aggregate that with all of my other data. As I'm doing threat hunting, rather than jump into the firewall and look in the firewall at events, I'm able to pull that directly into Threat Response.

The ability to see the correlation of different event types in one place, these firewalls have definitely enriched that. You have Umbrella, but there are so many different attack types that it's good to have the DNS inspection at the firewall on the edge level too. So, the ability to take all of that firewall data and ingest it directly via SecureX and into our SIEM, where I have other threat feeds, including third-party thread feeds, gives our SIEM the ability to look at the firewall data as well. It lends to the whole concept of layering, where you don't have to have all of your eggs in one basket.

With our Rapid7 solution, I'm able to take the firewall data and dump it into our SIEM. The SIEM is using its threat feeds, as well as the threat feeds that are coming from Cisco Talos. In fact, I have other ones coming into the SIEM as well. So, I'm able to also make sure that something's not missed on the Talos side because it's getting dumped into our SIEM at the same time. All of this is easy to set up and in fact, I can automate it because I can get the threat data from the firewall.

In terms of its ability to future-proof our security strategy, every update they've done makes sense. We've been using one flavor or another of Cisco firewall products for a long time. Although I have friends that live and die by Fortinet or Palo Alto, I've never personally felt that I'm wanting for features.

What is most valuable?

We get the Security Intelligence Feeds refreshed every hour from Talos, which from my understanding is that they're the largest intelligence Security Intelligence Group outside of the government. My experience with Talos has been, they're pretty on top of things. Another driving factor towards Cisco: We get feeds every hour, automatically refreshed, and updated into the firewall.

If I had to rely on one security intelligence, which I wouldn't, but if I had to, I'm sure it would be Talos. The fact that it gets hourly updates from Talos gives me some peace of mind.

The real strength for the Cisco next-generation firewall is it'll do pretty much anything you want it to do, although it requires expertise and proper implementation. It's not an off-the-shelf product. For instance, there are some firewalls that may be easier to set up because they don't have the complexity, but at the same time, they don't have the feature set that the Cisco firewall has.

The firewall does DNS inspection, and you can create policies there.

The firewall integrates seamlessly and fully with our SIEM. We use a Rapid7 SIEM inside IDR and it now integrates seamlessly with that. Cisco's doing a lot more with APIs and automation, which we've been leveraging.

In terms of application visibility and control, I used the firewall and I also use Umbrella, but it depends on what it is that I'm seeing. One component that I use is network discovery. When you configure the policy properly, it'll go out and do network discovery so you're not loading up a bunch of rules you don't necessarily need. Instead, you're targeting rules that Cisco will say, "Hey, because of network discovery, we found that with this bind to whichever version server, we recommend you apply this ruleset." This is something that's been very helpful. You don't necessarily have to download every rule set, depending on your environment.

I have used it for application control. Right now, we're in the midst of doing tighter integration with ISE and the integration is very good. This is something that we would expect, given that it's a Cisco product.

I use the automated policy application and enforcement every chance I get. Using an automation approach, I would rather have a machine isolated even if it's a false positive because that can happen much faster than I can get an alert and react to it. On my end, I'm trying to automate everything that I can, and I haven't experienced a false positive yet.

Anything that's machine learning-based with automation, that's where I'm focusing a fair amount of attention. Another advantage to having Cisco is that their installed base is so huge. With machine learning, you're benefiting from that large base because the bigger their reach is, the bigger and better the dataset is for machine learning.

At some point, you have to trust that the data set is good. What's impressed me about Cisco is with all of our Cisco products, whether it's AMP or whatever, they're really putting an emphasis on automation, including workflows. For someone like me, if I get an alert in the middle of the night and I see it at 6:00 AM, it is going to be a case of valuable time lost, so anything that I can do to make my life easier, I'll definitely do it.

What needs improvement?

It would be great if some of the load times were faster. My general sense is that it's probably related to them taking a couple of different technologies and marrying them together. We are using virtual, so the way that I handled that was to throw more RAM in it, which these days, is pretty cheap. I could see some improvement with the speed of deploying policies out, although it's not terrible by any means. One thing about Cisco is whatever they're doing, it keeps getting better.

The speed of deploying policies could be improved, although it is not terrible by any means.

Another legitimate criticism of Cisco that comes to mind is that you need to make sure you've got your licensing straightened out. I haven't had any problems in a long time, but I know people that haven't used Cisco products sometimes can run into issues because they haven't figured out so-called smart licensing. Depending on the Cisco person you're working with, make sure you have all that stuff all set to go before you start the implementation.

That's an area that Cisco has been working on, I know. But licensing is a common complaint about Cisco. I suggest making sure that you have that stuff in place and you've got all your licenses all ready to go. It seems like a dumb thing, but my most common complaint about Cisco before we entered into our enterprise agreement was licensing. When it's working, it's great, but God help you if you've got a licensing problem.

What do I think about the stability of the solution?

They've been very reliable for us and we haven't had one fail, so we've never had to failover. That has been generally my experience with Cisco products, which is one reason that we tend to lean on Cisco hardware for switching, too. The reliability of the hardware over the years has been very good.

What do I think about the scalability of the solution?

We have integrated these firewalls with other products, such as Cisco ISE, and it hasn't been a problem. ISE is a Cisco product so it would make sense that it integrates well, but ISE integrates with other firewalls as well.

Everything that I've done with these firewalls has been pretty seamless. We've had no downtime with them at all. They've been very rugged as we expanded usage through integration.

How are customer service and technical support?

People knock Cisco TAC but in my experience, they have been very good. I've always found them to be extremely helpful. Friends that I have made from inside Cisco say, "Hey, you want me to look at this or that?", which is very helpful.

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

The big three solutions, Cisco, Fortinet, and Palo Alto, are all really good but I tend to lean on Cisco versus the others because one of their strengths, in general, is threat intelligence. When you put a bunch of security people in a room then you have a lot of consensuses, but like anything, you'll have a lot of disagreements, too.

Each of these products has its strengths and weaknesses. However, when you factor in AnyConnect, which most people will agree is state-of-the-art from a security standpoint in terms of VPN technology, especially when it's integrated with Umbrella, it plays into the firewall. But, it always comes back to configuration. Often, when you read about somebody having an attack, it's probably because they didn't set things up properly.

If you're a mom-and-pop shop, maybe you can get by with a pfSense or something like that, which I have in my house. But again, if you're in a regulated environment, you're looking at not just a firewall, you're looking at all sorts of things. The reality is, security is complicated.

How was the initial setup?

Cisco gives you lots of options, which means that it can be complicated to set up. You have to know what you're doing and it's good to have somebody double-check your work. But, on the other hand, it does everything from deep packet inspection and URL filtering to whatever you want it to do, with world-class integration. It integrates with Umbrella, AnyConnect, ISE, StealthWatch, and other products.

It is important to remember that a firewall is only as good as it's configured. Sometimes, people will forget to configure a policy, or they will create the rules but forget to apply them. It comes back to the fact that it's a professional product and it's only as good as the person who's using it.

I do some security consulting and I've seen many misconfigurations. People will write a Rule Set but forget to apply it to a policy, for example. There is no foolproof product and I think it is a challenge to say, "Wow, this firewall is better than that firewall." These things are complex, but Cisco has always, in my mind, set many kinds of standards. I don't know any serious security person that would argue that.

Especially AnyConnect with an Umbrella module attached, I think most people would argue it's state-of-the-art. I know that I would because it allows me to do a couple of things at once. It's not just the firewall; it's AnyConnect, and it's what you can do with AnyConnect given its functionality with Umbrella. It gets kind of complicated and it depends on the use case, and some people don't need that.

Again, what makes it difficult to say something about a firewall is, the configuration possibilities are so varied and endless. How people license them is different. Some people think, "I prefer the IPS License," or whatever. But again, I think to get the strength of a Cisco firewall is just that.

I found our setup straightforward, but you don't go into it blind. You have to be clear on your requirements and you need to take the setup step-by-step. Whenever I deploy a firewall, I have a couple of people to double-check my work. These are people who only work on Cisco firewalls and they act as my proofreaders whenever I am doing a new deployment.

Cisco's documentation is very good and it's always very thorough. However, it's not for a novice, so you wouldn't want a novice setting up the firewall for an enterprise. Personally, I've never had any issues with policies not deploying properly or any other such problems.

Talking about how long it takes to deploy, it's a good weekend if it's a new deployment. It's not just clicking and you're done. I haven't installed a Fortinet product, but I can't imagine any of them are easy to install. Essentially, I found it straightforward, but it is involved. You've got to take your time with it.

You need to make sure anything you do with your networking, that you have it planned out well in advance. But once you do that, you go through the steps, which are well-documented by Cisco.

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

Cisco is not for a small mom-and-pop shop because of the cost, but if you're in a regulated industry where a breach could cost you a million dollars, it's a bargain. That's the way I look at it.

Which other solutions did I evaluate?

We also use Cisco Umbrella, and I may use features from that product, depending on where I am.

What other advice do I have?

Every firewall has its pluses and minuses, but because we've taken such a layered approach and we're not relying on one thing to keep us safe, I've never really gone, "Oh, I've had it." I've heard some complaints about Cisco TAC, but generally speaking, I've been able to configure them and do whatever I need to with the Cisco firewall. There's nothing in my experience with Cisco that leads me to believe that that's going to stop.

I've always felt comfortable with every Cisco purchase we've made and every improvement they've made to it. I think they keep moving in a positive direction and they're pretty good with updates and fixes. You can have 10 people, networking people or security people, and they'll all have different takes on it. That said, I've always been very comfortable. I don't stay up at night and worry about our firewalls.

One thing to remember about Cisco is that whatever they're doing, it just keeps getting better. In my experience with Cisco, I have yet to have a product of theirs that they haven't improved over time. For example, we bought into OpenDNS Umbrella before Cisco acquired them. At the time, I was wondering whether they were going to improve it or what was going to happen with it, because you can never be sure. Again, Cisco has done nothing but improve it. It's a far more mature product than when we picked it up five or six years ago.

While not directly related to the NGFW, it speaks to Cisco's overarching vision for security, which again, I'm always looking at layers. If you're thinking that you're going to secure an environment by buying a firewall, yes, that's a really important piece of it, but it's only one piece of it.

Cisco is a company that is really open about vulnerabilities, which some people could see that as a negative but I see as a positive. I do security all the time, so I'm always going to be paranoid. That said, I've spent so much time doing this stuff that I've developed a lot of trust in Cisco. Again, I think there are other great products out there, but Cisco has made it really easy to integrate stuff into this ecosystem where you have multiple layers of not perfect, but state-of-the-art enterprise security.

My advice for anybody who is implementing this solution is, first of all, to know what you're doing. If you're not sure then get somebody that does. However, I would say that's probably true of any firewall. If your business relies on it, have all of your information ready beforehand, it's just all the straightforward stuff that any security person needs.

In summary, I think what I can say about them is there's nothing I needed to do that I haven't been able to do. I have incredible visibility into everything that's happening. We continue to leverage more features, to use it in different ways, and we haven't run into any limitations. I cannot say that the product is perfect, however, and I would deduct a mark for the interface loading. It's not terrible but sometimes, especially when you're doing the setup, it can chug away for a while. Considering what the device does, I think that it's a small complaint.

I would rate this solution a nine out of ten.

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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EV
IT Infrastructure Specialist at RANDON S.A
Real User
Top 20
Shows the top-consuming applications to help determine if there is a deviation or if we need to increase bandwidth

Pros and Cons

  • "The protection and security features, like URL filtering, the inspection, and the IPS feature, are also very valuable for us. We don't have IT staff at most of the sites so for us it's important to have a robust firewall at those sites"
  • "The user interface for the Firepower management console is a little bit different from traditional Cisco management tools. If you look at products we already use, like Cisco Prime or other products that are cloud-based, they have a more modern user interface for managing the products. For Firepower, the user interface is not very user-friendly. It's a little bit confusing sometimes."

What is our primary use case?

Currently, we have 16 remote sites. Some of them are sales offices and some of them are industrial plants. And we have a centralized IT department here in Brazil. The business asked me to support those remote sites. We started using the Firepower Threat Defense, which is one of the versions of next-gen firewalls from Cisco, at some of the sites. We have them operating at five sites, and we are deploying at a sixth site, in Mexico, with the same architecture. That architecture has the firewall running on the site's router, and we manage them all from here in Brazil.

How has it helped my organization?

Overall, I would summarize Firepower NGFW's effect on our company's security position by saying that, until now, we haven't had any major security incidents. The investment we made, and the investment we are still making in that platform, have worked because they are protecting us from any risks we are exposed to, having all these remote sites and using the internet as the way to connect those sites. They are doing what they promised and they are doing what we paid for.

What is most valuable?

For us, the main feature is due to the fact that we have internet connections for all these sites, and we use the internet to communicate with our data center using VPN. So the VPN support in these boxes is one of the most valuable features.

Also, with the firewall itself, the protection and security features, like URL filtering, the inspection, and the IPS feature, are also very valuable for us. We don't have IT staff at most of the sites so for us it's important to have a robust firewall at those sites, to support the business and give us peace of mind. If we do have an incident, since we don't have any IT personnel there for support, we need to do everything remotely.

It provides us with application visibility and control. We can see, on the dashboard, all the applications that are most used and which are under some sort of risk or vulnerability. From my perspective, which is more related to the network itself and the infrastructure, not the security aspect, it helps a lot when we need to check some situation or issue that could be related to any attack or any violation. We can see that there are one or two or three applications that are the top-consuming applications. We can use this information to analyze if there is a deviation or if it's something that we need to consider as normal behavior and increase the bandwidth on the site. It's very important to have this analytic view of what's happening. That's especially true for us, since we have information on all these remote sites but we don't have IT resources on-premises. Having this view of all the sites in the same pane of glass is very important.

It's not just the visibility of things, but the management of application behavior is very important. If I see that, for example, Facebook is consuming too much bandwidth, I can make a policy on the console here and deploy it to our remote offices. So the application visibility feature is one of the key parts of the solution.

NGFW's ability to provide visibility into threats is also one of the important features. Although we have several applications that are based on-premises — we have databases and file servers that only exist inside the company or inside those remote sites — we see more traffic going to and coming from the internet every day. It's not optional anymore to have visibility into all this traffic. More and more, we are moving things to Office 365 or other SaaS platforms which are hosted on the internet. We need to see this traffic crossing our network. It's a top priority for us.

When it comes to Talos, I recognized the importance of it before they were even calling it Cisco Talos. As a user of the URL filtering product, the IronPort appliances, for six or seven years, perhaps or more, I was introduced, at that time, to a community that was called SenderBase.org, which was like the father of the Cisco Talos. Knowing them from that time, and now, the work they do is very important. It provides knowledge of what is happening in the security space. The information they can collect from all the hardware and software they have deployed with their customers is great. But the intelligence they also have to analyze and provide fixes for things like Zero-day attacks, for example, is crucial. They are able to map and categorize risks. They're unbeatable, currently. Although we know that other vendors have tried to replicate this service or feature, the history they have and the way they do their work, make it unbeatable currently.

What needs improvement?

Some products supersede others within Cisco. I have three platforms and some of the features are the same in two products. It's not clear for us, as a  customer, if Cisco intends to have just one platform for security in the future or if they will offer one product for a particular segment, such as one product for the big companies, one product for the financial segment, another product for enterprise, and another product for small business.

Sometimes, Cisco itself has two products which are doing the same things in some areas. That is something they could make clearer for customers: the position of each product or the roadmap for having just one product. 

For example, I have a management console for the next-gen firewalls we are deploying. But the SD-WAN also has some security features and I would have to use another management console. I don't have integration between the products. Having this integration or a roadmap would help. I don't know if there will be one product only in the future, but at least having better integration between their own products is one area for improvement.

Also, the user interface for the Firepower management console is a little bit different from traditional Cisco management tools. If you look at products we already use, like Cisco Prime or other products that are cloud-based, they have a more modern user interface for managing the products. For Firepower, the user interface is not very user-friendly. It's a little bit confusing sometimes. This is another area where they could improve.

For how long have I used the solution?

We have been using Cisco NGFWs for about for two years.

What do I think about the stability of the solution?

The stability is okay. It's robust enough to support the business we have. We haven't had any major issues with the product itself. Of course, we don't touch them frequently because it's a security deployment so it's not the type of thing where we make changes every day. Once we deploy them, and deploy the policies, we don't touch them frequently.

We have one issue at one of the sites, at times. There is a power outage at the site and the virtual machine itself crashes. We have to recover from the crash and reinstall the backup. It's something that is not related to the product itself. It's more that our infrastructure has a problem with power which led to a firewall problem, but the product itself is not the root cause.

What do I think about the scalability of the solution?

It is scalable in our scenario. It is scalable the way we deploy it. It's the same template or architecture, and that was our intention, for all our remote sites. From this point of view, the scalability is okay. But if one of those remote sites increases in demand, in the number of users or in traffic, we don't have too much space to increase the firewall itself inside that deployment. We would probably need to replace or buy a new, more robust appliance. So the scalability for the architecture is fine. It's one of the major requirements for our distributed architecture. But scalability for the appliance itself, for the platform itself, could be a problem if we grow too much in a short period of time.

I don't know how to measure how extensively we use it, but it's very important because without it, we can't have VPN and we can't communicate with our headquarters. We have SAP as our ERP software and it's located in our data center here at our headquarters. If we can't communicate with the data center, we lose the ability to communicate with SAP. So if we don't have the firewall running on those remote sites, it is a major problem for us. We must have it running. Otherwise, our operations at these remote sites will be compromised. In terms of volume, 40 percent of our sites are deployed and we still have plans to deploy the other 60 percent, this year and next year.

Regarding future demands, if we create new business, like we are doing now in Mexico, our basic template has this next-gen firewall as part of it. So any other new, remote sites we deploy in the future, would use the same architecture and the same next-gen firewall.

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

For our remote sites we didn't use a specific security platform. We had the Cisco router itself and the protection that the Cisco router offers. But of course you can't compare that with a next-gen firewall. But here in our headquarters, we currently use Palo Alto for our main firewall solution. And before Palo Alto, we used Check Point.

The decision to use Cisco was because Cisco could offer us an integrated platform. We could have only one router at our remote sites which could support switch routing with acceleration, for IP telephony and for security. In the future we also intend to use SD-WAN in the same Cisco box. So the main advantage of using Cisco, aside from the fact that Cisco is, course, well-positioned between the most important players in this segment, is that Cisco could offer this solution in a single box. For us, not having IT resources at those remote sites, it was important to have a simple solution, meaning we don't have several boxes at the site. Once we can converge to a single box to support several features, including security, it's better for us.

The main aspect here is that if we had Fortinet or Check Point or Palo Alto, we would need another appliance just to manage security, and it wouldn't be integrated with what we have. Things like that would make the remote site more complex.

We don't currently have a big Cisco firewall to compare to our Palo Alto. But one thing that is totally different is the fact that Cisco can coexist with the router we have.

How was the initial setup?

I participated in the first deployment. I know it's not hard to do, but it's also not easy. It requires some knowledge, the way we deploy it. We use next-gen firewalls inside the Cisco router. It's virtualized inside the Cisco router. So you need to set settings on the router itself to allow the traffic that comes to the router to go to the firewall and return to the router to. So it's not an easy setup but it's not very complex. It requires some knowledge, not only of security, but also of routing and related things. It's in the middle between complex and simple.

Once you have the templates for it, it's easier. It can take a day or two to deploy, or about 20 hours for the whole configuration.

What about the implementation team?

The name of the local partner we use here in Brazil is InfraTI.

For the first deployment we had to understand how to do it because of the constraints. We have the router and we have the next-gen firewalls running inside the router. Until we decided how to deploy, it took a little while. But now we have the knowledge to do that more easily. They are able to deploy it satisfactorily. We are happy with them.

For deployment and maintenance of the solution, it requires two people and our partner. On our side there is an engineer to discuss the details, and then there is the person who does the deployment itself.

What other advice do I have?

You must know exactly what features are important for you, and how you can manage all this infrastructure in the future. Sometimes you can have a product that is superior but it might demand an increase in manpower to manage all the software or platforms. Another point to consider is how good the integration is between products? You should check what features you need, what features you can have, and the integration with other products.

In terms of the maturity of our security implementation, we have had security appliances, software or hardware, for more than 15 years. So we have a long history of using security products. We started using Cisco competitors in the past and we still use them for our headquarters, where I am. Our main firewall is not currently Cisco, although we are in the process of evaluation and we will replace this firewall soon. Cisco is one of the brands being evaluated for that.

In the past, while it's not a next-gen firewall, we also used a Cisco product for URL filtering, up until this year.

We are moving to the cloud. We are starting to use Office 365, so we are moving email, for example, from on-premises to the cloud. But until June of this year, we mainly used security from Cisco. But we also have antivirus for endpoint protection. We also had Cisco IPS in the past, which was a dedicated appliance for that, but that was discontinued about two years ago. Those are the major products we use currently. In addition — although it's not specifically a security product — we use Cisco ISE here to support our guest network for authentication. We plan, in the near future, to increase the use of Cisco Identity Services Engine. When we start to use that to manage policies and the like, we will probably increase the integration. I know that both products can be integrated and that will be useful for us.

There's one other product which we use along with Cisco next-gen which is a SIEM from Splunk. Currently, that is the only integration we have with Cisco. We send logs from next-gen firewalls to the Splunk machine to be analyzed and correlated. 

Although I'm not involved on a daily basis in operations, I helped in the process of integrating it. It was very easy to integrate and it's a very valuable integration, because we can analyze and correlate all the events from the next-gens from Cisco, along with all the other logs we are collecting in our infrastructure. For example, we also collect logs from the Windows machine that we use to authenticate users. Having those logs correlated on the Splunk box is very valuable. The integration is very easy. I don't know who built what, but there's a kind of add-on on the Splunk that is made for connection to firewalls, or vice versa. The integration is very simple. You just point to the name of the server and a user name to integrate both.

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.
JV
Project Engineer at Telindus B.V.
Real User
Talos continuously enriches intelligence so that you get information about upcoming threats on time

Pros and Cons

  • "The most important feature is the intensive way you can troubleshoot Cisco Firepower Firewalls. You can go to the bit level to see why traffic is not handled in the correct way, and the majority of the time it's a networking issue and not a firewall issue. You can solve any problem without Cisco TAC help, because you can go very deeply under the hood to find out how traffic is flowing and whether it is not flowing as expected. That is something I have never seen with other brands."
  • "The Firepower FTD code is missing some old ASA firewalls codes. It's a small thing. But Firepower software isn't missing things that are essential, anymore."

What is our primary use case?

Telindus, our company, is an integrator. We sell Firepower and we do use it ourselves. I use all the different versions of the product. 

We either replace our customers' other brands of firewalls with Firepower, or we upgrade their old Cisco ASA Firewalls to the new Firepower firewalls. The type of device we advise them to install depends on the customer's requirements and the throughputs needed.

Our primary use case for Firepower is for big networks.

What is most valuable?

The most important feature is the intensive way you can troubleshoot Cisco Firepower Firewalls. You can go to the bit level to see why traffic is not handled in the correct way, and the majority of the time it's a networking issue and not a firewall issue. You can solve any problem without Cisco TAC help, because you can go very deeply under the hood to find out how traffic is flowing and whether it is not flowing as expected. That is something I have never seen with other brands. That is why, when people move from another brand to Cisco, they never leave Cisco. They see that advantage.

Something I like about Firepower, in general, is that it still relies on the old ASA code. That's something customers really like because when they go into the CLI, they remember, "Oh, that's the ASA, that I am familiar with," but it's enriched with all the next-gen features of Snort. When a customer has knowledge of the ASA codes, they can do intensive troubleshooting because they know the device.

Customers also like Talos, which is the intelligence behind all of Cisco's security products, including Firepower. Talos is very good and is actually the most important part of a security product. It's important that you have something in the background that is continuously enriching intelligence so that you get information about upcoming threats on time. That keeps you protected as soon as possible when a Zero-day happens. Something that customers like about Cisco Firepower, in combination with Talos intelligence, is that full-time people are working in the background to provide information to Cisco security products.

Customers really want visibility into their networks. For example, they want identity management and that is something you can use Firepower for. With it, in addition to an IP address going somewhere, you can also see the username. That's a big advantage of Firepower, and can be set up quite easily.

Also, in very large networks, our customers use Cisco DNA Center. They have automation orchestration for their access network and that works seamlessly with Cisco Firepower firewalls. Security Group Tags can be used from DNA to an edge Firepower firewall. That way, they have microsegmentation within their access network for DNA. And they can extend that to their firewall rules for Firepower. 

Our customers also use Cisco ISE to get user information. ISE is connected to DNA Center. That is something that Firepower works seamlessly with, and we do sell it a lot. We sell a lot of Cisco's other security equipment, and they all send their information to SecureX. Having more Cisco security products means your security information is becoming enriched within the SecureX platform. The integration among these Cisco products is more than easy. Cisco documents everything, in detail, when it comes to how to integrate the different parts. I've never had an issue with integrating Cisco security products with each other.

And for smaller networks, like those our government customers have, what they like about Cisco Firepower, and why they purchase it nine out of 10 times, is its ease of use and the reporting in Firepower Management Center. That is something they really like. They can look up things themselves and they like the SecureX integration.

What needs improvement?

The Firepower FTD code is missing some old ASA firewalls codes. It's a small thing. But Firepower software isn't missing things that are essential, anymore.

For how long have I used the solution?

I've been using Cisco Firepower NGFW Firewall since it came out; from the time Cisco started to use the name Firepower and they bought Snort. That's when they put in the next-generation features. 

What do I think about the stability of the solution?

Firepower is rock-stable. So far, I have not seen any failed firewall. The only thing that was not quite stable in the past was Firepower Management Center, but since version 6.6 that has also been rock-stable. I haven't had any failed components in the last couple of years. I did have them two years ago and further in the past, where firewalls were not functioning and needed a reboot, but since 6.6, the stability is very good. We don't have priority-one tickets anymore.

What do I think about the scalability of the solution?

In the Netherlands, where I work, we don't have very big customers requiring very high throughput. So I cannot say anything about clustering where you can pile different ASAs or Firepower devices together to increase performance when you require it. 

But scalability, in general, is pretty hard. Competition-wise, sometimes it's hard to sell Cisco security products because, in my opinion, Cisco is quite honest about the real throughput they are able to provide. Other vendors may be giving figures that are a little bit "too perfect." Sometimes it's hard for us to sell Cisco firewalls because a customer says, "Well, when I go to other brands they say they have double the throughput for half the price." Well, that's great on paper, but... 

In general, after we have installed Cisco firewalls, our customers are very pleased by the performance. They also like that they can tweak settings to get more performance out of the firewall by enabling specific policies for specific traffic, and by disabling inspection for very internal data center traffic. That provides a big boost to the overall firewall performance. When a customer complains that we didn't scale it correctly, and they say it's not performing as well as they expected, I'm always able to tweak things so that it performs the way the customer requires.

How are customer service and technical support?

I have interacted with Cisco's technical support many times. Nowadays, it sometimes takes a while to get to the person with the correct knowledge, but that is happening in the world in general. First-line people are common around the world and they are trying to figure out if an issue is actually a second-or third-line issue. But when you do reach the correct department, and they know that you are knowledgeable and that you are really facing a high-priority issue or a strange behavior, Cisco's support does everything it can to help you fix things, including involving the development department. I'm very happy with their tech support.

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

Most of the time we replace Sophos, Check Point, SonicWall, and Fortinet firewalls with Cisco firewalls. Customers really like the overall integration with SecureX. They see the advantage of having more security products from Cisco to get more visibility into their security. We also replace old, non-next-generation firewalls from Cisco; old ASAs.

How was the initial setup?

The initial deployment of Firepower is a straightforward process. For me, it's pretty easy. If you have never worked with it, I can imagine it might be complex. 

Cisco makes it easier all the time. You can now deploy a remote branch by managing the device on an external interface. In the beginning, with previous software versions, that was hard. You needed to configure the file as a remote branch, but for that you needed the central Firepower Management Center to configure it and you didn't have a connection yet. It was a big issue to set up an initial firewall remotely when there was no connection to the Management Center. But that's been fixed.

In general, you just put down some management IP addresses and configure things so that the devices see each other and it starts to work. It's far from complex.

Generally, the initial setup takes four hours. The implementation strategy depends on the customer. I always have a conversation with the customer upfront. I explain how the connectivity works for Cisco Firepower, and then I say that I want to be in a specific subnet field. Then I start configuring the basics, and that is the part that takes about four hours, for Firepower Management Center and two firewalls in HA. Then, I start to configure the firewalls themselves, the policies, et cetera.

Which other solutions did I evaluate?

I have experience with SonicWall, Fortinet, Juniper, and Sophos firewalls, among others. We work with Fortinet and Palo Alto. It's not that we only do Cisco. But I can say from my experience that I am really more convinced about Cisco products.

What customers really like about Cisco, the number-one thing that they are really happy about within Firepower—and it was also in the old ASA code, but it's even more a feature in Firepower—is that the configuration is in modules. It's modular. You have different policies for the different functions within your firewall, so that your access control policy is only for your access lists and that's it. You have a different network address translation policy. It's all separated into different policies, so a customer knows exactly where to look to configure something, to change something, or to look at something which is not working properly.

Also, with Cisco, when a customer is not totally certain about a change he's going to make, he can make a copy of the specific access control policy or the NAT policy. If something doesn't go right, he can assign the copied policy back to the device and everything is back to the way it was. 

These are the biggest advantages our customers see. When a customer doesn't have any knowledge about firewalls, I can explain the basics in a couple of hours and they have enough familiarity to start working with it. They see the different modules and they know how to make a backup of a specific module so that they can go back to the previous state if something goes wrong.

What other advice do I have?

My advice is "buy it." A lot of people prefer a specific brand and it's fairly hard to convince them that something else, like Cisco, is not bad, as well. They are so convinced about their existing firewall that they want to keep that brand because they are familiar with it and they won't need to learn a new firewall. It's hard for a customer to learn how a firewall works in the first place.

But my advice is that people should read about how Cisco security, in general, is set up and how it is trying to protect them with Talos. They need to understand that Cisco security is very good at what it does. They shouldn't blindly believe in what they have at the moment. I always hear, "My firewalls are good enough. I don't need Cisco. I will just buy the same ones, but new." Cisco Firepower is superior to other firewalls and people should not be afraid to dive in. By educating themselves about the firewall, they will be fine in managing it.

Practically speaking, Cisco firewalls are easier to manage than the firewalls they have at the moment, but they need to make the leap and try something else. That is the hardest part. When I do show them what they are capable of, and how you can configure all kinds of different things, they start to understand.

We don't have many customers that use other vendors' security products together with Firepower. We convince nine out of 10 customers to go over to Cisco fully. We do have customers who don't do that, and then we try to find a way to get the solutions to work together. For example, we try to integrate other brands' switches or firewalls with Cisco security products, but most of the time that is pretty hard. It's not the fault of Cisco. It requires that the other brands speak a protocol language that will support integration, but in the end, it's not perfect and the integration does not work very well. The majority of the time, we are not able to integrate into other security products. Cisco is using standard protocols, but the other vendor is abusing some sort of protocol and then it doesn't work well.

I don't prefer using applications in firewall rules, but our customers do use the application visibility and control, and it works perfectly. Firepower is very good at recognizing the application and is very good at showing you the kind of application that has been recognized. Customers use that in their access control policy rules, and I have never heard bad things about it. Cisco Firepower works very well in recognizing applications.

I get questions from customers because they do not understand threat messages generated by Firepower. Sometimes, it's hard to read what exactly the message is saying. In my opinion, that is not something that is specific to Cisco security or Firepower, rather it is an issue with security in general. Most networking people get these fancy firewalls and they get fancy security events. It's hard for some of them to understand what is meant, and what the severity level is of the message. It's more that a networking guy is trying to read security events. Firepower is doing a good job, but customers sometimes have problems understanding it and then they stop looking at it because they don't understand it. They assume that Firepower is taking the correct actions for them.

Firepower is not a fire-and-forget box. It is something you actually do have to take a look at. What I tell customers is, "Please enable Impact-One and Impact-Two messages in your mailbox, and if it's really something that you cannot understand, just forward it to me and I will take a look for you. Most of the time they are not very high-impact messages. There are only one or two high-impact messages per month.

There are customers who say, "We want you to review the messages in Firepower once a week." I have a look at them when I have time. We try to help the customer check security events once a week or so. That's not great, but it's always a question of finding a good balance between the money a customer can spend and the security aspects. When we do monitor all the events, 24/7, for a customer, you can imagine that it is quite expensive.

I configure every customer's automatic tweaking of IPS policies so that the IPS policy is enabled for the devices seen by Firepower, for recognition of what kinds of clients and hosts are in the network. Other than that, we do not do a lot of automation within Firepower.

Since 7.0, I don't have a lot of things to complain about. If I do have suggestions for improvements, I will give them during the beta programs. The speed of the FMC is very good. The deployment time is much better. They added the policy deployment rollback. That was something I really missed, because if I destroyed something I was able to undo that. Now, for me, it's actually almost perfect.

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. The reviewer's company has a business relationship with this vendor other than being a customer: Reseller
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Mike Bulyk
Director IT Security at a wellness & fitness company with 5,001-10,000 employees
Real User
Top 5
Given us protection and peace of mind in terms of attacks against our infrastructure from known or emerging threats

Pros and Cons

  • "It is one of the fastest solutions, if not the fastest, in the security technology space. This gives us peace of mind knowing that as soon as a new attack comes online that we will be protected in short order. From that perspective, no one really comes close now to Firepower, which is hugely valuable to us from an upcoming new attack prevention perspective."
  • "There is limited data storage on the appliance itself. So, you need to ship it out elsewhere in order for you to store it. The only point of consideration is around that area, basically limited storage on the machine and appliance. Consider logging it elsewhere or pushing it out to a SIEM to get better controls and manipulation over the data to generate additional metrics and visibility."

What is our primary use case?

It is for defense, protecting workloads from a distributed type of an environment. On-premises, we are hosting several different distributed user session type environments. In our case, it is remote desktop services, which enable users to go out and browse the Internet, in some cases to do legitimate services, and in other cases, it is more of a personal browsing session. In this case, the primary purpose is to protect those user sessions when they are accessing the Internet. The secondary use case is to protect these services and applications from inbound threats, e.g., Internet scanning, Internet exploit attempts, any sort of attack, reconnaissance, or anything of that nature coming from the public Internet.

Firepower is an add-on to Cisco ASAs that enables intrusion prevention detection and some additional advanced functionalities. We have both.

We have two on-premise data centers where Firepower is deployed.

How has it helped my organization?

In terms of logging, that has been a big benefit because it is a fairly straightforward and easy process to log results. We stream through a folder and that information goes out to Splunk. It delivers immediate value. While Firepower reporting is generally pretty good, there is some delay, as far as when information shows up and updates the internal Firepower reporting mechanism. What we found is if this information is streamed into a SIEM, then it can immediately apply additional enrichment on top of it and build slightly more relevant, near real-time reporting, in comparison to doing it directly from Firepower. In terms of value for Firepower data, the ability to stream that out as a log, then characterize and enrich it within the SIEM that is where we gain the most value from a security perspective.

The solution’s ability to provide visibility into threats is good. Combined with Cisco's own trend intelligence characterization as well as the creation and application of that sort of tag into the stream of data that Firepower detects, that immediately tells us which threat type it is: 

  • Does it belong to a threat group? 
  • Is it an IP block list?
  • Is it a URL block list? 
  • Is it a known threat? 
  • Which threat list does it belong to?

All this additional information is definitely useful. We treat it personally as set and forget because we are in the block mode - intrusion prevention mode. We don't let threats in. We err on the side of being overly protective. This is opposed to letting in threats, then detecting, identifying, and taking action on stuff that got through. Instead, we just block it. In our day-to-day operations, normally what was blocked is generally useful, but it's not operationally important.

It is set up to automatically apply the blocks and use the threat intelligence delivered by Talos as well as the intrusion prevention rules. All of that is entirely automated.

It has improved our organization's security posture dramatically. It has definitely given us modern protection and peace of mind in terms of attacks against our infrastructure from known or emerging threats, so we can be protected against them.

What is most valuable?

Intrusion prevention is its most valuable feature because of its effectiveness. Cisco is the largest security company and one of the largest threat intelligence services with Talos. Cisco can identify and immediately apply any new threat information into signature sets for their Intrusion Prevention tools, including endpoint. In our case, we are talking about Firepower. That scope is what results in is an almost immediate application of application prevention signatures against any upcoming network attacks. So, if there is a new vulnerability, some sort of high critical value globally, the Cisco team is typically able to identify and write corresponding detection or prevention signatures, then apply them across their toolset.

It is one of the fastest solutions, if not the fastest, in the security technology space. This gives us peace of mind knowing that as soon as a new attack comes online that we will be protected in short order. From that perspective, no one really comes close now to Firepower, which is hugely valuable to us from an upcoming new attack prevention perspective.

We are using Cisco Cloud Email Security and DNS security from Cisco as well as endpoint protection. The integration between these products is pretty good. The benefit is the ability of all these disparate tools to talk to each other and be able to take action, sort of feeding each other with newly intelligent detection mechanisms and passing that information on to the next tool, then taking action on that next tool based on information identified on the first tool. That is really the biggest benefit of using the ecosystem. So, we've optimized it. We leveraged Cisco's tech response, which connects with each of these tools. We definitely find value every day.

It was very easy to integrate with the SIEM, which is really our primary use case. Besides the Cisco ecosystem, it is integrating with a standalone separate SIEM solution, which is Splunk in our case. This was an easy, simple approach to accomplish. We had no issues or problems with that.

What needs improvement?

Try to understand if there is a need, e.g., if there is a need to log this information, get these logs out, and forward to some sort of a SIEM technology or perhaps a data store that you could keep it for later. There is limited data storage on the appliance itself. So, you need to ship it out elsewhere in order for you to store it. The only point of consideration is around that area, basically limited storage on the machine and appliance. Consider logging it elsewhere or pushing it out to a SIEM to get better controls and manipulation over the data to generate additional metrics and visibility.

In some cases, I could see how SIEM is not an option for certain companies, perhaps they either cannot afford it, or they do not have the resources to dedicate a security analyst/engineer who could deploy, then manage the SIEM. In most cases, Firepower is a useful tool that a network engineer can help set up and manage, as opposed to a security engineer. To make the solution more effective and appealing, Cisco could continue to improve some of the reporting that is generated within the Firepower Management Console. Overall, that would give a suitable alternative to a full-fledged SIEM, at least on a network detection side, application identification side, and endpoint identification and attribution side. Potentially, a security analyst or network engineer could then simply access the Firepower Management Console, giving them the visibility and data needed to understand what is going on in their environment. If Cisco continues to improve anything, then I would suggest continuing to improve the dashboarding and relevant operational metrics present within the platform, as opposed to taking those logs and shipping them elsewhere.

For how long have I used the solution?

About four years.

What do I think about the stability of the solution?

Once it is deployed, not much staff is required as long as the intrusion rules are specifically configured to automatically update. That is the primary thing. Then, the continuous periodic updates from Cisco apply operating system patches just to make sure that critical vulnerabilities are patched and operating system optimization is applied routinely. Strategy-wise, I would patch quarterly unless there was a critical vulnerability that Cisco would discover, then apply a patch against it. At which point, we would then patch our appliance.

The stability is very good. As far as I can tell, we don't have any issues with availability or stability.

What do I think about the scalability of the solution?

Cisco accounts for scalability by having different hardware recommendations, depending on what the throughput is, the required coverage is in terms of number of devices, the amount of traffic, etc. In our case, I don't see any issues. We are appropriately sized, but I could see how if someone's environment doubles, then someone should account for that by either procuring another appliance and separating some of the traffic flows or getting a bigger, more powerful system that can handle increase in throughput.

We try fitting to an ecosystem mentality. For example, we have four different Cisco products, which is technically a single ecosystem. If you were to think of it that way, then it is four different tools from Cisco. Then, there are two additional ones on the network, which makes six. There are additional two or three for an endpoint, plus another two or three for email, and another two or three for identities. So, I would say there are probably around 20 security solutions total.

The network team as well as the security team use it. Combined, that is approximately six people.

We are perfectly sized. I don't think there will be a need to increase the footprint or anything like that, at least for a while.

How are customer service and technical support?

I know that people typically say TAC is hit or miss. In my case, it was always a good experience. Whether it was Firepower related for licensing questions or email, I have never had any issues with Cisco TAC.

Cisco Talos is very good. They are very well-regarded and well-known. I respect the team. They know what they are doing. They are one of the best overall. They are probably the best threat intelligence organization out there. Their visibility is unparalleled, because the data that Cisco has access to and the telemetry that it's able to gather are quite amazing.

Almost all networks globally in the world are built with the Cisco products. The telemetry that it generates gives Cisco unparalleled visibility, and Talos steps into that. They are able to apply their analytics over that data and identify emerging threats before practically anyone else, but Microsoft. From that perspective, my organization appreciates what Talos is able to do. Cisco's intelligence is delivered through Talos, applying it to other products that are not Cisco, but we haven't gone down that path yet.

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

We started with Firepower. It was one of the first products that helped secure our organization. We are close to sort of an advanced maturity, primarily compliance-driven. We are not there yet, but we are close to it. We are somewhere sort of in the high to middle area. We have sort of a high compliance-driven security and close to the compliance-driven area, but still slightly below it. We are still fine-tuning and implementing some security technologies. Then, within a year's time, these will be simply managed and audited.

How was the initial setup?

In my current place, I did not help set it up, but I did set it up previously as a dedicated intrusion detection and prevention tool with another security engineer. Honestly, the setup was pretty straightforward. This was a couple of versions behind. It definitely has well-understood requirements from a virtual machine and resources required perspective. No questions that came up.

For the dedicated intrusion appliance, we needed to identify where the most benefit would come from, so we identified the network space. The sort of choke point where we could apply the Firepower appliance in order to inspect the most traffic. In terms of efficiencies, the primary goal was to identify how to maximize the visibility using Firepower. We deployed it in a choke point and ensured that most of the traffic for the company goes through this intrusion appliance and the initial deployment occurred in a visibility mode only - No blocking, intrusion detection only. Then, with time, as we got comfortable with all the traffic that was being seen with a signature application across the traffic and understood the chances for false positives were low to none. At that point, we put it into prevention.

What about the implementation team?

If we needed to address something with Cisco directly regarding Firepower support, that was also addressed fairly quickly with no issues.

What was our ROI?

The automated policy application and enforcement saves us at least a third of an FTE per day. In terms of time, that is about 30 percent per day. By deploying the solution, we are saving $600 a week, which is significant.

In some cases, resources, like a security engineer, are actually hard to come by because they are expensive. Substituting some of that engineering time with an effective technology, like Firepower, is probably a good strategy.

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

I know that licensing for some of the advanced solutions, like Intrusion Prevention and Secure Malware Analytics, are nominal costs. 

Which other solutions did I evaluate?

I have used one of Cisco's competitors and am fairly familiar with it: Palo Alto. I am also familiar with the Barracuda solution. I would say Palo is comparable with Firepower to some degree. The Barracuda solutions that I've used are nowhere near as close in terms of capability, metrics, user interface, or anything like that to Cisco.

Palo Alto and Cisco are about the same in terms of application visibility, user assignments, and attributions. They are comparable. On the threat side is where I think Firepower is better. It's able to identify and characterize better. It's also able to deliver metrics around that information in a clearer fashion. As an example, it is easier to extract fields and values in the log. It seems that the design of the appliance was focused around security, which is evident in how that information is being presented, both in the Firepower Management Console as well as in the log.

What other advice do I have?

On the IT infrastructure side, we are using Cisco hardware for the network. Then, as a security team, we are looking at adding Cisco's incident response solution, but we have not done it yet.

Firepower provides us with application visibility and control. We don't utilize it to the fullest extent. We rely on some additional tools like DNS, to identify applications being used across our endpoints. However, the Firepower deployment primarily protects the servers. So, on the servers, it is a controlled environment. Therefore, we do know the applications and services being used and deployed out of the servers.

Applying something like this to protect yourself from the Internet, which is where most of the threats come from, besides email. It guarantees that you are able to refocus your energy on internal processes: endpoints, people, etc. Intrusion Prevention is effective because it helps security teams refocus their efforts to build out other components, such as security pillars of the organization.

The solution is effective. My initial exposure to Cisco started through Firepower, since then I have understood that Cisco is moving towards an ecosystem approach. Basically, Firepower represents what I think Cisco stands for.

I would rate the solution as a nine (out of 10). 

It does what it needs to do and does it great with a good sense of confidence, allowing the team and me to focus on other things. If needed, we can always leverage that data to derive different values from it.

Which deployment model are you using for this solution?

On-premises
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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Ed Vanderpool
IT Technical Manager at Adventist Health
Video Review
Real User
Stops threats immediately and gives us more granularity on what those threats might be

Pros and Cons

  • "Firepower NGFW has improved my organization in several ways. Before, we were trying to stamp out security threats and issues, it was a one-off type of way to attack it. I spent a lot of manpower trying to track down the individual issues or flare-ups that we would see. With Cisco's Firepower Management, we're able to have that push up to basically one monitor and one UI and be able to track that and stop threats immediately. It also gives us a little more granularity on what those threats might be."
  • "One of the few things that are brought up is that for the overall management, it would be great to have a cloud instance of that. And not only just a cloud instance, but one of the areas that we've looked at is using an HA type of cloud. To have the ability to have a device file within a cloud. If we had an issue with one, the other one would pick up automatically."

What is our primary use case?

We are specifically using 7.0 Firepower in several different areas. We have them as an IPS within the core, IPS on the edge, and we're also using the AnyConnect Client as our basis for VPN connection into corporate and other applications.

How has it helped my organization?

Firepower NGFW has improved my organization in several ways. Before, we were trying to stamp out security threats and issues, it was a one-off type of way to attack it. I spent a lot of manpower trying to track down the individual issues or flare-ups that we would see. With Cisco's Firepower Management, we're able to have that push up to basically one monitor and one UI and be able to track that and stop threats immediately. It also gives us a little more granularity on what those threats might be. 

We were able to stop hundreds of threats. For killing threats, we were able to get several hundred now in comparison to the one-off that we used to be able to do.

Dynamic policies are very important for us because we do not have the manpower to really look at everything all the time. So having a dynamic way of really registering, looking at, and having certain actions tied to that are incredibly effective for us in slowing any kind of threat.

We're getting there as far as using the application, using it to go to the application level, we're at the infancy of that. We're looking at definitely tying that into our critical applications so that we can see exactly what they're doing, when they're doing it, and being able to track that.

Firepower's Snort 3.0 IPS allows us to maintain performance while running more rules with the advent of 3.0 comparatively to 2X, we have seen at least a 10 to 15% increase in speed where it seems to be more effective. The updates seem to be more effective in finding malicious information. We've definitely seen at least a 10 to 15% increase on tying policy to 3.0.

What is most valuable?

The features that we find the biggest bang for the buck are for Firepower overall. We're looking at AnyConnect, which is one of the big features. The other valuable features are IPS along with the Geotagging and the Geosync features, and of course the firewall, the basic subset of firewall infrastructure and policy management.

We've looked at other vendors, but Cisco by far has taken the lead with a holistic approach where we don't have to manage multiple different edges at one time. We can actually push policy out from our core out to the edge. The policy can be as granular as we need it to be. So the administration, also the upgradability of the edge is for us because we need to have it 24/7. The upgradability is also another piece of management, logging, and all the other little aspects of the monitoring part.

Using deep packet inspection, especially with 7.0, since it's just come out in 7.0, we're able to see much more granularly into the packet where before we could actually give a general overview using NetFlow. This gives us much more granularity into what is exactly happening on our network and snapping in the Cisco StealthWatch piece gives us the end-to-end way of monitoring our network and making sure that it's secure.

The overall ease of use when it comes to managing Cisco Secure Firewall is one of the reasons that we ended up going with Cisco because the ease of use, basically having one UI to be able to control all of our end devices, policy, geolocation, AnyConnect, all the different pieces of that in one area has been phenomenal.

Cisco Secure Firewall helped to reduce our firewall operational costs because previously if we were not using Cisco's Firepower, we would have had either Cisco ASA or another manufacturer, and we would have had those everywhere. We would have had still two at every site, several within our infrastructure, and the management of those is much more difficult because it's done by one-off.

As far as saving Adventist Health money, I would have to say that it's not necessarily the actual physical product, but the time, labor that we would have had to have to be able to monitor and administer that, and also the time to find malicious issues and security areas that we were unable to see before. So, it's tough to put a cost on that, but it would probably be several hundred thousand dollars overall if you're looking at whether we got hit with malware or with some of the other issues that we're seeing, especially within healthcare. If we were hacked, that would cost us millions.

What needs improvement?

One of the few things that are brought up is that for the overall management, it would be great to have a cloud instance of that. And not only just a cloud instance, but one of the areas that we've looked at is using an HA type of cloud. To have the ability to have a device file within a cloud. If we had an issue with one, the other one would pick up automatically.

The other part of that is that applying policy still takes longer than we expect. Every version that comes out, the speed is actually increased, but I would love to see that, even a little more as far as when we're actually deploying policy.

For how long have I used the solution?

We have been using Firepower's series for at least the last six years.

We're staggered right now. The Firepower Management Console is at 7.0 and most of our Firepower units are at 6.6.

We have two areas for deployment. We have them as an edge at our markets, we term our hospitals as markets, but each one of the hospitals will have an HA Pair of the Firepower model. And we also have them in our core, within the ACI infrastructure. We use them as a core firewall along with an Edge firewall.

What do I think about the stability of the solution?

We've been using Firepower, the Threat Defense, and the Management Console for about six and a half years and I think we've had maybe two issues with it. And most of those were due to either our policy settings or something that we messed up. We've never had to return a box and we've never run into any major bugs that have actually hindered the actual security of the system.

What do I think about the scalability of the solution?

Scalability so far has been fantastic because we started with four Firepower Threat Defense boxes, but really after that, now we have 14 and we're going to be pushing that to 44 to 46 devices. The implementation has been pretty seamless and pretty easy. It's been great.

We use it exclusively for edge and core for firewall and for policy and for IPS and AnyConnect. We plan on continuing to integrate that tighter. So in the future, we probably will not grow that many physical devices, but we plan on actually integrating those tighter into the system, tighter with integration, with Cisco's ISE, and tighter integration with our ACI infrastructure. So at the end of the day, we don't see us going any further away from using Firepower as our core security edge device.

How are customer service and support?

My company has been using Cisco for many years. One of the huge pieces for us is, of course, the supportability and ongoing update, maintenance, and care. We've had a great relationship with Cisco. The tech is outstanding. Typically, we will open a tech case and they will know exactly what the issue is within two to three hours if it's a very difficult one. Typically they even know what it is when we actually open the case.

We've actually had a fantastic relationship working with Cisco. They've had a fast turnaround, great tech support, and we have not run into any issues thus far with the Firepower overall.

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

Prior to actually using Firepower, we were still a Cisco shop. We used Cisco ASA exclusively, and it was fantastic. But with the advent of Firepower, being able to manage, monitor, and upgrade has really cut back our time on those processes by less than half of what we had before. We were using the good old ASA for many years.

How was the initial setup?

We found that the initial setup using Firepower products was actually very simple. The initial configuration for the Management Console was very straightforward. Adding devices usually takes a few minutes. And then once you've got them physically set up in your Management Console, it's streamlined. It's actually very simple.

One of the great features of having the Cisco Firepower Management Console is having the ability to group. So we have each one of our hospitals as a group, so we can actually do any device configuration within a group. They're HA so that when we do an upgrade, it is seamless because when it fires off the upgrade, it will actually force the HA over automatically as part of the upgrade. And the other part of that is policy management. We have several policies, but specifically, one for the general use at our hospitals has been phenomenal because you build out one policy and you can push that out to all of your end nodes with one push.

We require two staff members to actually implement and devise the initial configuration.

At my company, you have to be at least a senior or an architect in order to manage any type of firewalling, whether that's the IPS, the actual firewall itself, or AnyConnect. So we have senior network engineers that are assigned for that task.

We typically have one person that will actually rotate through the group for the maintenance. There's a senior network engineer that will maintain that on a daily basis. Typically, it doesn't take maintenance every day. The biggest maintenance for us comes to updating policy, verifying the geolocation information is correct, and any upgrades in the future. So typically that takes about one to two people.

What about the implementation team?

We did not actually use any external authority as far as setting up, maintenance, and configuration. It all comes directly from Cisco because of our partnership with Cisco, we have had a fantastic cast of system engineers and techs when needed. We haven't had to go out of our partnership with Cisco to actually implement these, to upgrade, or update.

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

Cisco's pricing is actually pretty good. We get a decent discount, but when you look across the board, if you're looking at a Cisco firewall, Firepower device, a Palo Alto device, or a Juniper device, they're going to be pretty comparable. A lot of people say, "Oh, Cisco is so expensive." But when you boil it down, when you look at the licensing structure for Firepower, you look at the actual device cost and how much that costs over time, they pretty much are right in line, if not less, depending on what you're buying for Firepower. So we've actually had a great run with that, and we feel confident that we're getting the best price. I haven't seen anything better than the supportability of that.

Which other solutions did I evaluate?

We actually did look at another vendor when we were looking at initially grabbing Firepower, to bring in as our corporate firewall and our main inspection engine. So we did look at Palo Alto and we also looked at Juniper SRX series, but both of those didn't really have the overall manageability and tightness with the Cisco infrastructure as we would want it to. So there was nothing necessarily security-wise wrong with them, but they were not a good fit for our environment.

What other advice do I have?

The biggest lesson that we've learned is in a couple of different ways. One is how to keep your policy clean. We've learned that we've really had to keep that from overextending what we want to do. It also has great feedback as you're building that out so that you can look at it and you figure out how you are going to be able to really implement this in a way that won't break something or that won't overshadow some other policy that you have. That's probably one of the biggest things that we've learned. The way that you build out your policy and the way that you use that on a daily basis is very intuitive. And it also gives you a lot of feedback as you're building that out.

The advice that I would give anybody looking at Firepower is to look at it from an overall standpoint. If you want something that you can monitor and administer well, that you can update very quickly, and that gives you all of the security aspects that anybody else can on the market, it's going to be really hard to beat because of the Management Console. With this, you've got one tool that you can actually do the device updates, device configuration and all the policy management in one area. So I would say, definitely take a look at it. It's got a great UI that is very straightforward to use. It is very intuitive and it works really well out-of-the-box. And it does not take math science to be able to implement it.

I would rate Firepower a nine out of ten. I can't think of anything that would be a 10. It's mature, it's effective and it's usable.

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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