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Palo Alto Networks aspires to anti-malware defense role with WildFire

But can the next-generation firewall vendor meet the demands around BYOD mobile devices?

By , Network World
November 14, 2012 09:56 AM ET
Lee Klarich

Network World - LAS VEGAS -- Palo Alto Networks wants its next-generation firewall to be the center of enterprise security, giving it a malware-detection and analysis capability called WildFire that's intended to inspect all traffic passing through the firewall to detect targeted attacks within 30 minutes.

"The firewall is the most pervasive network security device you have," said Lee Klarich, vice president of product management at Palo Alto Networks, in his presentation on the array of new Palo Alto next-generation products released this week, including its first virtualized next-generation firewall. But here at Palo Alto's first customer conference, called Ignite, the company made it clear it also wants to be a significant player in malware detection, too, with its WildFire cloud-based service intended to identify targeted zero-day malware-based attacks at Palo Alto customers.

BACKGROUND: Palo Alto Networks targets VMware shops with virtualized next-gen firewall

WildFire was introduced as a free service for customers with Palo Alto NGFWs to monitor for what could be zero-day malware attacks. WildFire is now ready to not just monitor for detection but also ready to block malware, too. It's now being offered under a subscription-based service, Klarich said.

"It has to be preventative. If all we're do is tell you something bad happened, you have to close it down, you'll stop using it," he said.

The WildFire malware-detection component resides in the NGFW to look at all the traffic passing through and make a copy of executables to send to a cloud-based service that within a few minutes will analyze it and, if it's deemed malicious, save it and notify the security manager.

But WildFire isn't necessarily going to catch things on the first try.

"At first the file goes through," said Wade Williamson, senior security analyst at Palo Alto. The idea is to determine as quickly as possible a targeted attack and generate a custom signature to prevent specific malware zero days in the future. However, since targeted attacks today often are made with rapid malware changes made by attackers, it's a question if WildFire can keep up with a bombardment, or if security manages will always be looking in the rear-view mirror.

WildFire technology is being used already by Palo Alto customers, among them Concord Hospital. Conference attendee Mark Starry, director of architecture and security at Concord Hospital, said WildFire has detected a few attacks, although from time to time the technology may simply result in false positives. Nevertheless, the healthcare organization, which has migrated over the past few years from competing firewall products to use of the Palo Alto application-aware firewalls, finds WildFire to be well worthwhile as an additional threat-detection tool.

Klarich said 973 Palo Alto NGFW customers now use WildFire, and over the past year, WildFire has scanned millions of files passing through customer networks, finding nearly 170,000 of them were malware, and 69,111 of these were zero-day malware not detected by the host antivirus companies at the time.

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