Palo Alto Expands Network Security Solutions for Virtual Environments

Palo Alto brings its firewall technologies to virtual data centers and offers its WildFire anti-malware tool as a cloud-based subscription service.

Palo Alto Networks, just months after its high-profile IPO to take the company public, is unveiling a host of new-product offerings designed to increase network security in both virtual and physical data center environments.

In what Palo Alto officials are calling their largest product rollout, the five-year-old company is introducing new solutions to ramp up firewall security for virtual environments, a new hardware-based firewall platform and a subscription service that is aimed at preventing—rather than simply detecting—malware from attacking the network. In addition, the company is offering a firewall management appliance and putting 60 new features into its PAN-OS operating system.

The new offerings, announced Nov. 13, reflect the changing nature of the data center and the security challenges those changes bring, according to Chris King, director of product marketing at Palo Alto.

“We’re going from physically oriented data centers to ones where people have used a heck of a lot of virtualization for server consolidation,” King told eWEEK.

The next step will be making the full move to cloud computing, all of which requires a new generation of networking security technology that takes these changes into account, he said.

Palo Alto’s new products will put it into even greater competition with a growing array of vendors that offer network firewall capabilities, including established players like Cisco Systems—which in September added new security capabilities to its intrusion-prevention and firewall offerings—and Check Point Software.

However, King argued that Palo Alto is bringing greater capabilities to both physical and virtual environments. One of the key challenges is getting greater visibility into traffic between virtual machines within a physical system, he said. That is one of the issues Palo Alto is looking to address with its VM-Series virtualized firewall platform. The technology can run within VMware environments, offering next-generation firewall capabilities in PAN-OS 5.0 in a virtual form factor. Through the solution, enterprises can bring strong management capabilities—such as tying user- and application-based policies to virtual machine or server deployments through cloud automation or orchestration tools

In addition, security policies assigned to particular virtual machines will stay with those virtual machines, even when they are moved between hosts.

Along with the VM-Series, Palo Alto also is offering a subscription service for its WildFire malware service. The company introduced Palo Alto a year ago as a free service to businesses using the company’s next-generation firewalls. The customers would upload questionable files for analysis, and WildFire would say whether the file was malware and—if it was—warn them.

With a WildFire subscription, users now get a cloud-based service that will offer them not only a warning about malware, but full protection within 24 hours by detecting executable files, analyzing them and putting protection signatures into the firewalls of the customers, King said. That prevention is a key point, he said, noting that during a recent seven-day period, WildFire had found 4,722 new malware files, and almost half of those files were not detected by other antivirus offerings. So far, WildFire has found more than 70,000 new malware files that had not been identified by existing anti-malware offerings, according to Palo Alto officials.

In addition, much of the malware detected by WildFire tends to be aimed at particular businesses or industries, making them more difficult to be found by traditional antivirus software, King said.

“These are customized pieces of malware targeted at an organization or certain types of organizations,” he said.

Palo Alto’s new PA-3000 Next-Generation Firewall is a midrange hardware platform that offers the same application-, user- and content-based capabilities as the vendor’s current solutions aimed at the data center and remote offices. The product family includes the PA-3020 and PA-3050 firewalls. In addition, the company’s new M-100 management appliance is a dedicated appliance for Palo Alto’s Panorama management system, giving customers a central point from which to manage their Next-Generation Firewall deployments.

New to the M-100 is a distributed log collection capability aimed at large-scale enterprise deployments.