Dispelling Myths Surrounding UTM

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Editor’s note: The following article on Unified Threat Management (UTM) is written by Wana Tun, regional technical evangelist at Sophos. 

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Unified Threat Management (UTM) has become popular amongst organisations since its emergence over five years ago. The security solution gained traction with its all-in-one approach, combining several security tools into a single device. Running UTM also saves companies, especially the smaller ones time, money and manpower. Most UTMs today include a firewall, intrusion detection system (IDS), virtual private network (VPN), anti-malware, anti-spam, content and web filtering, while some vendors include other features such as advanced routing.

Despite the tremendous benefit brought about by UTMs, the solution still faces several perception hurdles among small and medium businesses (SMBs) such as being hard to manage and having high resource utilisation.

These are four common myths surrounding UTMs which I will clarify:

Myth: It is difficult to deploy and manage UTM. A company has to manage several appliances within a single device instead of one appliance.

Reality: While UTM management is perceived as complex, it is definitely easier to manage a single device with a host of functions compared to several appliances working in silos.

For example, an organisation may have a firewall guarding its network and content filtering by a separate web filtering application. It will not only have to manage the content filtering function, but also manage the server it runs on. Managing these appliances also becomes more complicated if the solutions come from different vendors.

In such a situation, companies may face issues with routing and troubleshooting when something goes wrong. Operating system updates will also disrupt services running on them.

Instead of dealing with the complexity of maintaining several devices, it is far easier to manage a single device. In fact, a good UTM solution will be easy to deploy for distributed remote sites or have flexible deployment options with software, hardware, or virtual appliances.

Myth: UTM creates a single point of failure because it is an all-in-one security device, so if the product fails to function, there will be a security gap.

Reality: With distributed network protection, the only way to prevent a network from failing or losing internet connectivity is to use redundant configuration, that is, copying configuration across two devices. Organisations will have to manage double the number of servers they originally managed. This increases complexity, management and ultimately, the possibility of failure.

Good UTM devices often have a fail-safe feature to ensure continuity and enable connection to a secondary gateway if the primary one cannot be accessed. They simplify security architecture, make configuration easier and reduce the risk of failure. They also have multi-layered protection such as dual antivirus, IPS, Advanced Threat Protection (ATP), a proxy and a firewall.

Myth: UTM utilises resources intensively and this might lead to performance issues.

Reality: Performance is dependent on hardware, how software is written and how software utilises hardware resources. As UTM devices contain multiple services, they require larger hardware. When applications are distributed, each service can use only the hardware it runs on and may overload the hardware at peak capacity.

On the other hand, all services on the UTM can share the capacity and leverage the bigger hardware it has. Even though there is the possibility of all services running at full capacity, the odds of this are low.

Myth: UTM is hard to configure because there are too many services in a single device.

Reality: Application configuration is not affected by whether the applications are running independently or concentrated in a single device. It is instead, dependent on the written configuration interface and what functions are inside it.

In fact, when there are several functions on a single device, it might be possible to include new functionality on the device, making the configurability of UTM better. Good UTMs also have on-box reporting capabilities providing greater simplicity for users, and can connect branch offices and mobile users through plug-and-protect VPN and wireless extension features.

To conclude, computing has progressed to a state where technology has become distributed. This has made device management more difficult, increasing the possibility of downtime. UTM simplifies security management by integrating appliances on stronger hardware, bringing the benefits of lower complexity, cost and maintenance especially to SMBs.