What is Cisco Unified Threat Defense (FTD)?

Cisco has finally decided to merge its two major network security products – the ASA and FirePOWER. These two have been living on the same hardware (5500X) model for years now but they required separate management which increased the deployment and operational costs for a Cisco FirePOWER implementation. Now Cisco has decided to merge these two platforms by removing the logical separation in hardware and the full separation in software by creating a merged OS that combines the features of both worlds, hence lowering the time/costs for deployment and running.

A bit of History

Cisco is a major player in the Firewall Market since the PIX. With the introduction of the first gen ASA, the PIX was given a polish, new features (such as dynamic routing, QoS, new RFC based protocol inspections/fixup and a few more), but ASA’s were and still are a traditional stateful packet firewall positioned at the Internet Edge. The demands to introduce firewalls also in the DC drove the change from IP based object to Name based object and totally different way of doing NAT (including the introduction of the Any as interface) in versions 8.3+. Still the ASA was purely a stateful firewall and the IDS/IPS module that Cisco was offering was quite outdated in technology and had a less than excellent catch-rate. Cisco knew that and purchased the best IPS/IDS vendor out there – SourceFire.

Now Cisco had two flagmen in the network security and naturally decided to offer them as one box – hence the NX 5500X Firewalls were created, no modules needed, all you need to run both ASA and FirePOWER was an upgrade to SSD drives. However, the management, logging, operation of the ASA and FirePOWER was still independent – ASA was managed and monitored by either ASDM or CSM, where FirePOWER was using – FireSight (pre-version 6) and now FMC (Firepower Management Center). Most competitors (Palo Alto and Check Point) did not need nor have separate management platforms to configure their advanced Next-Gen capabilities and frankly speaking users/admins were not happy with having to do double amount of work to enable a Cisco Next Gen Firewall – interfaces, licensing, configuration, policies, monitoring etc.

In 2015 Cisco hinted about the concept of having one unified management OS that would combine the features of both FirePOWER and ASA. The FirePOWER was chosen as a base for that new image, so from day one the FTD image had almost a 100% of the FirePOWER functionality but a very small percentage of the ASA functionality. The first release (6.0) for testing and Cisco partners was in 2016 and then the FTP had about 20% of the features of the ASA – basic features of course were migrated first, but shockingly there was lack of some major features such as – HA, VPNs (both site-to-site and Anyconnect), dynamic routing protocols, virtualization/contexts, QoS.  A quick introduction of 6.0.1 and 6.1 introduced HA failover so the FTD was now ready to go public.

The Situation today

Latest version release early 2017 is 6.2.0

Cisco continued its work to close the gap between the current ASA and FTD functionality. New major functionality added: Clustering for ASA, Site-To-Site IPSec VPN with certificates (6.1 supported Site-to-Site VPN but only with Pre-Shared-Key), PKI support, SGT without Realm, Migration tool (from traditional ASA to FTD), REST API, Packet Tracer and Capture functionality.

On top of the migrated in 6.1 functionalities such as integrations with Cisco ISE, Threat Grip, on-box management for some model, the 6.2 is looking more and more enterprise ready (not only SOHO as the 6.0 and 6.1). Also, adding the tools for automated migration, the FTD becomes more easily available when doing migration. The user base is also enlarging quite quickly (good for discovering of bugs and security/stability issues).  Version 6.2.1 is just around the corner and will close the gap even further introducing the Anyconnect Remote Access functionality and many improvements/new features in NAT, Dynamic Routing, Multicast and QoS, HA, Site-To-Site VPN and interestingly an option for conversion back to ASA image.

This all points that soon there will be a major swift in the Cisco Security community and more and more clients will start using FTD. Naturally after break-point Cisco will start the phase out of the traditional ASA image (functionality gap will be in favor of the FTD) and clients will be forced to switch. Of course, that process will take time but why not be ahead of the curve?

Resources:

http://www.cisco.com/c/en/us/td/docs/security/firepower/620/relnotes/Firepower_System_Release_Notes_Version_620/new_features_and_functionality.html

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‘Bing’s blanket ban on tech support ads is lazy and idiotic’

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http://www.pcr-online.biz/news/read/bing-s-blanket-ban-on-tech-support-ads-is-lazy-and-idiotic/038296

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Want Happy Customers & Staff? Join the Culture Club

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Sell more and sell more now! Do as I TELL you. Listen when I bark! – We’ve all had horrid bosses like this, imparting their aggressive nature and sell-at-all-costs attitude which manifests into a toxic culture of bullying, aggression and arrogance. Working in an environment with a poisonous culture negatively impacts productivity, staff morale and business operations. On the other hand, focus on creating a positive culture which is people-centric and your business can build a substantial competitive advantage over market rivals.

Training & Development

In the year 2015 Technology is advancing at a rapid pace, smartphones & smartwatches, bigger memories, and bigger processors, faster machinery – none of which have any importance or relevance to your company culture and therefore highlighting that your employees are your most valuable asset.

Dedication to learning is an essential element in any successful company culture. Learning needs to be a continuous company process encouraging all staff members to embark on a quest for knowledge. Gathering professional qualifications is par for the course, but the value of soft skills shouldn’t be underestimated. Communications skills, work ethic, transferable skills and leadership qualities can all be nurtured from personal development training both in-house and externally. It is necessary to create a training and development plan with formalised processes by following the diagram below:

 

Training and development plan. 1 Identify and formalise Business Skills Shortages. 2: Identify Employee Skills Shortages. 3: Select Qualifications, Training Courses and Training Plans. 4: Book, Attend and Complete Qualification or Training. 5: Gather Feedback From Employees, Then Repeat Cycle.

Flexibility & Trust

The last time I looked, all my colleagues could tie their own shoelaces, vote, earn a degree and passed the interview that got them their respective jobs – so why do some company cultures insist on babying their staff? – 2 minutes late and you’re reprimanded, wear a tie, ask for permission to make a cuppa, get in your cubicle and don’t get ideas above your station. When written down it seems ridiculous, but such antiquated cultures are commonplace. People daily dread getting up to go into their jobs, another groundhog day – if your staff think like this, then your culture needs addressing and quick!

Don’t make your staff fear for their jobs, create an environment whereby they have no fear and are free to take risks and make mistakes. Improvements can only be made by taking risks, challenging norms and pushing boundaries. Demonstrate trust in your staff, be flexible with breaks, start and finish times. If your employee perhaps has been working late, then allow them to come in late to recuperate and don’t try to squeeze every last morsel of productivity from them. Happy staff are productive staff. Grant your staff the freedom to make a cuppa as and when they please, start late or finish early occasionally, let them work from home, or check their phones for messages during company time. If your recruitment process was thorough enough and your company culture applies flexibility and trust, then you’ll successfully build a progressive culture with loyal and productive employees.

Company Values

A company with an ingrained culture is a living breathing entity, and like people, can have a unique personality. Employees and stakeholders need to be able to identify with who your company is and what you stand for. Create a vision, mission and values statement to support company values – words on a piece of paper mean nothing unless there is a clear and defined strategy to implement & follow. Once company values have been installed into your everyday working environment, your staff and stakeholders can begin to buy into the values and beliefs you promote. Creating company values which resonate with the beliefs of individual stakeholders imparts shared beliefs and shared efforts to achieve a common goal.

Competitive Advantage

Strategy guru, Michael Porter identifies 2 main types of competitive advantage, cost and differentiation. Gaining a competitive advantage through cost measures simply enters companies into an overcrowded race with competitors. Buying newer, faster machinery is easy, but you’ll always be part of that race to the bottom. Cut costs by swinging the axe, make employees work twice as hard to compensate for the axe-wielding, but humans burn out. The solution to creating a sustainable competitive advantage can only be achieved by delivering superior added value compared to your competitors.

Companies providing services rather than products can utilise their employees to help bring their services to market quicker than their competitors. Those employees can respond quicker to customer trends and demands by offering customised solutions not freely available amongst market rivals. Quality of service delivery must always be a priority over achieving the lowest price. When your company culture focuses on cheapness, cheaper costs, cheaper products then most likely your company culture is just as cheap. Implementing a superior quality of service comes from employees taking pride in their jobs, taking pride in satisfying their customers and pride in the company they work for. Try giving your staff no creative freedom, no trust, no flexibility and an obsession with cost cutting – do you think your employees are proud? If you want happy customers and stakeholders, join the culture club 🙂

Be reponsive to customer needs and ensure successful delivery of cisco support & cisco engineers

Responsiveness – The Key to a Successful SME

Follow Your Customers Sign

So many companies strive to achieve growth to increase profits, benefit from economies of scale or for simple vanity reasons. However, being a big company doesn’t always mean that the company is more successful, being an SME can be equally beneficial. The nature of larger companies dictate that a more regimented approach to business is applied with rules, policies, procedures, processes, departments and red tape all helping to slow down business operations. With less traffic to fight through, SME’s have the ability to be responsive to the needs & demands of the market place.

Customisation

The single greatest benefit to being a responsive company is the ability to truly customise your products/services to the needs of your customers. When a company deals with customer numbers in the hundreds or thousands, the only way to efficiently deliver communications is via automation. Letters to customers are automated, offers are automated and every facet of communication between the human customer and robotic company ensues. As a customer, just make sure that any request you may have can be categorised into a pre-defined algorithm with an automatically generated generic response.

In the year 2015, customers demand what they want, when they want it, how they want it and SME’s are best poised to respond to, and satisfy such demands. Telling your customers they need “the standard package” or “the budget level package” makes them feel as homogenised as the packages being offered to them.

Lack of Hierarchy & Structure

The composition of big companies comprises of dozens of departments each with their own agendas, protecting their own budgets and results. Each department have employees, supervisors, managers and senior management which creates layer upon layer of hierarchy and internal structure. Therefore when a customer makes a request for a customised service/product, or a lower level employee needs to escalate a complaint or request, that information needs to navigate its way up the company hierarchy and back down to the customer again. SME’s on the other hand having fewer layers, departmental agendas and fewer employees & managers with vested interests are able to respond more expeditiously. Customer trends fluctuate daily, competitors improve & evolve and technology impacts market trends meaning the speed of response can only be effectively executed by SME’s.

Quality vs Quantity

SME’s are in a blessed position whereby their primary objective is to generate a higher quality of customer rather than a greater quantity (although increasing volume over time by sustainable growth). Big businesses may be able to boast that they can scale operations to achieve economies of scale, but at this point customers now become “just a number” which lacks genuine customer service. The final price offered by SME’s and big business is almost identical, the SME benefits from having a flat structure and low operating costs, whilst the big company still needs to absorb higher operating costs.

The key to achieving a higher quality of customer means chasing a higher quantity of customers must always be a secondary objective. Excellence in delivering a high quality of service breeds customer loyalty and customer retention. If more companies focused on quality over quantity, then perhaps fewer people would be brand-agnostic, obsessed by price or seek substitute products. As an SME, your company is born with a responsive nature, grow and this trait begins to dwindle – just keep focused on achieving quality over quantity.

SME’s strive to achieve growth to become a big business – grow employees, grow assets, grow profits or grow to be admired. Achieving growth so often kills the flexible responsive nature of an SME and big companies struggle to be responsive – so how do we successfully merge the two? By doing just that, merge big and small to learn from one another – knowledge share. Ensure the SME learns how to scale operations and define processes and procedures, same goes for the larger companies, learn what makes SME’s so successful, adopt their approach to excellence in quality of service by being responsive– just don’t grow and kill customer service in the process.