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 Still the ASA was purely a stateful firewall and the IDS/IPS module that Cisco was offering was quite outdated in technology and had a less than excellent catch-rate.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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