Check Point vs. Palo Alto - Enterprise Cybersecurity Top Contenders
Comparing the two leading cybersecurity platforms - Check Point and Palo Alto, to help you decide on the right cybersecurity solution to get.
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Two of the leading cybersecurity platforms are Check Point and Palo Alto. Many tend to think that these top contenders are largely the same, so choosing any of the two wouldn’t be a bad idea. However, there are a few details that can spell major differences.
To arrive at a better cybersecurity platform choice, it certainly helps to get acquainted with this duo of options better. Presented below are some of the most important points you need to know as you decide on the right cybersecurity solution to get.
This comparison aims to help you decide better by exploring the following factors:
- Security features
- Management functions
- Ease of use and efficiency
Before going into the details, here’s an introduction of the two.
Overview of Check Point Software Technologies
An American-Israeli multinational company, Check Point Software specializes in cybersecurity software products for various purposes including network, endpoint, cloud, mobile, and data security. It also offers security management products.
Check Point started in 1993 offering a firewall product, which was unimaginatively called FireWall-1. The underlying technology of which became the company’s core technology. Eventually, Check Point developed one of the world’s first VPN products named VPN-1 and went on to create several security solutions for different purposes.
Today, Check Point Software’s host of cybersecurity offerings include network security, software-defined protection, public and private cloud security, zero trust remote access, data security, IoT security, virtual systems, mobile security, endpoint security, document security, and cloud protection products. As the company expanded, it also acquired some of the well-known cybersecurity brands including Zone Labs, Nokia Security Appliances, Dynasec, Hyperwise, and Odo Security.
Overview of Palo Alto Networks
Palo Alto Networks Inc. is a cybersecurity firm based in California. Founded in 2005, this American multinational company now serves tens of hundreds of clients in more than 150 countries. It was once included in the Forbes Digital 100 (8th in 2018) and Fortune 100 (85th in 2018) lists.
Palo Alto’s products are not that different from what Check Point offers. It started with an advanced enterprise firewall product but is now offering a long list of enterprise solutions. These include next-generation firewalls, a network security control center, advanced endpoint protection systems, a cloud-based threat analysis service, and a range of cloud storage and analysis products.
The company also operates a threat intelligence and security consulting team called Unit 42. Consisting of cyber threat researchers and security tech experts, the team gathers and analyzes cybersecurity to discover and help prevent new threats such as malicious software and new attack schemes of bad actors from different parts of the world.
Palo Alto also acquired a number of firms as it bolstered its expertise and product offerings. The company bought Morta Security, Cyvera, CirroSecure, LightCyber, Evident.io, Secdo, RedLock, CloudGenix, Expanse, and a number of other cybersecurity-related companies over the past decade.
Comparing the Main Offerings
For this comparison, the focus will be on the two companies’ next-generation firewalls (NGFW). As mentioned, they offer a multitude of solutions, but their common main products are the next-gen firewalls.
Check Point Offering Breakdown
Check Point offers an NGFW that it describes as “designed for SandBlast’s zero-day protection.” This provides the ability to prevent fifth-generation cyber-attacks through dozens of innovative security services. It uses the proprietary Quantum Security Gateway, which is based on Infinity Architecture, that is rated to be capable of handling up to 1.5Tbps of threats. The use of this architecture also provides the benefit of on-demand scalability.
Check Point’s Next-gen Firewall (NGFW) Notable Features:
- Unified threat management
- Uninterrupted in-line configuration
- The integrated signature-based IPS engine
- Network address translation (NAT)
- Serial peripheral interface (SPI)
- Virtual private network (VPN)
- App awareness
- SSL decryption
- Full-stack visibility
- Machine identity awareness that enables integration with Active Directory
Palo Alto Offering Breakdown
Palo Alto’s next-gen firewall offering is certainly no slacker. It is notable for providing granular control over traffic. It is also designed for zero-trust network security and claims to be the world's first machine learning-powered NGFW. The company promises security without compromise and high performance with a lower total cost of ownership.
Palo Alto’s Next-generation Firewall (NGFW) Notable Features:
- Application-based policy enforcement (App-ID)
- User identification (User-ID) for easier admin configuration and firewall policy enforcement
- Threat-prevention services
- URL filtering
- Network versatility and speed to suit any network or environment
- GlobalProtect™ software to secure client systems
- Fail-safe function for high availability
- WildFire™ malware analysis and reporting
- VM-Series firewall
- Management via a web interface or command-line interface
Notable Differences between Check Point and Palo Alto
Given the list of features and functions above, it is understandable why many tend to think the two are equally technically excellent. However, there are differences that cannot be easily determined by simply looking at the technical specs.
For one, Check Point’s NGFW is built for real-time threat prevention to block malicious software or other forms of attacks from ever reaching the network. With Palo Alto, it is possible for infections to reach the network, although this does not necessarily mean that the protection failed. Palo Alto sends an alert of the infection, so the cybersecurity team can deal with it accordingly.
On the other hand, Check Point can be considered as the better option when it comes to visibility. Its application awareness feature allows it to have wider visibility especially for high-risk apps and shadow IT activities. It covers more than 8,600 applications, which is more than double the visibility afforded by Palo Alto (based on the apps covered).
Another feature that makes Check Point’s visibility better is its integration of the MITRE ATT&CK framework. Palo Alto does not have this function.
Based on third-party evaluations, Check Point appears to have some slight edge in security. Check Point earned one of the highest scores in NSS Labs BPS 2019. It also received a “Recommended” rating from CyberRatings 2021, which is similar to the rating given to Palo Alto’s NGFW. The latter, however, only scored 13/20, which is lower than the 19/20 given to Check Point.
Comparing and Differentiating Security Features and Functions
Check Point and Palo Alto have different approaches in ensuring security for their users. Examine their respective highlight features and functions below.
Check Point Security Features and Functions
As a solution that emphasizes prevention more than mitigation and remediation, Check Point NGFW offers the following:
- Patient 0 prevention
- 100 percent traffic inspection, prioritizing security over performance
- Preemptive protection that sanitizes files or documents before they are accessed by users
- Robust intrusion prevention system (IPS)
- SSL decryption, which makes it possible to identify undesirable encrypted apps
- Change management function
- Fewer software vulnerabilities found
- Demonstrable record of protection against top vulnerabilities
Palo Alto Security Features and Functions
Palo Alto is also a capable next-gen firewall solution that can safely enable traffic for applications while keeping an eye on those that appear suspicious regardless of the protocol, port, or deceptive tactic used. It scans all content meticulously while also doing the following:
- SSL decryption to examine SSL-concealed threats
- Intelligent, network security and threat monitoring
- Automatic failover support
- Comprehensive endpoint protection and response with the WildFire malware prevention service and the Cortex XDR detection and response system
- Security for client systems through GlobalProtect™
- URL filtering
Which is Better?
Again, technical specs and lists of features do not provide the full picture of a next-gen firewall’s security capability. Based on vendor security advisories and data available on vendor websites, Check Point’s NGFW appears to have the more mature code with the fewest software vulnerabilities and swifter response in addressing the software issues found.
Data compiled from 2018 to 2020 show that Check Point’s next-generation firewall only logged 24 vulnerabilities compared to the 233 found in Palo Alto’s firewall. It is also lower than detected in Fortinet and Cisco’s firewall solutions.
Check Point’s 100 percent traffic inspection may sacrifice some of its performance but it is a big boon for security especially when compared to Palo Alto’s approach. The latter only inspects parts of the traffic for threats, which entails bigger exposure to risks.
Moreover, Check Point has shown a remarkable record of being on top of the leading vulnerabilities. In particular, Check Point managed to detect all of the 25 high-profile vulnerabilities listed in NSA's alert advisory on October 20, 2020. In contrast, Palo Alto's next-gen firewall missed 16 percent of them.
Based on FireEye’s CVE Coverage, Check Point also scored a 100 percent detection. Palo Alto only caught 13 of the 16 of the common vulnerabilities and exposures listed by FireEye. As far as security is concerned, it would not be an exaggeration to say that Check Point trumps Palo Alto. It does not only have more practical security features and functions; it also has data to prove its effectiveness.
Comparing and Differentiating Management Capabilities
Firewalls have become considerably smarter over the years, especially with the help of automation and AI. However, they still need human monitoring. As such, it is important that they have intuitive interfaces and management functions. They should be designed to ensure efficiency and facilitate prompt and effective responses to threats.
Management capabilities are particularly important, especially for enterprise users. Organizations that have decided to use a next-gen firewall only recently need to pay attention to the management features to ensure efficiency and optimize the benefits.
Check Point Management Capabilities
Here’s a rundown of what Check Point offers when it comes to management capabilities.
- Centralized network security management
- Easy configuration
- Impressive scalability
- Sense of urgency
Palo Alto Management Capabilities
Palo Alto’s NGFW can be considered roughly equal or at the very least competitive to what Check Point provides. It can be summed up by the following list of features:
- Simple cloud-based management
- Intuitive interface for easy policy and event management and faster incident response
- Endpoint security management system that allows the review of security events as they occur
- Nondisruptive Cortex XDR agent that conveniently enforces security policies on endpoints
Which is Better?
The two options here offer great management capabilities. However, many enterprise users may prefer Check Point’s single security management console, which is great at reducing the complexity of operation while also improving security and workflow.
Palo Alto’s simple cloud-based interface is great, but without unification and centralization, having to deal with multiple consoles can get tedious and confusing. It can lead to the failure to attend to some or many of the alerts and events that appear on the different consoles.
Also, when it comes to configuration efficiency, Check Point provides a bit of an advantage. It only has seven menus, making it easier and faster to configure security. In contrast, Palo Alto presents 35 menus, which can get confusing or make it difficult to find the right menus for certain actions.
Scalability is also an area that can be considered advantageous for Check Point users. With its centralized management approach, it is easy for organizations to scale up or down depending on their needs. With Palo Alto, users will have to get acquainted with at least two solutions and two management consoles.
Moreover, Check Point seems to be designed with a sense of urgency in mind. With the way Check Point’s next-gen firewall works, it only takes an average of 6 days to resolve vulnerabilities. Vulnerability patching or threat fixing with Palo Alto averages at around 128 days.
Additional Important Factors Explained
Ease of Use
Ease of use is not exactly a problem with either Check Point or Palo Alto. Both can be characterized as intuitive enough. However, the centralized and unified approach Check Point has adopted may be preferable for many, especially enterprise users. Centralization makes it significantly easier to manage threats.
Also, Check Point’s interface generally makes it easier to get things done. The company conducted an internal test to determine how long it takes to do certain tasks with Check Point and other firewalls. Check Point emerged as the NGFW that made it noticeably faster to do certain tasks and with fewer clicks.
For instance, in a task that required the adding of an exception to enable access to a specific website blocked by an IPS protection, the Check Point administrator managed to add the relevant exception in 30 seconds with only 12 clicks. The Palo Alto admin had to spend 1 minute and 42 seconds and do as many as 44 clicks to complete the task.
Check Point provides 24/7 technical support via telephone, live chat, email, or through a service ticket request. Palo Alto accepts 24/7 support requests but its support team is only available for live support from 9 AM to 5 PM on weekdays or five days a week. So far, there have been no significant complaints regarding the customer support provided by the companies.
Palo Alto says it is already serving more than 70,000 customers worldwide. Check Point has not shared details about its number of users. Based on revenue and employee data, it appears that Palo Alto is the bigger company in terms of revenue and reach, which can mean that it also has a bigger customer base.
More users mean a bigger user community through which users can ask for assistance for troubleshooting and other needs or offer help and insights to those who need them. Palo Alto appears to have a bigger user community, which is definitely an advantage.
Both Check Point and Palo Alto offer excellent next-generation firewalls that can provide adequate protection to enterprise users albeit with different approaches and emphasis. It would be inexpedient to offer a single product recommendation here. Different users have different requirements and cyber threat situations. The advantages offered by one option may not always be a significant benefit to certain kinds of users.
It is up to prospective users to evaluate their requirements and pick the right advanced firewall system that can address their needs and preferences. However, it is advisable to take into account the points mentioned above especially regarding security features, management capabilities, efficiency, and ease of use or intuitiveness.
Opinions expressed by DZone contributors are their own.
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