What is Application Control?

Many cyberattacks can be subtle, and high-level network visibility may not be enough to protect against data breaches and other attacks. Application control, a system designed to uniquely identify traffic from various applications on a network, enables an organization to define and apply extremely granular security and network routing policies based upon the source of a particular traffic flow. As a result, it can prevent unauthorized applications from acting in ways that pose risk to the organization.

What is Application Control?

How Application Control Works

Application control works by matching different types of network traffic to predefined models. In order for computers to talk to one another, their traffic needs to conform to certain standards. Knowledge of these standards enables application control to differentiate one type of traffic from another.

 

After a particular traffic flow as been identified as belonging to a certain application, it can be classified in a number of ways:

 

  • Type: Applications could be classified based on their purpose, such as teleconferencing systems. This can help to define the priority of the traffic.
  • Security risk level: Different applications carry different levels of cybersecurity risk. For example, protocols that carry data, such as email or FTP, may be classified as high risk due to the potential for data exfiltration. Identifying traffic security risks can enable an organization to enforce security controls based upon informed risk assessments.
  • Resource usage: Some applications are much more resource-intensive than others. For example, videoconferencing applications, which need to livestream both audio and video, can require a large amount of high speed network bandwidth. Identifying traffic from applications with high resource usage can help an organization to optimize network performance.
  • Productivity implications: Some applications, such as social media apps, have a positive or negative impact on employee productivity. An organization may wish to filter certain types of traffic on their networks for this reason.

 

After a network traffic flow has been assigned to a particular application and set of categories, policies can be applied based upon those assignments. This grants an organization a high level of visibility and control over its network infrastructure.

What are the Features and Benefits of Application Control

Without application control, an organization is limited to defining policies based on features such as IP addresses and port numbers. While these can help to identify the application producing a traffic flow, there is no guarantee of correctness. The use of standard port numbers for certain applications is a convention, not a rule.

 

With application control, network traffic is identified by matching packets to known models of how different applications’ traffic is structured. This identification is more accurate and enables an organization to see the mix of traffic within their network. This level of visibility can also be applied in a number of different ways and provides several benefits to an organization:

 

  • Application-Specific Policies: Application control enables the enforcement of application-specific security policies. These application-specific policies enable an organization to allow, block, or limit different types of application traffic. Additionally, since these policies are built on strong application identification, an organization can implement automated controls with a higher degree of confidence.
  • Authentication and Access Control: Beyond uniquely identifying and applying policies based upon the applications creating traffic, application control also enables identity-based policy enforcement. An organization can define policies for particular users and groups that control access to certain resources and verify input authorization. This enables easy implementation and enforcement of a zero-trust security model.
  • Optimized Networking: The ability to apply application-specific policies can also improve the performance of the corporate network. Traffic from certain applications can be prioritized – ensuring that latency-sensitive Software as a Service (SaaS) applications enjoy high performance – while low priority types of traffic, such as social media, can be limited or blocked entirely.
  • Improved Network Visibility: Application control also grants an organization more granular visibility into the traffic flowing over its network. With application control, security teams can see the types of application traffic flowing over the network as a whole or between sets of endpoints. This can help to identify anomalies, such as a potential data breach in progress.

Leveraging Application Control within Your Organization

Application control is a security technology built into some next-generation firewalls (NGFWs) and secure web gateways (SWGs). The ability to uniquely identify the application that created a particular traffic flow provides a number of different network performance and security benefits to an organization.

 

Application control is only one of several features that should be included in a NGFW. For more information on what to look for, check out this firewall buyers’ guide. Then, contact us for more information about Check Point’s firewall options and schedule a demo to see how a NGFW with application control provides more effective protection against cyber threats.

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