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Upgrading Iowa's State Firewall Platform

Integrating security measures is top-of-mind for all businesses, which also holds true for the Iowa Communications Network (ICN). A team of security professionals within the ICN’s network operations division, recently completed a major project of upgrading the State Firewall to a new hardware platform with enhanced security capabilities.

Since 1998, ICN has operated the State Firewall for the State of Iowa’s Executive and Judicial branches of government. In order to better secure State government information, it was determined that the best practice would be to integrate a firewall platform that could segment each customer’s network, instead of the prior consolidated firewall.

Flexibility was key when the Palo Alto platform was selected, which includes integrating granular rulesets and policies unique to each participating State agency. The upgrade resulted in the separation of the firewall platform into four segments. The ICN and three customers were moved onto their own firewall appliances, and additional agencies were also migrated to a separate firewall.

“With our prior platform, policies and rules in the firewall were not able to be separated, which means opening up one thing for one agency, would do so for all agencies,” explains Ryan Mulhall, ICN’s Chief Information Officer. “The ICN can also perform maintenance without affecting every entity, and the next phase will further enhance that ability,” added Mulhall.

This firewall upgrade is considered a two-phase project, with this first phase recently completed in March 2022.  The funding for this first phase was included in a Firewall & DDoS Protection appropriation from Fiscal Year 2021, which ensured the continuation of critical cyber protection for State government agencies. The second phase of the firewall upgrade includes further segmenting those additional agencies onto their own firewalls.

With this security momentum, ICN is looking ahead to providing additional capabilities such as: intrusion prevention, content filtering, anti-malware, and more. In addition, network users will also be able to benefit from additional reporting of threats and risks. The ICN will also continue to partner with Iowa’s Office of the Chief Information Officer (OCIO) and share information from the new systems to help monitor traffic and alerts.

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