As I recently mentioned, Microsoft has discontinued and will be terminating their Microsoft Reputation Services (MRS) cloud URL categorization service on or shortly after December 31, 2015. Today, Microsoft released additional information vital to TMG administrators everywhere who are still relying on this service for URL filtering. Specifically, what happens with TMG once Microsoft officially turns off MRS and it is no longer available?
First, any firewall rules that rely on URL categorization to allow traffic will fail closed. That is, they will block all traffic. Second, any rules using URL categorization to deny traffic will fail open and allow that traffic instead. Finally, there is potential performance degradation that may occur with TMG after the service is disabled by Microsoft.
What to do?
First, update any TMG firewall rules that use URL Categories or URL Category Sets. You can replace them with Domain Name Sets or URL Sets, if desired. Next, disable the use of URL filtering in TMG by opening the TMG management console, right-clicking Web Access Policy and choosing Configure and then URL Filtering. Uncheck the box next to Enable URL Filtering and then click Ok.
Finally, consider a replacement solution for TMG’s URL filtering. There are a number of solutions available, both on-premises and cloud-based, that are capable replacements. The Zscaler solution is highly effective, and if you’re looking for a low-buck alternative, consider something like OpenDNS. There are many more, I’m sure.
As a reminder to anyone out there still using the URL filtering feature of their Forefront TMG 2010 firewall, the Microsoft Reputation Services (MRS) service, which provides URL categorization for TMG, will no longer be supported after December 31, 2015. After this date, Microsoft will cease updating their URL categorization database. In addition, there are no guarantees from Microsoft that the service will be available in any form, so customers still using this service are strongly encouraged to look for alternative solutions.
For many organizations, this means migrating to another platform entirely, which is not a bad idea considering that TMG is nearly six years old now. Alternatively, it is possible to replace TMG’s web filtering component. This can be done on premises by using integrations from various third-party vendors, or by using a cloud-based solution such as Zscaler.
Regardless which path you take, you have just over one month to identify and implement another URL filtering solution. Good luck!
Forefront TMG End of Life
With the end of life announcement for Microsoft Forefront TMG 2010, one of the most common questions I am asked is “What should I replace my Forefront TMG firewall with?” Many are surprised when I reply “Why do you want to replace it?” Simply because Forefront TMG will not be developed in the future does not mean there’s an immediate need to replace it. Considering the fact that Forefront TMG mainstream support extends until April 2015, and extended support lasts until April 2020, often the decision to replace TMG is nothing more than a knee-jerk reaction to marketing pressure by vendors of competing solutions.
Do You Need to Replace Forefront TMG 2010 Now?
If you have deployed Forefront TMG 2010 as a firewall, basic forward or reverse web proxy, or remote access or site-to-site VPN, there is no need to replace Forefront TMG 2010 right now. All of the features used in these deployment scenarios will continue to function in to perpetuity. You have until April 2020 to find a replacement for Forefront TMG, which should give you plenty of time to consider alternative solutions. However, if you have deployed Forefront TMG as a secure web gateway, the situation is a little different. Although support for the product extends until April 2020, the Web Protection Service (WPS) subscription will only function until the end of 2015. This means that URL filtering reputation database updates, antimalware signatures, and Network Inspection System (NIS) signatures will no longer be updated past this time. Not to worry, there are some excellent cloud-based security solutions that can be integrated with Forefront TMG 2010 to effectively extend the life of TMG for the foreseeable future.
Extending the Life of Forefront TMG 2010 with Zscaler
Recently I had the opportunity to evaluate the Zscaler Cloud-based security solution. Zscaler provides security-as-a-service and integrates seamlessly with Forefront TMG to provide essential web security protection with URL filtering, dynamic web content control, virus and malicious software scanning, HTTPS inspection capabilities, and more. The Zscaler security solution provides significantly more protection than the native Forefront TMG technologies offer. There are also tremendous economies of scale to be gained by using this cloud-based security solution, as Zscaler has more than 4000 enterprise customers in 180 countries, servicing more than 10 million users globally. The threat intelligence gained from having such a broad view of Internet activity worldwide enables Zscaler to quickly identify emerging threats on a global basis and extend protection to all of its customers quickly and effectively.
Zscaler Integration with Forefront TMG 2010
Integrating an on-premises Forefront TMG firewall with the Zscaler cloud is accomplished without having to install a plug-in on the TMG firewall. On-premises web traffic is delivered to the Zscaler cloud service by Forefront TMG through the use of web proxy chaining rules. After you’ve signed up for the service, simply configure a web proxy chaining rule to forward web proxy requests from Forefront TMG to the Zscaler cloud proxy gateways.
Zscaler Protection for Mobile Users
The Zscaler solution has some additional advantages over Forefront TMG’s native web protection mechanisms. With a cloud-based solution, Zscaler’s protection can also be extended transparently to mobile users, keeping them safe regardless of where they are. Zscaler has more than 100 datacenters worldwide, ensuring quick response times and low latency wherever the mobile user happens to be. Integrating individual clients can be done using proxy PAC files to route traffic to Zscaler’s datacenters. Additionally there is an option to install an agent on the client to forward traffic, which has the benefit of preventing the end user from disabling proxy settings to bypass content filtering restrictions.
Forefront TMG 2010 and Zscaler – Better Together
You may be asking yourself “Why not just use Zscaler exclusively? Why do I need TMG at all?” Valid question! Integrating Zscaler with Forefront TMG provides the best of both worlds in terms of security and performance. With Forefront TMG 2010 on premises, you have a Common Criteria-certified enterprise-class firewall to provide the highest level of security for your network. You can leverage strong user and group-based authentication, and you gain the added benefit of local caching for web content. In addition, you can make use of Forefront TMG 2010’s other features like multi-networking to create perimeter or DMZ networks for isolating public-facing services, reverse proxy for on-premises web-based and non-web based applications and services, remote access VPN for managed and non-managed mobile users, and site-to-site VPN to connect remote offices, business partners, or cloud service providers.
Forefront TMG End of Sale? Not Quite!
Although Microsoft is committed to supporting Forefront TMG 2010 for many years to come, they are no longer selling Forefront TMG 2010 licenses or the Web Protection Service (WPS) subscription licenses. If you’ve already deployed Forefront TMG 2010, or have already purchased Forefront TMG processor licenses and the WPS subscription, you have nothing to worry about. If you’re looking to deploy Forefront TMG 2010 today, you can’t purchase licenses for the software from Microsoft. However, you can still obtain Forefront TMG 2010 through a Microsoft OEM partner like Celestix Networks. (Full disclosure: Celestix Networks is my current employer.)
Keep Calm and Carry On
In my estimation, you can safely deploy or keep Forefront TMG 2010 in your environment and still gain a healthy return on your investment for many years to come. If you’re using Forefront TMG for publishing services such as Outlook Web App (OWA) or SharePoint, or you’re leveraging client-based remote access or site-to-site VPN, you have nothing to worry about. If you’re using Forefront TMG as a secure web gateway, you can enhance and extend the solution by using Zscaler’s cloud-based security solution for less than you would have paid for the Microsoft WPS subscription. No need to go out and replace your Forefront TMG 2010 solution for quite a few more years! If you are considering a new deployment, you can still purchase Forefront TMG 2010 from Microsoft OEM partners like Iron Networks. So Keep Calm and Deploy Forefront TMG 2010 today!
I’m not certain what the reason for this categorization is for, but based on past experience it may have to do with Twitter services running on a shared hosting provider that previously included services that were identified as phishing related. To resolve this issue, open the Forefront TMG management console, highlight the Web Access Policy node in the navigation tree, then click Configure URL Category Overrides in the Tasks pane and move the URL pattern *.twitter.com/ to the Online Communities category.