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Cisco ASA All-in-One – book review

I received a new ASA book from Cisco Press for evaluation.
Cisco ASA All-in-One Firewall, IPS, Anti-X, and VPN Adaptive Security Appliance, 2nd Edition covers everything ASA.

Cisco ASA All-in-One by CiscoPress

My first thought of this 1152 pages brick is that now I have a good door blocker and Access Attacks are no longer a threat 🙂

The book target both entry level and advanced users. I consider myself somewhere midway between the two as I’ve been working with ASA and its predecessor, PIX for few years but it is not a day to day job (more like a plug and forget about it).

Another point that should be noticed is my recent security studies for ISCW exam and current BSCI studies that cover routing protocols, both covered in the book.

The first part of the book is an entry level introduction to security and the ASA hardware. If you ever touched ASA or heard about basic security concept you can skip it.

The next section covers the Firewall Technology behind the ASA appliance. This is the core of the book, the foundation of ASA and its security concepts.

The first thing I noticed here is the extensive coverage of ASDM configuration. As I noticed in ISCW which is a much older resource, Cisco is pushing toward a graphical interface (some say they have to compete with other, easy to config products).

The first few chapters are still introduction level materials, if you are new at this it is good stuff, very explanatory but if you are at a CCNA level you already know most of it and other than a quick reference guide you will not find anything enlightening.

Moving along within this part you get deeper look and more complex subjects, at this point an entry level reader should slow down.
I like the tips they added on which hardware and software versions are required for each feature, this is something that many administrators forget to check in advance and even when they look for it, Cisco’s web site doesn’t have it organized as well as the book.

The next section covers IPS and Content Security. Both provide a detailed description of all the available features with commands and output examples but it is all on a basic functional level. They are way too short and feel as if not as important. This is something that this book really failed to provide as both IPS and Content security are the added value that differentiates ASA from other vendors. These subjects are also the difference between a basic configuration to the advanced and more flexible security that advance readers would implement.

The last section of the book describes VPN types. This is the one thing I do almost on a daily basis; it is becoming a common task that every network administrator should be familiar with. Coming out of the ISCW exam both theory and hands-on are fresh but if there is one thing that cannot be said (and read) enough is IPSec VPN configuration (and debug). VPN configuration must be identical on both ends and when it isn’t, problems and errors can wear you out. debug will save you. Saying that, this is where the book pays off as it describes the different VPN solutions in a detailed way and provides both CLI and ASDM configurations using many debug outputs. If you work with VPNs you know it and if you’re just starting, you’ll learn to appreciate it but both ways you’ll find answers to (almost) everything VPN in this book.

To summarize I think the book is excellent for a newbie to the ASA world and Cisco’s security concepts. You can find all the commands you need for most of the firewall features with descriptive explanation and ASDM printouts.

If you are an advanced user you can use this book as a (heavy) command reference but do not expect too many advanced concepts.

VPN is the only part where the extra details are good for both entry level and advanced readers and is by far the best part of this book.

Extra value:
CCNA Security candidates will find here all the exam topics and more,
CCSP candidates will find many of their topics, not always to the same depth but definitely SNAF (Securing Networks with ASA Fundamentals exam), IPS (Implementing Cisco Intrusion Prevention System exam), and SNAA (Securing Networks with ASA Advanced exam) materials have a significant presence in the book.

Check all my reviews here

  1. Terry Gwazdosky
    February 15, 2010 at 2:09 pm

    I just picked this up to help with a PIX-to-ASA conversion and have found it to excellent for a firewall novice like myself.

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