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I’m the kind of person who likes to make things.

Even at home, I always have a project—you’ll often find me working on some carpentry or tinkering with a Raspberry Pi. Right now, I’m finding a way to synchronize the automatic feeders for my two cats. It’s fun.

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It all started with my upbringing. I grew up on a farm in Southern Maryland, but my father is an electrical engineer by training and that became a focus for me too.

He constantly had projects going on—so many I can’t count them all. He built the speakers for his band, and he designed a whole series of custom furnaces with an automated hopper so we could heat the house using corn.

So from an early age, I knew electrical engineering was where it’s at.

I love software—I write a lot of code—but I’m a sucker for being able to physically hold a product that I built. So it’s very exciting to see new XGS Series firewall appliances out on the (online) shelves, because I contributed so much to that product.

A generational leap—rebuilt from the ground up

The new generation of Sophos hardware appliances has been the biggest project of my career so far; it’s consumed a large amount of my time, for a few years.

To put it in context, in the time I’ve been working on the XGS program I’ve gotten engaged and married—my wife Kate is a manufacturing engineering manager at a robotics company—and we’ve bought a house together. It’s a whole chapter of my life.

Throughout that time, the project has dictated my work patterns. One of the unique things about hardware design is the way your work life is bound to the product development lifecycle.

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Early on in the process, you’ll find us gathering requirements, defining high level features and working on proofs of concept alongside product management. Once the product starts shaping up, we work with the software team to align technologies.

Then we get into the implementation details, like schematics and layout. There’s a lot of co-ordination with our manufacturers as well. We have to be in lockstep to ensure we meet schedule.

When the initial prototype arrives, that’s where it gets really interesting. It’s hands on, doing all the validation activities and executing test plans that we developed to make sure the product is reliable and meets all the requirements.

This phase affects where I work, too. I can work from my basement office some of the time, but the really big test equipment is in our lab in Pittsburgh.

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A unified way to boost performance, from entry-level to enterprise

The XGS Series firewall project is interesting because we wanted to make a generational leap in performance, which needed a ground-up design for both the hardware and software architecture at once. So I spent a lot of time working with software teams.

The big goal—and the reason Sophos brought me on board—was to find a way to scale up performance at a faster pace. Importantly, we wanted a unified design for software and hardware, that would be effective from entry-level appliances right through to our largest enterprise-level products.

The key was finding a way to split up some of the processing features. We wanted to move low-latency, high-bandwidth work onto dedicated processors—freeing up resources for compute-intensive activities like antivirus scanning.

The result is our Xstream architecture, which is effectively built around two hearts—with separate subsystems tuned for computing and network processing. And the real leap was when we unified those dual systems into one seamless, integrated solution—that’s where you get a lot more performance.

That will make a real difference to IT professionals, because they can support more users and see faster performance without having to move up an appliance model. It also means we can continue to develop and upgrade the platform, so it grows with the customer.

A “slam dunk” when all the pieces come together

The thing about hardware engineering is that you feel a strong association with a physical product that you helped develop. But it’s a huge team effort—and the XGS project is important to me, because I’ve worked with this team for a very long time.

We have co-workers all around the world, but the network security community in Pittsburgh is a relatively small group, so I’ve known many of the people on this project since I left college. We’re a family.

The thing I’m most proud of is the way the new appliances align so well with the entire Sophos ecosystem. There are so many interesting possibilities in the future roadmap where all the products work together.

I’ve always wanted to work at a company that had a vertically integrated product, and I do think Sophos has a slam dunk when all those pieces come together.

It’s very cool to work for a company where we have a whole cloud computing team, super-interesting endpoint protection, and a centralized management dashboard, and it all just works with our XGS Series right off the bat. And having our products at the backbone of it all feels really good.

The last couple years have been a pretty wild ride—a lot of work, and all the changes in my own life—but where we’re at now is great. It’s a foundation for what’s to come.

From a personal standpoint, my input has touched all the XGS models—potentially hundreds of thousands of units, shipping out all over the world, to organizations of all sizes.

My parents are pretty impressed by that, I think. Dad has been up to the lab a few times, and he always takes an interest. Their latest project is building a small local distillery, with a visitor center and tasting room—so who knows? Maybe one day they could be a customer too.

OXFORD, United Kingdom, April 21, 2021 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) -- Sophos, a global leader in next-generation cybersecurity, today unveiled new XGS Series firewall appliances with unrivaled performance and advanced protection against cyberattacks. The new appliances feature industry-best Transport Layer Security (TLS) inspection, including native support for TLS 1.3, that is up to five times faster than other models available on the market today.
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“Sophos Firewall XGS Series appliances represent the most significant hardware upgrade that we have ever released and introduce unmatched detection, protection and speed,” said Dan Schiappa, chief product officer at Sophos. “Security teams can no longer afford to overlook encrypted traffic for fear of breaking something or hurting performance – there’s too much at risk. We’ve completely redesigned the Sophos Firewall hardware to handle the modern encrypted internet. Security teams now have the ability to easily inspect encrypted traffic and shine light on what was once a black hole, and they can confidently do so without compromising on performance.”

Cybercriminals Increasingly Using TLS to Avoid Detection
Sophos today also published new research, “Nearly Half of Malware Now Use TLS to Conceal Communications,” identifying a surge in cybercriminals using TLS in their attacks. The increasingly popular tactic is used by adversaries to encrypt and encapsulate the content of malicious communications to avoid detection as they carry out attacks.

In fact, 45% of malware detected by Sophos from January through March 2021 used TLS to conceal malicious communications. That’s a staggering rise from the 23% Sophos reported in early 2020. Sophos has also seen an increase in the use of TLS to carry out ransomware attacks in the past year, particularly with manually-deployed ransomware. The majority of malicious TLS traffic that Sophos has detected includes initial-compromise malware, such as loaders, droppers and document-based installers like BazarLoader, GoDrop and ZLoader.

“TLS has undoubtably changed the privacy of internet communications for the better, but for all the good it’s done, it’s also made it much easier for attackers to download and install malicious modules and exfiltrate stolen data – right under the noses of IT security teams and most security technologies,” said Schiappa. “Attackers are taking advantage of TLS-protected web and cloud services for malware delivery and for command and control. Their initial compromise malware is simply the advance guard for major attacks, as they’re setting up camp for the heavy artillery that follows, like ransomware.”

Accelerating Threat Protection
Powered by Sophos Firewall’s Xstream architecture, XGS Series appliances deliver the industry’s best zero-day threat protection, identifying and stopping the most advanced known and potential threats – including ransomware. Protection is fueled by powerful threat intelligence, available only through SophosLabs Intelix and based on petabytes of SophosLabs threat data. Suspicious files are safely detonated in SophosLabs Intelix virtual environments as well as subjected to in-depth static analysis for additional detection coverage and intelligence gathering.

New Xstream flow processors within the appliances automatically accelerate trusted traffic, such as software as a service (SaaS), software-defined wide-area network (SD-WAN) and cloud applications, providing maximum headroom for traffic requiring TLS and deep packet inspection. This greatly reduces latency and improves overall performance for important business applications, particularly those using real-time data. The Xstream flow processors are software programmable, allowing Sophos to offload additional traffic in the future. The flexibility to enhance and adapt connectivity on the hardware itself further protects customers’ hardware investment.


Sophos provides unique and intuitive dashboard visibility of TLS traffic and inspection issues, and security administrators can add exceptions for problematic streams with one click. Performance is also optimized out of the box with an extensive set of rules that are updated and maintained by SophosLabs to exclude safe traffic from inspection.

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Sophos Firewall XGS Series appliances and firmware are easily managed on the cloud-based Sophos Central platform alongside Sophos’ entire portfolio of next-generation cybersecurity solutions. Solutions share threat intelligence and automatically respond to security incidents through Sophos’ unique synchronized security approach. Integration with Sophos Managed Threat Response (MTR) further boosts protection with human analysis for 24/7 fully managed threat detection and response.

Sophos Firewall XGS Series desktop and most 1U rackmount appliances are available for immediate purchase exclusively through Sophos’ global channel of partners and managed service providers (MSPs). These models are ideally suited for small, medium and distributed organizations as an all-in-one network security solution with a strong price to performance ratio and diverse add-on connectivity options. Additional models designed for enterprise edge environments requiring maximum throughput for more complex network configurations will be available in the coming weeks. Simplified licensing includes bundled protection with enhanced support.

What Analysts and Channel Partners Say
“Firewall appliances are evolving to secure newer use cases, including cloud and the sudden shift to a growing remote workforce,” said Frank Dickson, program vice president at IDC. “The elegance of Sophos Firewall’s Xstream dual processor architecture approach is its ability to accelerate trusted traffic from so-called ‘elephant flows’— large media streams, VoIP traffic and even cloud applications — to then leverage the general purpose CPU to perform appropriate resource-intensive processes, such as deep packet inspection and TLS inspection. The result is an adaptable network appliance designed to provide protection while meeting changing and accelerating business demands across a variety of use cases.”

“The new XGS Series firewall appliances are screaming fast with rock solid, unbreakable stability. We captured an immediate increase in performance that doubled our throughput, which completely blew us away. Sophos Firewall has always been industry best, but the XGS Series appliances are revolutionary and beyond compare with cutting-edge innovation that’s years ahead of other offerings,” said Sam Heard, president at Data Integrity Services. “Sophos Firewall provides the protection our customers need as they increasingly move business critical applications to the cloud and adopt zero trust technologies. It’s a win-win for channel partners, who further benefit with tremendous growth opportunities to cross and up-sell across the entire suite of Sophos solutions and services.”

“Sophos is raising the bar and pushing the cybersecurity industry forward at warp speed with its new XGS Series appliances, which are nothing short of amazing,” said Karen Greer, CEO at Secure Content Technologies. “Appliance installation is incredibly simple, and within minutes I could hear our technician yelling through the wall, ‘wow, this is fast!’ Sophos Firewall is effortlessly managed on Sophos Central, making it exponentially easier to secure and manage diverse and complex customer environments. Knowing that Sophos Firewall automatically shares threat intelligence with other solutions on the platform through Sophos’ synchronized security heartbeat feature is game changing, giving us complete confidence and peace of mind that our customers are protected – even the most evasive threats don’t stand a chance at getting by.”

Additional Resources

  • Read the Naked Security article, “When Cryptography Attacks – How TLS Helps Malware to Hide in Plain Sight”
  • Watch the video, TLS Encryption Explained, to see how attackers are using TLS encryption to commit cybercrime
  • Learn how SystemBC and Agent Tesla use TLS
  • Learn how Sophos Firewall protects against Hafnium
  • Read Sophos’ 2021 Threat Report to learn more about cybersecurity trends
  • Read the latest security news and views on Sophos‘ award-winning news website Naked Security and on Sophos News
  • Connect with Sophos on Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, Spiceworks, and YouTube

About Sophos
As a worldwide leader in next-generation cybersecurity, Sophos protects more than 400,000 organizations of all sizes in more than 150 countries from today’s most advanced cyber threats. Powered by SophosLabs – a global threat intelligence and data science team – Sophos’ cloud-native and AI-powered solutions secure endpoints (laptops, servers and mobile devices) and networks against evolving cyberattack techniques, including ransomware, malware, exploits, data exfiltration, active-adversary breaches, phishing, and more. Sophos Central, a cloud-native management platform, integrates Sophos’ entire portfolio of next-generation products, including the Intercept X endpoint solution and the XG next-generation firewall, into a single “synchronized security” system accessible through a set of APIs. Sophos has been driving a transition to next-generation cybersecurity, leveraging advanced capabilities in cloud, machine learning, APIs, automation, managed threat response, and more, to deliver enterprise-grade protection to any size organization. Sophos sells its products and services exclusively through a global channel of more than 53,000 partners and managed service providers (MSPs). Sophos also makes its innovative commercial technologies available to consumers via Sophos Home. The company is headquartered in Oxford, U.K. More information is available at

Contact Information:
Hanah Johnson: [email protected]

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