Movies and TV shows throw around the word “firewall” all the time. Whether it’s the heroes or the villains doing the hacking, a single firewall often stands alone between victory or certain doom. In reality, firewalls do protect networks and devices from attacks. Unfortunately, that protection doesn’t quite match the suspense and excitement found in entertainment.
What Is A Firewall?
The term “firewall” originates within building construction. It is a wall that contains a fire and prevents it from spreading throughout a building. You’ll even find the same concept used in vehicles to separate the engine from the passenger compartment. At some point, someone spent hours pondering a name and imaginatively coined the term “firewall”.
Within a network, a firewall applies the same concept to network traffic. On the inside of the firewall, you have data passing back and forth as needed without interference. On the outside of the firewall, you’ll find the rest of the world via the Internet. While tons of websites offer safe places to visit, malicious people, viruses, and malware also roam the Internet outside the firewall. They’re looking for victims, but a firewall works hard to keep them from getting inside.
Hardware Firewalls vs. Software Firewalls.
Hardware firewalls reside in a device somewhere within your network. It may be built into your router, or you could have a robust, dedicated firewall device. In either case, all Internet traffic passes through this device, and the firewall uses rules to either block or allow the traffic. Allowing things like remote access requires opening ports dedicated to that traffic. Otherwise, disallowed traffic is ignored and dropped.
Software firewalls function the same way but reside within your computer. A software firewall can monitor and block traffic on the application level. You’ve probably seen a dialog box like the image below pop up on Windows. It’s asking if you’d like to allow a program to access the network. Out of habit, you’ve probably clicked “Allow access”. Make sure you verify the program that is attempting to traverse the firewall.
Do You Need A Firewall?
You’ve seen the movies, right? Of course, you need a firewall! In all likelihood, you already have a basic firewall. Most routers come with a firewall enabled out of the box. Windows 10 also enables the Windows Firewall by default. This wasn’t always the case, but the rise of malware and bugs over the years forced manufacturers and developers to install at least a basic firewall for protection. However, read our post, Dirty Secrets of a Network Firewall, and you’ll see that just having a firewall isn’t enough.
Which Should You Use?
In our opinion, use both. If malicious software infects devices on your network, it won’t be able to disable your hardware firewall. A hardware firewall also gives you a central point from which to manage the general network traffic. Additionally, a software firewall can help protect your device from infected devices on your network. Hardware and software firewalls do overlap somewhat, but running both just adds additional protection. In a business environment, we do recommend using a dedicated firewall device as opposed to the basic one installed in your router. These devices offer better protection, management, and traffic analysis.
Where To Go From Here.
With every device you add to your network, the level of complexity and possible points of failure grow. Even with solid security hardware, user error or misconfiguration can provide an entry point for malicious attacks. A lot goes into keeping your network secure and performing at optimum efficiency. That’s what we’re here for. We can tune up your network completely and keep it running like a well-oiled machine. With 24/7 monitoring, we can detect and respond to IT issues before they impact your ability to operate. Request a consultation below to get started with a network analysis!