What Is A Firewall?

What Is A Firewall? (And 3 Major Risks Of Not Using The Right One)

In Knowledge Base Blog by Robert ConibearLeave a Comment

A firewall should be central to any company's IT services offering.

Firewalls are your first line of network security defense. They monitor incoming and outgoing traffic to decide what to allow and what to block, all based on a set of security rules.

A firewall can be hardware, software — or both.

And there’s a good reason they’ve been so popular for the past 25 years: they create an effective barrier between secure internal networks and less trustworthy external networks (like the internet). 

They ensure outsiders can’t gain unauthorized access to the private data on your devices, blocking unwanted traffic and stopping malicious software, like malware and viruses, from infecting your computer. 

But different types of firewall suit different types of users.

That’s why we’ve written this article: to help you understand the risks of having the wrong firewall so that you can make sure your managed IT services provider uses the right one.

Firewalls Are Key To Network Security

Whether you work from home or in an office, your network security is only as strong as your least secure device. That’s why you need robust network security in place. And a firewall is the best place to start.

Your firewall acts as your primary gatekeeper.

It checks who’s trying to access your operating system. And if it notices an unwanted or unfamiliar visitor, it will close the entry point.

Most operating systems come with a pre-installed firewall. Still, you need to check the feature is switched on and that it fits your security needs — and always ensure you set updates to install automatically.

How Do Firewalls Work?

Before we look at the risks associated with firewalls, let’s briefly cover how a firewall works.

A firewall essentially establishes who’s trustworthy and who’s not in the wild west of the internet. It uses a predefined rule-set to analyze network traffic. And if a connection satisfies the rules, the firewall will allow it to access your network. 

If a connection breaks any of the rules, the firewall will block specific data packets from entering your IT network — typically, basing the decision on the traffic source and IP address.

Now, let’s move onto the risks.

3 Risks Of Not Having The Right Firewall

Most people know the two fundamental rules of using the internet:

  1. Don’t click on email links and attachments from unrecognized senders
  2. Never share sensitive personal information with an untrustworthy website

Still, these practices alone aren’t enough.

If you use the internet, you need the right firewall to protect you against a range of cybersecurity threats because if you don’t have one, you open yourself up to three major security risks:

1. Unlimited Public Access

If you don’t have a firewall, practically any connection can access your IT network. You have no way to detect potential threats or untrustworthy sources. And this could leave your devices — and your business — vulnerable to a security breach.

2. Data Hacks

If anyone can access your IT network, every device becomes a security risk. Cybercriminals can access laptops, mobiles, even your wireless router — and use the connection to delete important data, steal customer information, or hold your company to ransom

3. Network Downtime

The worst outcome of not having a firewall could be a total network collapse. 

Hackers could access your systems and effectively shut your business down. And it’s both expensive and time-consuming to recover data and bring business back online.

On the other hand, choose the right type of firewall, and you’ll give your business an umbrella of protection that keeps every device both safe and secure.

So let’s find the right firewall for you.

Which Firewall Is Right For You?

Like we said at the start, firewalls can be hardware or software. 

Hardware firewalls are devices like routers, whereas software firewalls are specific computer programs. Whichever you use, just make sure your firewall offers the necessary level of protection.

Here are the five different firewalls you need to know about.

  • Proxy Firewall — the earliest type of firewall. They serve as a gateway between two networks for a specific application. Proxy firewalls use features like content caching to bolster security by blocking direct external connections. However, there are limitations with capacity and application support, so they’re less useful these days.
  • Stateful Inspection Firewall — the most common firewall. They filter traffic based on ‘state, port, and protocol,’ monitoring activity from when a connection opens until it closes. They also use both a predefined rule-set alongside context to analyze traffic, allowing them to refer to data from a previous connection for more effective filtering
  • Unified Threat Management Firewall — a combination of stateful inspection and other antivirus protections. Typically, UTMs are simple to use, but that’s not to say they don’t offer a robust instruction prevention framework. And they often come with cloud management alongside other additional services.
  • Next-generation firewall — for more sophisticated protection against ever-evolving cyber threats. Businesses prefer NGFWs because they can block advanced malware and application-layer attacks thanks to their multi-level services (which include stateful inspection, integrated intrusion prevention, application awareness to filter risky apps, and techniques to address new security threats).
  • Threat-focused Next-generation Firewall — going one step further. Threat-focused NGFWs use advanced threat detection and remediation services. They show insights into which assets are ‘at-risk,’ offer ways to respond to attacks and strengthen security dynamically, pinpoint suspicious activity, and decrease the time from threat detection to remediation. They are the ultimate way to manage ongoing administration thanks to more unified firewall policies.

      The firewall you choose will depend on the scale of your business.

      Everyone needs at least the most basic protection level, with a stateful inspection firewall suiting typical internet users.

      If you run a small business, then a cloud-based UTM firewall may suit your operation better. If you’re scaling your service into something altogether more sophisticated, then it could be time to consider a next-generation firewall.

      ———

      Network security isn’t simple, but it needn’t be expensive.

      AngelCom offers a range of managed IT services that help small businesses eliminate computer problems without hiring a dedicated in-house security expert — to hear how we can help, feel free to give us a call on a call on (855) 974-4313.