No matter what kind of business you’re in, you have sensitive data you need to protect, and the unfortunate fact is, cybercriminals are getting increasingly adept at bypassing those protections. Even the FBI acknowledges the growing threat of malicious cyberactivity, and they recommend that businesses take all possible steps to protect their computer networks and data.
A firewall is one of the most basic levels of protection against cyberattacks.
What Is a Firewall?
A firewall is a tried-and-true network security measure that has been in use for at least 25 years. At their most basic level, firewalls monitor traffic on your network and decide whether to block or allow the traffic based on an established set of guidelines.
Comprising hardware, software or both, firewalls establish a barrier between your secure, internal network traffic and potentially threatening outside traffic, often by separating network nodes. Just because firewalls are an older security measure doesn’t mean you should neglect them — they’ve been in use for so long for a good reason.
The firewalls in use today have come a long way from when they were first created, though, and as a business owner, you have far more options to tailor your cybersecurity features to your individual needs.
Types of Firewalls
Firewalls differ in their architecture and their modes of operation. Here are some of the basic types:
Packet-filtering firewalls are some of the oldest and most basic — but that doesn’t mean they’re outdated or ineffective. This type of firewall architecture works by inspecting each data packet that comes through the router. It will run a quick check for information like origination and destination IP address, type and other information that can be gleaned without inspecting the packet’s contents. Then, based on predetermined rules, it decides whether to block or allow that packet.
One of the advantages of this type of firewall is that it is relatively effective without putting a massive strain on your system or slowing down performance. Packet-filtering firewalls don’t use many resources.
However, a disadvantage of this firewall is that hackers have figured out ways to get around the firewall’s inspection and slip packets of malicious data through.
Circuit-level gateways are another fairly simple method for keeping unwanted data from entering your system. These firewalls quickly determine whether or not to allow entry based on the sender’s transmission control protocol — or TCP — handshake.
This is another low-resource firewall with little effect on network performance. However, since hackers have figured out how to forge a legitimate-looking TCP handshake and circuit-level gateways don’t inspect the contents of the data packet, threats wrapped in an official-looking package aren’t hard for cybercriminals to slip through. A circuit-level gateway on its own is probably not enough protection for a business network.
Stateful Inspection Firewalls
A stateful inspection firewall is essentially a combination of a packet-filtering firewall and a circuit-level gateway.
This firewall offers double the protection of either of the previous kinds, and many threats that can defeat either the circuit-level gateway or the packet-filtering firewall won’t make it past both.
One thing to keep in mind, though, is this firewall also uses far more resources than either of the first two. That means it puts more of a strain on the network and could inhibit speed and performance. You might notice the delivery of legitimate data packets takes longer.
Application-Level Gateways or Proxy Firewalls
These firewalls get their name from the fact that they protect your network at the application level by inspecting all traffic that seeks to enter your network at the source. They’re known as proxy firewalls — and sometimes even cloud firewalls — since they’re delivered via a proxy device or cloud. These firewalls prevent traffic from entering your network and instead inspect all incoming data at its origin point by connecting back to the source. This way, questionable data packets never get anywhere near your network.
This firewall performs the same inspections as both the packet-filtering firewall and the circuit-level gateway, and then it goes a step further and inspects the actual contents of the data packet for any malicious content hidden there. If the package is deemed safe, the firewall approves the connection, and the data package is sent via the proxy. In addition to an added layer of protection, this system also protects your privacy.
This firewall’s inspection of incoming data goes deeper than some of the previous ones, and it also starts at the source. The firewall offers a high level of security and reliability.
As you can imagine, given all the steps and the fact that data is routed through the proxy, the use of this firewall can significantly slow down your network. If yours is a business that transmits large quantities of data and needs to do so quickly, this can become a concern.
Next-Gen Firewalls (NGF)
As their name implies, so-called “next-gen” firewalls use more modern technology and architecture. But this term is more of a catch-all than an actual definition of how the firewall operates. As a result, it’s important to investigate a little further and understand what you’re actually getting. Some features you might find in firewalls described as next-gen include:
- Intrusion-prevention systems.
- Deep packet inspection.
- Surface-level packet inspection.
- TCP handshake checks.
However, since there’s a universally accepted definition of a next-gen firewall, you could get all or some of these architectural features.
A hardware firewall is a firewall that’s built directly into a router or another stand-alone device. It intercepts data packets as they approach your network’s servers. Their actual capabilities — such as how many connections they can handle at a time — will vary by model and manufacturer.
Hardware firewalls are a fantastic option for protecting your company’s network endpoints secure since traffic without your best interests is intercepted long before it can reach them. However, one well-known vulnerability of this firewall type is inside attacks.
Software firewalls are installed on a local device. By using software firewalls, you can create a deep security perimeter due to the program’s ability to isolate network points from one another. If one point is compromised, you don’t risk the entire network going down.
Compatibility can be an issue with some software and devices, though. It also takes time, knowledge and resources to manage a software firewall, particularly if you require a series of different models to keep a variety of devices protected. If using software firewalls ends being your preference, you might also want to consider an in-house IT department or outside managed services company to assist you.
Cloud firewalls are defined simply as firewalls that are delivered via cloud, or FWaaS (firewall as a service). Often when people talk about a cloud firewall, what they’re really discussing is a proxy firewall. Though it’s not a requirement, cloud servers are frequently used to deliver proxy firewalls.
Out of all the firewalls discussed here, cloud firewalls are by far the most scalable. It’s quite simple to add or reduce capacity as your business needs and traffic volume change.
Which Type of Firewall Is Best for Your Organization?
One of the tricks to choosing the right firewall — or firewalls — to protect your business network is balancing speed and performance. Older styles of firewalls like packet-filtering and circuit-level gateways will likely cause no noticeable change in your data transmission speeds. Unfortunately, they don’t provide anywhere near as much security as new architectures, which keep your network under lock and key but may cause you to have to sacrifice performance.
Of course, you need to make both security and performance a priority, and you might be wondering how to accomplish that or if it’s even possible when choosing which firewalls will best suit your company’s needs.
There is no magic formula to achieve this lauded balance between high employee productivity and just the right amount of security, and it can take trial and error — or the aid of a trusted managed services provider — to get it perfect. However, here are a few things to consider as you decide between the firewalls listed here.
Cybersecurity is something that is ongoing. It’s not as simple as choosing a firewall or firewalls that meet your security needs and keep productivity at acceptable levels — and then that’s it. New threats are always emerging as the endless back and forth between cybercriminals and those designing technology to thwart them continues. It’s important to have someone in your organization or a trusted outside consultant keeping track of patches, updates and the new threats that will inevitably emerge. Any of these could mean making adjustments to your firewall system.
Be prepared for changes in technology and your business model. Businesses must be agile and adapt if they want to survive. This is never truer than where technology is concerned. More businesses are moving to remote or hybrid models, and that means an increased prevalence of IoT (Internet of Things) devices like tablets that will need to be secured.
Your Business Needs
Determine your specific business needs. Before choosing your firewalls or communicating with your management partner, it’s important for your team to fully understand your requirements in terms of both security and performance. This means defining your most valuable assets and the level of protection they need — depending on your industry, there may be legal and compliance issues to consider.
Next, you have to define the level of productivity you must maintain to sustain and grow your business — this will also vary by industry. Lastly, if you choose to go it alone, it’s best to err on the side of security and slowly adjust until you reach the balance that works best for you. If you work with a management partner, they will likely handle such adjustments until you’re happy.
The Right Device Management Partner
Choose the right device management partner. Partnering with an experienced device management platform will relieve much of the stress of selecting and deploying firewalls yourself, and if you find security measures are impeding your network performance to an unacceptable degree, the solution can be as simple as a phone call. Conversely, your management partner can help if you’re worried your security measures are inadequate.
Choosing Between Types of Firewalls
Clearly, there is a lot to consider when it comes to selecting a firewall for your business network, and there are pros and cons to almost every choice.
If you’re going to face the cybercriminals and hackers of the world on your own, your best bet is to use more than one firewall. No single layer of protection can shield your network from all possible threats, no matter how robust or advanced it might be. Additional firewalls are further obstacles between your data and the criminals who want to exploit it. One recommendation is to deploy a hardware or cloud-based firewall at your network’s perimeters and software firewalls offering additional protection to network assets.
Also, keep in mind that many cyberattacks use a single method, so even the addition of another simple firewall can be enough to thwart them. For example, if an attacker has learned how to bypass a TCP handshake, even a good old-fashioned packet-filter firewall might be enough to send them elsewhere.
In-House or Outside Firewall Management?
The final decision you might have to make is whether to handle your network security in-house or outsource it to a managing partner. Business size and budget can influence this decision, but there are several advantages to working with a management partner:
- They’re aware of the latest updates, patches, products and cyber threats. It can be incredibly time-consuming to keep apprised of this yourself. Further, most managed services teams have a variety of experts available, and they’re knowledgeable in different aspects of security.
- They will save you time and money on firewall management. A professional cybersecurity engineer represents a significant investment.
- It frees up your employees to focus on growing the business. Even if you have an internal IT team, their time can best be spent enhancing the user experience for your customers and employees.
Trust Orchard for the Network Security of Your Apple Products
Orchard specializes in helping businesses of all sizes secure their networks on Apple devices. If you’re unsure of the state of your network security, where you might have vulnerabilities or the best ways to protect your valuable data, contact us today for a free assessment. We specialize in helping you make the most of your Apple device investments.