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A network firewall protects Internet users from cybercriminals. They have been around since the creation of the modern computer, and most modern businesses rely on them to keep private data and information protected. In fact, over 94% of organizations see firewalls as a critical part of their network infrastructure.

Most have heard of a firewall, but might be unsure how it works specifically or how businesses can leverage it to their advantage. Vector Security Networks has the answers to some key questions on how firewalls work below.

What Is a Firewall?

Firewalls are the first line of defense when combatting cybersecurity threats online. They act as a barrier preventing unauthorized access to a personal computer or business network. Firewalls scan data packets to determine if that information is risky to the user. If the risk level is too high, the firewall will reject access.

Firewalls follow a specific set of rules to distinguish between safe and dangerous content, so only trusted sources are allowed access. For instance, a firewall examines everything from the source of the sender to the intended destination, whether the content has any malicious links or if the website is unsecure. There are also firewalls where you can input specific parameters for them to filter.

Attack tactics and technological capabilities are constantly evolving for cybercriminals, so it’s essential firewalls adapt as well. Firewalls have audit functions that can identify new attack patterns and use that information to update rules to defend against more advanced threats. However, that doesn’t mean a firewall will last indefinitely. As is the case with technology, firewalls have an end-of-life cycle. It’s important to upgrade a firewall every three to five years.

Different Types of Firewalls

A firewall can either be software or hardware. Most laptops or computers already have firewall software installed. However, it’s a good idea to check firewall security settings regularly to ensure everything is up to date. Additionally, hardware firewalls are physical equipment used to bolster network security. Most routers come equipped with a firewall. However, that is not universally true, so it’s always important to check whenever purchasing routers.

Firewalls vary based on their functionality and filtering process. Below are some of the more common types of network firewalls used for businesses:

  • Packet Filtering Firewall: These firewalls scan “packets” of data using a set of predetermined rules to determine their safety. Packet filtering firewalls are fast, efficient, inexpensive, and can filter traffic for an entire business network.
  • Proxy Firewall: A proxy firewall provides a more in-depth level of inspection of network traffic. These firewalls create proxy connections that filter data packets by examining each connection before allowing access to the real network.
  • Stateful Inspection Firewall: These firewalls follow administrator-defined rules. For instance, administrators can create specifications, such as banning specific websites, webpages, web portals, etc. These firewalls give IT teams greater control over their security infrastructure.
  • Next-Generation Firewall (NGFW): These extend beyond traditional firewall capabilities and are designed to protect against sophisticated cyber-attacks by not only blocking unauthorized access but also monitoring and controlling what applications are being used, making it harder for cyber threats to get through.

Challenges and Network Considerations

While firewalls play a crucial role in network security, they come with their own set of challenges and considerations. Understanding these can help ensure they are implemented effectively and maintained properly:

Performance Impact

One of the primary challenges of using firewalls is the impact on network performance. As firewalls inspect and filter traffic, they can introduce latency, potentially slowing down network speeds, which is especially true for more advanced firewalls, like next-generation firewalls (NGFWs).

It’s crucial to balance security needs with performance requirements, ensuring firewalls are adequately scaled and optimized to handle the network load without compromising speed. Dedicating some applications to a secondary network is a reliable alternative solution as it can help alleviate potential bandwidth concerns. A secondary network can help keep primary network applications operational and mitigate slow performance and downtime

Complexity of Management

Firewalls can be complex to manage, particularly as they become more advanced and scale to larger businesses. They offer a wide range of features and capabilities which require specialized knowledge to configure and maintain effectively.

Administrators must continuously update firewall rules, monitor network traffic, and respond to alerts, which can be time-consuming and require ongoing training. A remote workforce can create additional complexities to consider. Misconfiguration can lead to security gaps or reduced performance, making effective management a critical component of firewall success.

Keeping Up with Emerging Threats

The cybersecurity landscape is constantly evolving, with new threats emerging regularly. Firewalls must be kept up to date with the latest threat intelligence and security patches to remain effective and is true for both traditional and next-generation firewalls.

Regular updates and threat management are essential to protect against new vulnerabilities and sophisticated attacks. Staying up to date with emerging threats requires a commitment to ongoing education and adaptation, ensuring that firewall defenses remain responsive to the latest network security challenges.

How a Firewall Fits a Broader Network Strategy

Although firewalls are effective at keeping employees protected online, they cannot block 100% of the malicious content that reaches the network. They can only mitigate the risk, which is why a network firewall should only be a piece of a business’s broader network strategy. Having a multilayered network security approach is a business’s best way to protect itself, its employees, and its customers from cybersecurity threats.

Every business is different and requires a custom approach that fits its unique goals and long-term strategy. Vector Security Networks can analyze your business’s physical and network security infrastructure, identify key vulnerabilities, and provide tailored solutions. We can also be there to respond immediately to a cyber-attack if one ever occurs.

Firewalls are by no means an end-all-be-all solution, but they play a key part. With the right network security infrastructure in place, your business can be properly prepared to respond to any cyber-attack that comes its way. For more information on Vector Security Networks and the type of network security services and solutions we provide, feel free to visit our website and contact us today.