You’ve probably heard the term “firewall” before. Maybe your computer has even prompted you to turn yours on. But what exactly is a firewall?
When a source on the internet tries to send data to your computer or network, that data comes with information about the sender and the intended recipient. A firewall acts like a gatekeeper by determining whether this data is safe to let into your computer. It follows a set of rules to decide if data is threatening or not. If the data coming in looks safe, the firewall allows it to pass. But if the data looks suspicious, the firewall will block it or send you a notification so you can decide whether or not to allow it inside.
Firewalls are an essential component of good cybersecurity. Along with antivirus software, they help preserve your privacy on the web. Here’s why installing and enabling your firewall is so important.
Why Is A Firewall Used?
Lots of programs on your computer are designed to easily exchange information online. Without a firewall, anyone online could connect to those programs and use them to access information on your computer or network. Some of those programs may not contain much personal information, but they may contain vulnerabilities that allow bad actors to access programs that do contain personal information. They might also allow bad actors to install malware that could track data exchanges on your network (such as when you enter a password), use your network’s resources for illegal activities, or even hold your network hostage.
Beyond simply controlling who can access your network, a firewall helps control what parts of your network someone can access. If a hacker does find a way to access something on your network that should be private, a firewall can help minimize how much access the hacker has.
How Do Firewalls Work?
Firewalls all work in basically the same way: they analyze data entering a network and determine whether or not it is safe. But some firewalls have additional functions, too. For instance, many businesses will use one kind of firewall to protect their entire network and a different kind of firewall to break up the network into zones with different levels of protection.
Leading cybersecurity company Forcepoint explains firewalls using the metaphor of a house. You probably don’t let many strangers inside unless they have a clear reason to be there. Additionally, some parts of your house, such as your bedroom or office, are more private and, therefore, are only open to your family or close friends.
Data enters computers via ports, which are similar to the rooms of your house. Some ports exchange public data and others exchange more sensitive data. By restricting access to the most private ports, a firewall prevents online sources from accessing secure information on your computer while at the same time allowing online sources to access less private information that might be necessary for you to complete tasks. This strategy of protecting different parts of a network with differing levels of security is called segmentation.
Firewalls provide another important function, too. Just like security guards, they log what kind of data comes and goes through the firewall, as well as what kind of data gets blocked. Systems administrators can use these logs to adjust rules that help the firewall determine what is or is not safe.
What Are The Types Of Firewalls?
There are two types of firewalls, hardware firewalls and software firewalls. Hardware firewalls, sometimes known as appliance firewalls, are devices that are placed between the internet and a personal or business network. They typically have their own power source and resources like RAM to run without relying on a computer’s resources. This is an option favored by businesses that have many computers connected to the same network because it allows them to configure the hardware one time and still protect all of the computers on the network.
In contrast, a software firewall is installed on each computer that needs protection. These are common for home computers or small businesses with just a few computers. They are also used for portable business devices like laptops that might connect to many different networks. Software firewalls often come pre-installed on computers. Microsoft includes a firewall as part of their Windows Defender suite and it is activated by default on Windows machines. Apple also includes a firewall as part of their macOS, although it has to be activated by the user.
Strategies Firewalls Use To Protect Networks
In addition to hardware firewalls versus software firewalls, different firewalls can also use different strategies to protect a network. These strategies can differ by how they evaluate data, where they evaluate data, and the types of threats they protect against. For instance,
some firewalls download data to your computer and keep it quarantined in a small area until it can be evaluated. Then safe data is passed to other parts of the computer. Other firewalls analyze the data before it is downloaded and only allow data onto the computer once it is known to be safe.
Since different firewalls protect your computer using different strategies, it might seem smart to install multiple firewalls. However, running multiple firewalls at once can significantly slow down your computer and will not increase your security. Some businesses do choose to run one hardware and one software firewall simultaneously, but this should be set up by IT professionals who know how to configure the firewalls so they work together efficiently.
Activate Your Firewall To Maximize Your Cybersecurity
Cybersecurity can be complicated. New threats emerge constantly, and it takes a deeper understanding of programming to thoroughly understand how these threats work and how to prevent them. It can feel overwhelming.
The good news is, firewalls are both simple and effective. While some complex firewalls exist, most average users can get all the protection they need very easily. The built-in firewall that comes free with your computer, or the firewall included in your standard malware security suite, is enough to protect most people.
But if you’re a business responsible for protecting sensitive data, you might want to invest in some extra protection. That’s where TracSoft comes in. Our experienced cybersecurity team can assess your business and help you decide what kind of protection you need. From firewalls to encryption and beyond, you can trust our experts to create layers of security and offer top-level network monitoring.
Contact TracSoft today for a free security audit and we’ll help you build the custom protection plan your business deserves.