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Does your business need a firewall?

In the constantly changing world of cybercrime, experts agree that it is critical for businesses to maintain robust security to help prevent unauthorized access to their information and network. One common way that you can strengthen your network security is by using a firewall. 

What is a firewall?

A firewall is traditionally a piece of hardware that monitors the incoming and outgoing traffic on your network. They are configured to only allow traffic to flow in certain directions if specific criteria is met. In this way, they provide security for your network by acting as a gatekeeper.

Hardware vs. software

While software firewalls are available, most security professionals recommend using hardware options. This is because software firewalls must be installed on each individual computer, taking up valuable memory and processing power. A hardware option, however, is completely dedicated to monitoring the entirety of your network and will not cause any data strain in the process.

Software firewalls sometimes come bundled with antivirus subscriptions. While it is not recommended to exclusively use software firewalls on your connected computers, using them in addition to a hardware model will provide an additional layer of cybersecurity.

What are the benefits to using a firewall?

Firewalls are basic but critical devices that protect your network and computers in the following ways:

Firewalls keep an eye on your network traffic

Firewalls allow your IT team to assess the information coming into and leaving your network. A properly configured firewall will block any questionable traffic and allow your IT staff to monitor your network for attempted threats and unauthorized activity.

They block spyware

Spyware is malicious software that hides in your computer, gathers data about your internet usage and devices, and sends the information off to an unauthorized third party without your consent. A firewall can prevent your computer from spyware infection and keep your data and activity safe from prying eyes.

They block viruses

Computer viruses are a threat as old as information technology itself. A firewall is your first line of defense against a computer virus entering your network and infecting your hardware.

They block hackers

While firewalls excel at blocking malicious software from entering your network, they also present an effective obstacle between you and any hackers who attempt to break into your system. Often, the mere presence of a firewall is enough to encourage a hacker to look elsewhere for an easier target.

Are there disadvantages to using a firewall?

While none of the following disadvantages to using a firewall are compelling reasons to disregard the security they add to your network, the following topics are worth consideration:

Cost

Unless you are savvy enough to do it yourself, firewalls require configuration and maintenance from a qualified IT technician. Additionally, installing a firewall has an upfront cost in the form of the hardware itself. Thankful, refurbished hardware is readily available. Fairly recent models can be purchased from reputable dealers at deep discounts.

User restriction

While user restriction is a benefit to using a firewall, when it comes to major companies that employ a large staff, things can get complicated. It takes special attention and configuration to ensure that your device is keeping up with proper security protocols but still allowing for easy, authorized network access by employees. Users continually being denied access to data they require can slow efficiency to a crawl.

They aren’t perfect

Firewalls are a trusted and reliable means of network defense. However, they are not bulletproof. Some sophisticated attacks can disguise themselves as acceptable network traffic to slip through your defenses and into your network. It is recommended that other security features such as antivirus software and additional malware blockers be put in place to create a heavily fortified system.

6 ways to create great network security

Because of the continually evolving landscape of cybersecurity, network security requires maintenance and regular attention. Here are five basic tips for achieving great network security:

1. Use one or more firewalls

Using a firewall is a great way to limit entry into your network. Software firewalls should also be installed on each separate computer for additional protection.

2. Use a virtual private network

Often described as driving through your own personal tunnel as opposed to the open highway, a virtual private network, or VPN, keeps your internet activity hidden from outside users and is recommended for privacy.

3. Practice good password habits

Rename all of the devices on your network and change their default passwords. Keep passwords complex and random to prevent them from being guessed easily. Change passwords frequently and do not use the same passwords across multiple devices or accounts.

4. Educate your staff

Cybercriminals are usually opportunistic, relying on users accidentally opening emails containing malware or clicking on links to malicious code as opposed to engaging in targeted attacks. Be sure to keep your staff educated on cybersecurity dangers.

5. Keep everything up to date

Software companies are continually updating their products to ensure that they remain safe against attack. Failing to patch older software can leave the door wide open for criminals looking to exploit vulnerabilities. Keep automatic updates scheduled on your operating systems, drivers and antivirus software. Read cybersecurity news sites to stay aware of developing or newly discovered threats.

6. Use encryption

Today’s routers often offer encryption as a security feature. It is recommended that you take a look at your internet router’s settings and be sure that encryption is turned on.

Sources

Derek Walborn
Derek Walborn is a freelance research-based technical writer. He has worked as a content QA analyst for AT&T and Pernod Ricard.

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