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The differences between stateful and stateless firewalls

NetworkTigers discusses the difference between stateful and stateless firewalls.

Firewalls are a critical element in safeguarding business network systems and their valuable data from persistent attacks. They manage and monitor the traffic flowing out of and into your network. Both stateful and stateless firewalls play an essential role in defending against today’s cybercrime.

Stateful firewalls detect and monitor the state of all traffic on your network based on traffic flows and patterns. In contrast, stateless firewalls filter traffic using preset rules and only focus on individual data packets. Knowing the differences between stateful and stateless firewalls is important when choosing the best firewall for your organization.

What is a stateful firewall?

Stateful firewalls monitor data packets depending on a set of rules. The firewalls approve the packets to move freely in the network if they match the rules. The firewalls can also function at different stages and track the state of active network connections. 

A stateful firewall can monitor the traffic streams back to back as they’re aware of the communication path. The firewall stores the logical context of information exchanged in a stream to prevent forwarding non-logical network traffic. 

Stateful firewalls deal with sophisticated cybersecurity threats efficiently. They constantly assess the context of traffic and data packet behaviors to filter out malicious information if there’s any risk. These firewalls can be used within or at the network’s edge as they can analyze traffic streams.

Stateful firewalls keep track of all outgoing and incoming connections by investigating additional payload data and the packet header. The firewalls are ideal at the network and transport layer of the OSI (Open Systems Interconnection) model. They support application-aware inspections, investigate traffic flow, and assess transport layer headers.

Advantages of stateful firewalls

Stateful firewalls provide security advantages for businesses, including easier troubleshooting, enhanced network performance, and comprehensive protection. Here are other benefits:

  • Have a powerful memory that stores important aspects of connections
  • Require a few ports to open effective communication
  • Can make future filtering decisions as they’re intelligent systems
  • Provide robust attack prevention and extensive logging capabilities
  • Offer better control over traffic flow, improving security over time
  • Can detect unauthorized or forged access

Disadvantages of stateful firewalls

Stateful firewalls require management to detect potential threats and are resource-intensive. Additionally they:

  • Must be updated regularly with the latest software to prevent hackers from infiltrating them
  • Require a high processing power and memory to maintain state tables
  • Can be tricked to attract or allow dangerous connections
  • Are vulnerable to man-in-the-middle attacks
  • Can be costly depending on the number of ports required
  • Have a lower data transfer rate

What is a stateless firewall?

Stateless firewalls process network data packets independently depending on predefined security rules and determines whether arriving packets are safe based on the rules the firewalls allow the packets to access. The rules do not change no matter the context and are selected by the network administrator. 

Outgoing or incoming data packets do not influence the results of previous connections or network traffic. Stateless firewalls define the rules for outgoing and incoming packets in a network and do not differentiate between traffic. 

The firewalls do not keep data or analyze the traffic on the connection state as they only match predefined rules and patterns to prevent issues in the system when required. Stateless firewalls are also referred to as access control lists and apply to the OSI model’s physical and network layer (and sometimes the transport layer). 

The firewalls deliver network security based on static data and filter the network based on packet header information such as port number, Destination IP, and Source IP. These firewalls are not connection-oriented, making the process less rigorous.

Advantages of stateless firewalls

Stateless firewalls require fewer resources and are cost-effective. Here are other benefits:

  • Perform well on heavy traffic networks
  • Simple to implement and less complex
  • Deliver fast performance
  • Cheaper to purchase

Disadvantages of stateless firewalls

Stateless firewalls also have drawbacks such as:

  • Creating gaps in security due to their inability to analyze all traffic and classify the data type
  • Requiring upfront configuration by a knowledgeable individual, which is time-consuming
  • Inability to examine the entire data packet, only decides if the packet satisfies current rules

When should you use stateful vs stateless firewalls?

Stateful and stateless firewalls are used depending on application areas and security demands. It’s crucial to understand which firewall suits your business needs and how much you will spend on them. Stateful firewalls offer granular control over traffic and are ideal for larger organizations. 

They analyze communication channels, information characteristics, and everything inside the data packets. The firewalls can monitor and filter out malicious packets while examining the behaviors of legitimate data packets. This allows them to track patterns to discover anomalies accurately and quickly.  

They can also differentiate between suspicious attacks and legitimate network traffic as they can track the state of all the connections passing through them. However, stateful firewalls can be challenging to scale as your business grows and costly to maintain since they require more resources. 

Stateless firewalls are cost-effective and easier to manage, making them a good choice for small businesses. They also require fewer resources to maintain and can keep enterprises running safely due to the ability to perform well under heavy traffic networks. They don’t keep track of all the connections’ states but examine each packet individually.

However, they’re less effective at detecting harmful traffic trying to access the network. If packets do not fit the set security rules, they can pass unnoticed even if they exhibit behaviors that could be dangerous. 

Protect your enterprise today

Enhancing the security of your company assets with the right firewall is an important step in protecting your data, workforce, and network. NetworkTigers provides a wide range of firewalls designed to suit different network structures. Browse through our wide selection of firewalls to identify which type can offer the best security for your business.

Maclean Odiesa
Maclean Odiesa
Maclean is a tech freelance writer with 7+ years in content strategy and development. She is also a pillar pages specialist and SEO expert.

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The differences between stateful and stateless firewalls