Firewalls for Small Businesses: What you Need to Know

Most small businesses are aware that viruses and malware threaten their business, but the response is limited to installing antivirus software. While this software recognizes and quarantines infections, it doesn’t prevent viruses and malware from reaching employee devices. A firewall is a much better first line of defense that proactively blocks attacks.

In this article, we will look at how firewalls protect your network and how to find the best firewall for your small business.

Firewalls are a great way to proactively prevent cyberattacks rather than just dealing with the aftermath.

What is a Firewall?

Firewalls are gatekeepers for your computer and network. They monitor incoming and outgoing network traffic and decide whether to allow or block specific traffic based on security rules. As the first line of defense, they limit the probability of successful cyber attacks gaining access to sensitive data or bringing down your network.

For example, a firewall may be set up to monitor network traffic and see that certain IP addresses are making thousands of requests that are slowing the entire network down. The firewall automatically recognizes this as a botnet attack and blocks the associated IP addresses to speed up the network.

In addition to preventing many types of cyberattacks, firewalls are commonly used to segment a network based on access requirements and protections. Businesses that are subject to PCI-DSS, HIPAA, GDPR or other regulations use firewalls to draw a clear line between trusted devices and untrusted devices.

Software vs. Hardware

You may already be using several firewalls without even knowing it. For instance, Microsoft Windows includes Windows Defender Firewall software and many routers contain built-in firewalls that block common cyberattacks.

Let’s take a look at the difference between software and hardware firewalls.

Software Firewalls

Software firewalls are the most common choice for many individuals and small businesses. Since they are installed on a computer, they offer protection no matter where the computer is located, not just within the corporate network. Many operating systems come with built-in software firewalls offering basic protections.

Advanced software firewalls can be customized to protect against viruses, malware, ransomware, and other common cybersecurity threats. For example, a trojan virus may attempt to open up a port on your computer to enable an attacker to gain access, but a firewall could automatically recognize and block it.

Hardware Firewalls

Hardware firewalls are standalone or router products that live between the Internet and a business’ internal network. In many cases, broadband routers include built-in firewalls. The benefit of a hardware firewall is that they protect all devices in a network without the need to install any software on each individual device.

Many hardware firewalls protect against denial-of-service (DoS) attacks, make network ports invisible to anonymous internet requests and filter common web attacks, such as proxy servers, Java content on websites, ActiveX scripts, and cookies that may provide personal information to malicious websites.

Which Do You Need?

The problem with hardware firewalls is that they don’t protect employee devices when they are outside of the network. For example, employees working at an airport, hotel or coffee shop will not be protected by a hardware firewall that’s installed at the office — they will require a software firewall on their devices.

Many small businesses take a hybrid approach to address these issues. Individual devices can use software firewall solutions, while on-premise routers may offer additional protection to all computers on the network. That way, employee computers and devices are always protected against threats — no matter where they’re located.

Choosing a Solution

The problem with conventional hardware and software firewalls is that they require updates to remain effective — updates that businesses and users must remember to make. In addition, the firewalls must be properly configured in order to protect against all threats. These are significant challenges for businesses with limited time and a limited budget.

All network protection plans protect against the seven biggest issues facing small businesses:

  • Malware
  • Ransomware
  • Network Intrusion
  • Data Leaks
  • Botnet Attacks
  • DDoS Attacks
  • Compliance

Business owners or IT personnel can easily create and manage their secure networks from anywhere in the world via a secure web portal, as well as update any individual user’s VPN access, set content filtering, generate historical network threat reports, and much, much more with minimal effort and administrative effort.

More Cybersecurity Tips

Firewalls shouldn’t be the only component of a cybersecurity strategy. After all, a firewall will not help if your computer has already been infected by a virus or malware or help you recover data following a successful cyberattack.

Antivirus and anti-malware software are critical to resolving issues as soon as they arise on an employee device. Encrypted data and regular data backups are also necessary to ensure that data is always kept private and can always be restored if it has been deleted.

Small businesses can also take proactive measures to reduce the likelihood of successful cyberattacks by implementing password policies. For example, password managers can help set strong passwords, encourage regular updates and ensure that different passwords are in place for different services — but still easy to access for everyone.

Finally, businesses should train employees to recognize and report cybersecurity threats. With a cybersecurity plan in place, you can ensure that new employees have access to cybersecurity training during their on-boarding and regular test to ensure compliance. These efforts can dramatically cut down on cybersecurity incidents.

The Bottom Line

Firewalls are an important first line of defense against cyber attacks. By serving as a gatekeeper, they minimize the risk of data breaches by proactively blocking malicious attacks before they reach users. The best strategy is to pair hardware and software firewalls with a wider range of cybersecurity solutions to minimize the risk of a data breach.

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