What on earth is a Firewall anyway?!

What on earth is a Firewall anyway?!

3rd June 2020

If you have ever contemplated network security you have more than likely stumbled across the term ‘Firewall’. However, it has probably been followed by some tech-speak, long words and data that perhaps put you to sleep…

In this entry I wanted to try and explain it to everyone as simply as possible, as it really is an important concept for anyone who has a network joined to the Internet.

As soon as you link your network to the Internet, or essentially someone else’s systems, it will create security risks. We can send and receive data from anywhere once connected, but that also means that so can everyone else on the shared/linked networks.

Whilst anti-virus protection is now well-known, and can protect from a number of different types of malicious software (malware), it is unfortunately out of it’s time. Back in the 90s it would have been more than enough to protect your systems. However, our attacker’s technology and methods have adapted and whilst having this software is still a fantastic idea, there are also new technologies that you can add to your network to combat the newest in cyber crime threats.Anti-malware software will keep a database of known threats, viruses and malicious code. It is then able to scan for known attacks, comparing against this database and will then isolate/remove anything it recognises. This is one of the reasons you have to keep this software up-to-date every day, otherwise it wont be able to recognise newer threats.

However, one newer and more modern technique to update your security is by adding a firewall to your network. A firewall is designed to block any unexpected or unwanted connections trying to get to your network. Large amounts of data both enter and leave your network on a daily basis, so a firewall will check the content of this data passing thorough it. This truly enormous quantity of data is split into chucks, technically known as ‘packets’ before being sent through a network. Firewalls are used to check that these data packets abide by specific rules set up about what is allowed in to your network. This helps to protect you against unauthorised access to a computer system from an attacker looking to steal your data, cause damage or even control your systems. It effectively creates a safety barrier between your internal network and any incoming traffic, and it blocks anything potentially malicious.

Now, most operating system will have a basic software firewall within it, which most definitely should be turned on. However, you can also buy hardware security firewall devices too, which sit on your network perimeter. It is best to have both types, so that you have layers of protection guarding your data. Now, typically the router you receive from your InternetService Provider i.e. SKY or BT, will have some limited firewall capability. However, if security is something that is important to you and you really want to protect your organisation or even your family, then nothing compares to installing a dedicated firewall security device.

The best devices can analyse the traffic and use intelligence to spot suspicious sources or strange packet behaviour. It will essentially filter out certain access to sources of data that cannot be trusted, and will only allow certain types of data from certain types of sources. The Next-generation firewalls can combine this with deeper packet inspection, which enables users to more effectively identify, categorise or stop dangerous packets. The newest firewalls will also further inspect encrypted traffic and include intrusion prevention systems that can spot unusual behaviour and activity and prevent an attack that has yet to be documented (or put in anti-malware databases), before it starts.

These don’t have to be expensive and there are a number of different devices to choose from depending on the size of your network and the number of users. However, for a monthly cost that is less than the average mobile phone contract bill, you will feel much more secure about the internet use in your network. You can feel great knowing you are doing your bit in protecting your most valuable assets – whether that is your intellectual property, your customer details or even your family members from predators.

If you would like to find our more about firewalls or speak to an expert to help you identify the best solution for your needs, email us today!

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Written by Emma Davis - Head of Training & Testing