Firewalls: What they are, why you need them, and how they work

Firewalls: What they are, why you need them, and how they work

The painful reality is that small- to medium-sized businesses (SMBs) are a common target of cybercrime, with a single attack typically costing them between $84,000 and $148,000. To protect your customer’s data, avoid revenue loss, and prevent reputational damage, putting up a strong firewall is a good place to start.

Just as a structural firewall prevents fires from spreading and incinerating your home, network firewalls keep cybercriminals from infiltrating and ravaging your IT systems. They identify, control, and block incoming or outgoing network traffic if it doesn't meet preset criteria.

How do firewalls work?

Not all firewalls operate the same way. Generally, there are two types of firewalls: traditional firewalls and next-gen firewalls. Traditional firewalls block incoming traffic based on the kind of traffic it is. Next-gen firewalls have a more advanced approach which involves inspecting the traffic and preventing malicious activities.

Imagine that your network’s connection to the internet is a two-way bridge for vehicles. You also have a guard on this bridge that has to vet the cars before they’re allowed to cross. This guard represents your next-gen firewall, which provides you with the following benefits:

  • Access control – A firewall recognizes all incoming activities based on their Internet Protocol (IP) address. IP addresses are all unique and are assigned by your internet service provider (ISP). For SMBs, you want to allow open access to your website as much as possible so that your visitors can browse. Because your network can be vulnerable, a firewall must be put in place to recognize anomalies and protect your systems against threats.
  • Cloud implications – Over time, businesses shifted their data storage and data processing to off-site data centers that collectively became known as the "cloud." Because of how cost-effective cloud computing has been, hosting data, applications, and services in the cloud is seen as a wise financial decision.

    However, entrusting your IT resources to the cloud comes with a certain risk: you lose physical access to your data as it becomes part of a shared network environment. Isn't cloud-held data beyond the firm's firewalls? With your users pulling and pushing data between the cloud and your network, firewalls must work extra hard to keep your data and your systems safe.

  • Secure databases – Website and mobile applications require a back-end database system to run. For example, if your website has a mailing list sign-up form, then each online submission is sent from the user’s browser to the site’s database. Such communications can make your back-end database vulnerable to SQL injection — an attack wherein a hacker will manipulate a website to expose back-end data.

    To keep your back-end database secure, you need a firewall that is properly configured to allow authorized connections while thwarting malicious threats

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  • Virus protection – One of the primary purposes of a firewall is to detect and block malicious network requests. But keep in mind that the success of this function will depend on the firewall tool and provider that you choose.

    Today’s most robust firewalls also offer protection through Simple Mail Transfer Protocol (SMTP). These firewalls protect your email server by checking incoming messages for dangerous viruses and attachments that could spread to your systems.

  • Local network security – While securing your back-end servers is pivotal in protecting your data, it’s just as important to guard your local ethernet and wireless networks. Cybercriminals are constantly looking for ways to penetrate organizations through a single computer or device to be able to execute a broader attack from there.

    Firewall restrictions can give you the option to control which network ports are enabled or blocked for computers on your local network while taking into account all users and hardware that need to connect to the local network at your place of business.

  • Remote connection verification – SMBs need to be flexible and dynamic in order to stay competent and successful. Chances are, you or some of your employees travel for work. If your firewall is totally restricted to internal connections and traffic, any attempt at working from a remote location will be blocked. To work around this, consider using a virtual private network (VPN) solution.

How can Athens Micro help you?

As a business owner, make sure that firewalls are part of your defense. To learn more about firewalls and other components of a complete cybersecurity solution, turn to Athens Micro. Call us today to learn more from our professional IT consultants.

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