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The Basics of Firewall Security for Small Businesses

28 July 2023

With the increasing reliance on technology and the internet, cybersecurity threats have become more sophisticated and prevalent. Small businesses are particularly vulnerable to cyber-attacks because they often have limited resources and may not have dedicated IT staff or security measures in place. According to a report by Verizon, small businesses account for over 43% of all cyber-attacks, making them a prime target for cybercriminals. It’s crucial for small businesses to prioritize cybersecurity and implement measures to mitigate the risks of cyberthreats. In this article, we will discuss the basics of one such measure: the Firewall. 

What is a Firewall?

A firewall is a security device that acts as a barrier between a company’s internal network and the internet. It monitors incoming and outgoing network traffic and blocks potentially harmful traffic that could compromise the security of the network. Consider a firewall as a gatekeeper stationed at the entry point of your computer. Its role is to permit entry only to those sources or IP addresses that are deemed trustworthy, while blocking the access of any unauthorized sources attempting to enter your network. 

How Do Firewalls Work?

Firewalls utilize a set of pre-established security rules to decide which traffic is allowed to pass through and which traffic is blocked. These rules are established using various parameters such as the source, destination, content, and other packet data. Firewalls identify and block unauthorized or malicious traffic that could potentially compromise network security, such as emails with suspicious attachments. This ensures that only legitimate traffic that has met the pre-established security rules can enter the network, therefore protecting the network from being susceptible to a cyberattack.  

Types of Firewalls

Firewalls can be classified into two main types: software and hardware. A software firewall is a program installed on a single computer and controls network traffic by monitoring applications and port numbers. On the other hand, a hardware firewall is a physical device placed between the gateway and the network to filter incoming and outgoing traffic. Additionally, cloud firewalls are also available, provided by cloud service providers. 

Firewalls are also categorized based on their traffic filtering methods, structure, and functionality to meet the unique security needs of different organizations. For example, a stateful inspection firewall is a type of firewall that operates at the network layer of the OSI model and performs packet filtering based on the connection state of network traffic. This type of firewall keeps track of the state of network connections, including the source IP address, destination IP address, port numbers, and sequence numbers, among other parameters. It then uses this information to determine whether to allow or block traffic. In contrast, an application-level gateway or proxy firewall operates at the application layer of the OSI model. This sort of firewall works by intercepting communication between applications and the internet, acting as an intermediary between them. There are also packet-filtering firewalls, circuit-level gateways, next-generation firewalls (NGFW) and more. Organizations often use a combination of these technologies to create a layered defense against cyber threats.

Relevance for Small Businesses 

Firewalls are an essential component of any security strategy. They can help prevent unauthorized access to your network and protect your devices from malware and other cyber threats. To effectively implement firewall security, small businesses should first assess their network security needs and choose a firewall solution that is appropriate for their size and budget. Additionally, the firewall should be regularly updated with the latest security patches and configured to block all unnecessary incoming traffic while allowing necessary outgoing traffic. Regular testing and monitoring of the firewall is also important to ensure that it is functioning properly and protecting the network against potential threats.