What is a Firewall and Does Your Business Need One?

Originally, a firewall was a physical barrier designed to stop a fire from spreading between two buildings, or between different sections of an existing building. In modern computer networking, firewalls function differently but their job is essentially the same: keep the bad stuff out.

In a computer network, a firewall’s primary task is to prevent unauthorized connections and viruses from entering your network. If an outside network, user, or program wants to access your computer, it sends a request. If you have a firewall, the firewall evaluates the request, compares it to a list of authorized connectors, and takes an action based on the status of the request and the firewall’s specific programming.

There are two types of firewalls: hardware and software. They both have the same job, but they do it differently. It’s important to understand the difference in order to best protect your New Jersey business:

Hardware: A hardware firewall is a physical piece of equipment installed between your network and your modem. All incoming information passes through it. It analyzes the information and decides what gets in and where it goes. While many broadband modems include a firewall, they are not normally sophisticated enough or sufficiently customizable for businesses that have grown beyond a few users. Hardware firewalls generally require expert installation and configuration.

Software: Software firewalls are programs installed on each computer, or on a server inside your network. They can tell the difference between programs and can allow data for one and not the other.

Does Your Business Need a Firewall?

Everyone who accesses the internet needs a firewall of some kind. Without one, your computer will allow access to anyone asking and open up your data to hackers more easily. The good news is that both Windows and Apple computers now come with built-in software firewalls (although the Mac’s firewall is turned off by default).

But businesses, especially those with multiple users or those that keep sensitive data, typically need firewalls that are more robust, more customizable, and offer better reporting than these consumer-grade alternatives.

Even a relatively small business engages in exponentially more interactions than an individual, with multiple users and workstations, and customers and suppliers. These days most of those interactions are online and is at risk.

Not only are businesses exposed to riskier online interactions, the potential damage from each interaction is also greater. Businesses frequently keep everything from competitive bids and marketing plans to sensitive banking and customer data on their computers. Unprotected, the exposure is enormous.

Firewalls also allow computers outside of your network to securely connect to the servers that are inside your network. This is critical for employees who work remotely.

How to Choose the Right Firewall for Your Company

Hardware firewalls must be compatible with your system and must be able to handle the throughput your business requires. They must be configured properly or they won’t work and can even stop your network from functioning entirely. You can use multiple hardware firewalls to take advantage of differing strengths and weaknesses.

Some industries (like medical and financial services) have specific regulatory requirements. It’s important to consult your IT professional before choosing a firewall to make sure you’re not exposing your business to unnecessary liability.

It’s also important for you, or your IT service company, to constantly monitor the firewall to ensure it is up and working, as well as to ensure that it is regularly updated with security patches and virus definitions.

IND Corporation, a full-service managed IT services provider in northern New Jersey, has been helping small and medium-sized New Jersey businesses select, install, configure, and maintain firewalls—and maintain and monitor their computing infrastructure—for 20 years. We were recently named one of the 5000 fastest growing private companies in America by Inc. Magazine for the fifth time!

Contact us to discuss your company’s business technology needs, from firewalls to cloud computing; we offer fixed-cost monthly managed IT services plans to fit your budget.