Firewalls are an essential tool in a small business’ cybersecurity arsenal, acting as a frontline defence for your internet connection. If hackers successfully breach your systems, it can quickly turn into a nightmare situation, leaving you at the mercy of these anonymous attackers. Disturbingly, it took a staggering 207 days for organisations to detect (and an additional 70 days to contain) a data breach in 2022, as disclosed by IBM.
By understanding how firewalls work and exploring the available options, you can effectively safeguard your business, whether you operate from home, an office building, or a combination of both.
Continuing with the recognition of, we will at what firewalls are as well as 6 different reasons as to why small businesses need one, going into depth with each point raised.
What is a Firewall?
A firewall takes the form of either a hardware device or software installed on your network and/or your computers, which applies a set of rules and checks on incoming and outgoing traffic. Should anything violate the firewall’s rules, or fail to pass various security checks, then the traffic is blocked, and depending on the nature of the problem, an alert is raised. Overall, firewalls are essential for enterprises that take security seriously. They enforce strict access controls, segment networks, and protect against cyber threats.
1. Stop Malware and Zero-Day Threats
A Zero-Day threat refers to a cybersecurity vulnerability or exploit that is unknown to the vendor or developer of the software or hardware affected. In simpler terms, it’s a flaw or weakness in a system that hackers discover before the developers do.
Zero Day Protection is a way of examining previously unseen malware in a secure environment. Your firewall will intercept a downloaded file and send it to the sandbox “virtual machine” — the VM acts as a virtual, isolated environment that mimics your operating environment. Here, the software is deployed to see how it executes code, and to detect any malicious behaviour. If the code is deemed to be malicious, it is stripped before delivery, or simply just blocked.
2. Intrusion Detection Systems (IDS) and Intrusion Prevention Systems (IPS)
An Intrusion Detection System (IDS) — as the name implies — detects intrusion or exploit attempts by supervising network traffic in real-time. The IDS doesn’t directly interact with network traffic. Instead, it observes and informs an admin about any suspicious activities.
An Intrusion Prevention System (IPS) operates by doing everything an IDS system does, but then takes it to the next level — it will block actual or attempted intrusion or exploit events as they occur. An IPS can block a variety of attacks, including denial of service (DOS), distributed denial of service (DDOS), known exploits, zero-day exploits, SQL injection, worms, and viruses.
IDS and/or IPS devices can be separate devices behind your firewall, but usually, our customers opt for IDS/IPS functionality integrated into their firewall — such as a Sophos XGS firewall.
3. Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) / Transport Layer Security (TLS) Inspection and Decryption
Decryption maximises the firewall’s visibility into the traffic coming in and out of your network. The encryption protocols — known as Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) or Transport Layer Security (TLS) — are great for ensuring the secure transmission of data between two entities, such as a web server and its user, but they can create a massive security blind spot. With a little bit of setup work, advanced firewalls are able to decrypt this traffic and can therefore see previously invisible threats. This helps us:
- Block encrypted malware from entering the network.
- Prevent unauthorised data leaks.
- Guarantee that only approved applications function in a secure network environment.
- Control access to websites based on risk and/or content.
4. Provide Virtual Private Network (VPN) Services
In addition to fortifying communication with the internet, firewalls can also act as secure gateways that connect your organisation’s local area networks (LANs) at different sites. This capability means that your business computers — which could be spread all over the world — are able to securely communicate with resources, such as servers, at your offices.
VPNs are also useful when working in countries that restrict access to the internet, or where there are privacy concerns. You can connect to your firewall — also known as “dialling in” — from anywhere, as well as access everything you would be able to at home, without that country being able to eavesdrop or monitor what websites and services you’re accessing.
5. Application Control
Application control is a feature on many firewalls, which allows businesses to block specific applications from running on work computers. For example, you may wish to block programs such as Instant Messaging (IM), peer-to-peer (P2P), or games. Your firewall can be configured to block or allow for different groups of computers or users, depending on productivity or security concerns.
Application Control can also be used to prevent users from running applications that are not categorised as a security threat, but are not suitable for use in a work environment — particularly where the application might have a detrimental effect on productivity.
6. Reduce Web Browsing Risk
DNS (Domain Name System) security is an additional layer of cybersecurity defence that prevents your devices from connecting to risky domain names. By implementing website filtering through firewalls, you can effectively prevent your employees from accessing inappropriate or potentially harmful websites while using your network resources. Moreover, you can safeguard your network by blocking dubious online shopping platforms, or any websites that are known for facilitating illegal downloads. You can even block access to job boards!
Which Firewall is Best for Small Businesses?
When it comes to choosing a firewall for your business, you have both hardware and software options to consider.
Software versions are typically integrated into your Operating System — such as Windows — or a part of your computer (aka endpoint) security solution. Popular and trusted options in this realm include Sophos, Webroot, and Windows Defender.
When it comes to hardware network firewalls to protect your business from constantly evolving cybersecurity threats, we tend to recommend Sophos Firewall products. They offer a comprehensive set of security features and cover everything we’ve ever needed in terms of networking and remote access functionality. Installation, setup, and configuration are all specialist tasks that need to be carefully managed to ensure your business is correctly protected. Contact us if you’d like to find out more.
Get In Touch!
Are you and your business interested in having your IT looked after by a trusted, Sussex-based, leading IT support business? Then look no further than Wessex IT. Why not get in touch with us to organise a free IT Services Audit? You might be surprised by what we find! We would love to hear from you — you can find our contact details here.
You can even check out what our clients have to say about us and our services here!