A FIREWALL is a system of preset security rules that are designed to protect an internal network from the intrusiveness of the Internet. In common practice, it achieves this goal by controlling the flow of incoming and outgoing traffic. Borrowing its name from the physical structure used to contain the spreading of building fires, a firewall can be distributed as a software program or embedded in hardware (i.e. SonicWall, Firebox, etc), and is commonly used as a preventative measure against hackers and malware.
But even as privacy and security awareness increases among Internet users, most only have a basic idea of how a firewall protects them. Others might not even know if their device is equipped with one. Neither case is good, as it is usually important to have one installed on each Internet-capable device you own, and a basic understanding is needed in order to properly configure it. The following are basic descriptions of how a firewall works:
It behaves like the earth’s atmosphere. Just as our planet is equipped with a barrier to shield it from harmful radiation and foreign objects, our Internet-capable devices should ideally have a firewall to protect them from the perils lurking in cyber space. In practice, this is accomplished through the filtering of data packets between a personal node (or network) and the Internet we’ve come to rely on. If a particular packet or piece of data is suspected to be harmful, it is immediately blocked. This, in itself, is a modicum of protection against the likes of hacking, viruses, Trojans and etc.
There are different types of firewalls. As we mentioned above, it is important to know what exactly you are working with. You are probably aware that the Windows operating system offers a basic firewall which routinely filters incoming traffic. But what about the traffic making its way from your computer with your sensitive information? A sophisticated solution would not only monitor this transmission, but have the wherewithal to mask the presence of your computer or device from those who wish to access it without proper authorization. An even better solution would possess the ability to update the lists of benign and malicious software in real-time.
Their protection is limited. While a firewall is undoubtedly your first line of defense against a litany of cyber attacks, its scope of protection has a limit. It cannot, for instance, help remove any viruses that have already made their way to your computer or network. In these cases, you need an effective antivirius (AV) app to help rid your device from the perils of malicious code.
Dedicated solutions work best. It is true that most modern operating systems are distributed with inbuilt firewalls. But the best solution is in the shape of a dedicated application, mainly because most people lack the time and inclination to properly set up and use native firewalls. It’s very similar to hiring an armed guard for protection rather than learning to use a firearm.
Best practices suggest ensuring any pre-installed firewall is active, and to reinforce your current security architecture with third-party solutions. It is simply naïve to think your operating system’s firewall is active and effective all by its own. Adding extra layers of protection atop native solutions is always recommended. You owe it to yourself, and to the sea of cyber criminals out there, to enjoy a safe and productive online experience and existence.