Are Hardware Firewalls Really Necessary for SMBs?

As more businesses shift toward the cloud for their computing needs, digital security has become a major concern. Attacks are on the rise and, if you’ve been keeping track of the news lately, it appears that even the U.S. government isn’t immune to major security breaches.

In fact, according to a statement published by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission in 2015, security threats facing small- and medium-sized businesses have become even more prevalent, rising almost 50% over the previous year. Firewalls are one of the first cybersecurity measures that everyone thinks of, but they’re also one of the least understood.

What is a firewall?

By its non-IT definition, a firewall is a reinforced barrier designed to prevent the spread of fire in a building or vehicle. In computing, a firewall serves an analogous purpose, but instead of preventing fire from spreading, it prevents unauthorized connections to a network.

The purpose of the firewall is to evaluate every incoming connection request and take the appropriate action. While this might sound simple enough, things become a bit more complex when you consider the differences between hardware and software firewalls.

Software-based solutions are by far the most common, particularly in consumer computing environments. These are programs that are installed on the computer, usually as an integral part of the operating system. Software firewalls may also come in the form of third-party aftermarket programs offered by well-known digital security companies like Norton and Kaspersky.

By contrast, a hardware-based firewall is a physical machine installed between your router and the rest of your network. However, it is becoming increasingly common for high-end broadband routers to have built-in hardware firewalls.

The main advantage of a hardware firewall is that it protects every computer and device connected to the network, whereas a software firewall needs to be installed on every individual device to ensure protection.

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Does your business need an aftermarket firewall?

Everyone who uses the internet needs a firewall, simple as that. In Windows, for example, the firewall is installed and activated by default. Without having any firewall enabled, anyone can connect to the computer, potentially intercepting sensitive data in the process. Fortunately, native firewalls (like Windows Firewall) do a pretty good job of keeping out unwanted traffic, but are they good enough for business applications?

Consumer-grade firewalls, including those built into modern operating systems, are generally perfectly adequate for home users. But for many modern businesses, investing in an aftermarket firewall really isn’t optional. After all, even the smallest businesses tend to work with far more data, workstations, and users than any individual. They’re also exposed to riskier interactions online, so the stakes are inevitably much higher.

Because hardware-based firewalls protect your network’s gateway to the internet, rather than individual connections, they’re much easier to administer. Business-class firewalls include full support for virtual private networks (VPNs) as well, which are essential for companies that handle sensitive data. Although software-based solutions claim to offer a similar level of protection, they are harder to administer and maintain, particularly in the case of larger corporate networks.

Choosing the right firewall for your business

Hardware-based firewalls are more time-consuming and complicated to set up and configure than their software-based counterparts, but the advantages more than make up for the drawbacks. Most importantly, a hardware-based solution removes the burden on individual employees by offering a centralized way to manage all incoming and outgoing traffic to your company network. This cybersecurity posture also allows for productivity improvements by prioritizing bandwidth-consuming traffic, such as VoIP and video communications.

Choosing the right firewall for your business is an important decision and one that may even be subject to certain regulatory requirements. However, you owe it to the safety and privacy of your customers and employees — and to the future of your company — to ensure that you have the best solution in place. In the vast majority of cases, a hardware-based firewall presents the obvious choice, but only the experts can truly make that call.

Consultations aren’t the only reason to partner with the experts either; managed firewall solutions provide both the hardware and the support necessary to protect your network. And when it comes to Dyrand Systems’ approach to managed firewall solutions, we can even provide all your support remotely. Expert support with virtually no footprint in your office or on your budget — call today to learn more.