How To Strengthen Branch Office Security With FortiGate Firewalls   

Although many companies now offer online transactions, some still provide face-to-face customer service in their select branch offices. These remote offices usually rely on a branch network to access corporate resources and pertinent business information. However, many organizations still find it difficult to manage branch networks, especially with the increasing cybersecurity concerns. This is where a network firewall like FortiGate can become useful. 

So how do you use FortiGate Firewalls to improve your branch network security? To strengthen your network firewall protection, it’s important that it is configured properly to accommodate your cybersecurity needs. Configuring a firewall involves securing the network and updating FortiGate to its latest firmware, identifying firewall zones and IP address structure, and setting up access control lists.  

What Is FortiGate Firewall and How It Secures Your Branch Office Network  

A network firewall is one of the most essential components of cybersecurity. It serves as a company’s first line of defense against external threat actors that may harm your network or steal sensitive data. With hundreds of information being sent and exchanged over the internet, firewalls constantly monitor all incoming and outgoing traffic to filter any malicious content and prevent unauthorized access and breaches.

Fortinet’s FortiGate Firewall suite is a next-generation firewall that offers comprehensive network protection for small and medium businesses to large corporations. It features built-in security processors integrated with FortiGuard to provide advanced threat detection and protection. Some of its other attractive security features are:

  • Industry-leading threat identification and protection: FortiGate uses the latest security processor technology to assure peak performances in investigating potential threats. It’s capable of web filtering and offers antivirus controls to reduce the risks of malware and social engineering.
  • Automated risk assessment and management – It also provides IT teams with a seamless management dashboard to minimize challenges in monitoring risks and updating security protocols. It comes with automated workflow and auditing controls so your IT experts can work efficiently with fewer human errors.
  • Advanced security capabilities and threat intelligence – FortiGate’s firewalls provide advanced security layers to increase overall security coverage. They also have state-of-the-art threat intelligence with real-time scanning for potential malware attacks and security exploits in encrypted and unencrypted traffic. 

  • Integrated with Fortinet’s Security Fabric – Another best feature of FortiGate is that it is integrated with Fortinet’s other security services and products. With its Unified Security Fabric feature, you can enjoy a broad coverage of protection across the entire IT and network infrastructure. It provides automated security and easily shields all users in every endpoint to limit the chances of breaches. 

How To Set Up Fortigate Firewalls For Your Branch Office Security 

The default settings and standard protocols which are already set on a firewall software are not always enough to support strong network security. Cybercriminals are always looking out for organizations with vulnerable and weak security systems so if you haven’t updated or configured your firewalls according to your internal network needs then you may be putting your branch office at high risk for online attacks. 

Here are the important steps you need to know about firewall configuration for your branch office security:

1) Secure firewall user settings and update to the latest FortiGate firmware

The first step to securing a firewall is to make sure that you have its latest firmware. If you’re using the outdated version, your network is more susceptible to exploitation, software failures,  poor security performance, and the presence of bugs in the operating system. 

You should also make sure that only authorized managers and administrators can make changes to your firewalls. Remind all users to update their passwords and use complex phrases to avoid hacking. Each individual should have their own user account with limited privileges based on their responsibility.  

2) Establish firewall zones and IP network structures 

Firewall security zones are used to categorize all network assets and resources that must be protected. After you’ve identified them, you’ll need to map out your network structure in a way that all similar assets are grouped together based on their function and level of sensitivity. Identifying more zones helps guarantee better network security. 

Some examples of firewall zones are dedicated servers such as emails and virtual private networks which are grouped together to control incoming internet traffic. Similarly, branch offices that have point-of-sale devices and workstations should have a separate internal network zone. 

3) Set up access control lists and logging servers

After configuring the network zones, you need to determine which types of traffic can freely flow in each zone. An access control list (ACLs) basically refers to a set of specified firewall rules that are applied to each interface. ACLs should always contain the exact destination port or source IP addresses. 

To filter out suspicious or unauthorized traffic, you should enable the “deny all” rule in each ACL. You can also disable public access to firewall administration to avoid configurations that may compromise your security. Firewalls should also be set to report to a logging server and comply with the industry requirements. 

4) Test your new firewall configuration and make changes as necessary

The final and most critical step in the configuration process is firewall testing. This helps check that all settings are working as intended and blocking accurate traffic in the network. The most common testing technique that can be done is penetration testing. It is a basic simulation of a cyberattack that analyzes how your firewall will perform during an active threat event. Its purpose is to measure the effectiveness of your new firewall configuration. 

After testing, you can now activate your firewall across your branch office network. Remember to regularly monitor your firewall through log inspections, scans, and updating security policies and rules. Consistent firewall management is essential to ensure efficiency and continuous network protection. 

Advantages of FortiGate As A Network-Based Firewall vs. Host-Based Firewall 

There are two main types of firewalls depending on their method of implementation. Fortinet’s FortiGate is a next-generation firewall and it’s primarily network-based. This means that FortiGate operates on a wider scale and can assess traffic that travels from the Internet to the computers and networks. Here are the other advantages of Fortinet’s FortiGate NGFW: 

  • Superior protection against modern cyber threats such as malware, phishing schemes, email scams, and ransomware 
  • High performing security capabilities and throughput with low latency 
  • Upgraded data protection systems that promote a culture of security and privacy among employees and clients 
  • Trusted firewall protection with its systems backed with the latest global security research

​​The other type of firewall is host-based which generally refers to a software application that is installed on a single computer network. To better understand, here are the main differences between host-based and network-based firewalls: 

Network-based firewall Host-based firewall
Software or hardware  Commonly hardware-based Software-based which can be easily installed on the host 
Scope of protection  Filters all traffic that goes through the computer and network servers

Has more security layers and controls for stronger firewall defenses 

Provides basic security control and protection for the host 

Also has customizable security controls but they are more limited compared to a network-based firewall 

Point of placement  Since it serves as an entry/exit point for traffic, network-based firewalls are usually placed within the perimeters or borders of the network  Typically installed on the host computer or device, it works as a secondary defense to screen traffic before the user accesses it on their device 

Find The Best Firewall Solution For Your Security Needs with Abacus 

Fortinet’s FortiGate is among the best firewall solutions that you can invest in for your branch office security. At Abacus, our IT engineers and cybersecurity experts have extensive experience in using this next-generation firewall to help safeguard your network servers from external attacks. 

For over 15 years, we have been helping businesses across different industries to strengthen their defenses and make sure their operations run smoothly with fewer risks of cyberthreats. To learn more about our firewall plans and other IT services, contact us today at (856) 505-6860. 


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The Abacus Blog Team
At Abacus IT, our blog is authored by a team of IT experts with a wealth of experience in various facets of technology. Our primary blog author is a seasoned IT professional with over 20 years of experience in the industry. With a deep understanding of cybersecurity, cloud solutions, network infrastructure, and IT management, our author provides valuable insights and actionable tips to help you optimize your IT operations.

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