One of the first lines of defense that your IT systems have against cyberattacks and unauthorized access is a network firewall. Firewalls themselves aren’t complicated to understand: their primary purpose is to filter network traffic, acting as a gatekeeper to any connection that wants to get inside your IT system. It can screen authorized access from unauthorized ones and can be deployed as both software and hardware.
But what exactly can firewalls can and can’t do to protect your systems? While they’re an excellent way to make sure that any incoming and outgoing traffic is monitored, they often don’t have the tools to deal with an actual threat if it manages to slip past their detection, like viruses, malware, or ransomware. They’re also extremely vulnerable to user error, especially in cases of an attack that uses social engineering.
What Does A Firewall Do?
Firewalls have the same basic function but can vary in the exact methods that they use to protect your system. Two types of firewalls are usually present to protect IT systems: network firewalls, which is a general net that protects a network from unauthorized access, and host-based firewalls that protect an individual device.
Combined together, these two systems create a shield over your network and your data, preventing unauthorized access. While their exact protection methods differ from provider to provider, here are the core functions that your firewalls should be able to perform:
Above all else, firewalls function as gatekeepers of your network, inspecting packets of data coming in and out for anything that can potentially be a threat to your system. Given the vast flow of data in and out of your servers, your firewall should have the capability to analyze, detect threats, and contain them all within real-time – or at the very least, have small enough increments that your IT team can do something about any potential complications.
Even if connections are authorized, firewalls are still some of the best ways to guard against data entering your network that shouldn’t be there. With simultaneous scanning, authenticating, and filtering incoming data packets, your network is protected against any potential attacks that are specifically targeting sensitive information or other data inside your servers.
Complies With Your Security Policies
Firewalls may be your first line of defense against unwanted data and other intrusions, but they’re not the only part of your security suite – or even your overall IT strategy. Firewalls should play an integral part in your company’s operations and security systems, as it’s an ever-present barrier that can minimize the risk of unauthorized access to your network. By closing the potential entry points with a network firewall, and further bolstering defenses with host-based firewalls, you have security redundancies in place that can better protect your network.
Security policies involving firewalls should always be consistent across your entire company. Even if higher-level staff have more permissions to change or send data, they should never be exempted from your security protocols in any way. Given the value of the information that they control, they should be one of the most monitored users on your networks.
Report On Your Performance
Cybercriminals and security systems are always in a race to see which one can out-develop the other – and in most cases, security systems can easily win with the right setup and policies in place. For firewalls, this means that not only should they be able to repel attacks without any significant shift or disturbance in company operations – they should also be able to give exact reports on the nature of any attacks prevented and where they’re coming from.
There are two reasons for this need for reporting: one, it can help identify weaker aspects of your IT security that can use reinforcement. This ensures that your network is always well-protected as your IT system changes and grows over time. The other reason is so you have an overview of what potential areas of your data or systems that you need to protect, or what exactly about your company can make it so appealing to cyberattacks.
Firewalls that cannot fulfill any of the three functions above cannot be considered real firewalls and should not be used to protect your business from unauthorized access. While the specifics of those details will depend on the exact software and hardware that you get, they are core features that should always be found across all firewalls.
What Does A Firewall Not Do?
Despite their efficacy in repelling attacks, firewalls do have a very distinct weakness: they can’t do much if an attack actually succeeds on your network. In addition to that, they can’t count for human error or other types of attacks designed to slip through a firewall. This is why you should always support your firewall with other IT security systems that can help manage your network during a breach.
These are two threats that a firewall cannot handle:
Cover For Human Error
Perhaps one of the most effective ways cybercriminals have learned to access networks now is by simply relying on human error to give them authentication. All it takes is a misread email, a click on the wrong link, and your firewall will be unable to stop any outside access since your own network has already allowed the connection to begin with. This is particularly effective on phishing and ransomware attacks, which tend to target large deposits of data at once.
While using other software and configuring your firewall to scan for these types of incoming data packets can prove effective, the best way to still prevent this from happening is to educate your staff about best practices in IT security. By making the human element of your IT system more compliant with security policies, you’re able to close a large vulnerability in your network protection strategies.
Protect Against Malware
By the very nature of how they work, malware like trojan horses or viruses can easily slip past both a network and host firewall. Since these threats are often self-replicating, all it needs is one infected computer inside a network to effectively shut down your entire operation. Firewalls can screen incoming data packets but don’t really have the infrastructure to detect viruses in real-time and contain them accordingly – which is where other solutions like antivirus software come in.
However, keep in mind that there’s always the chance that these kinds of attacks will succeed, which is why keeping around redundancies (usually a data backup system) can complement the function of your firewall. This is even more crucial to consider if you have a large amount of data that is stored on your servers that need frequent access and cross-checking.
While it is possible to tweak your firewall configurations somewhat to cover for these vulnerabilities, a firewall itself is simply insufficient as a comprehensive IT security strategy. Reliance on your firewall to protect your server means that if it falls, your entire network is virtually unguarded with no backups or extra layers of security to protect you from unwanted access. While effective, firewalls should only be one part of a multi-layered IT protection strategy.
Protect Your Network Against External Attack With Fortinet FortiGate
For businesses looking to upgrade their IT security to the next level, few things are more effective than a next-generation firewall. Fortinet’s FortiGate Firewall suite stands as one of the best examples of everything that your business may need from a commercial firewall: real-time scanning for threats, content filtering, and even creating VPN connections for remote users. As a comprehensive suite designed to give you better performance, security, and visibility, FortiGate is the best choice for you.
As the exclusive firewall used by Abacus Managed IT Services, we have extensive experience in how effective their IT security works to keep out attackers and safeguard your data. If you want to see the efficacy of the Fortinet FortiGate firewall, they are offering a free trial for all interested businesses that want to experience the benefits of bringing a next-generation firewall to their business.
Make Your IT Systems More Secure With Abacus Managed IT Services
A firewall is an essential part of maintaining network security and preventing access to your company’s intranet. And while it’s an effective method of keeping your company safe from cyberattacks, reliance on your firewalls alone is a security flaw that many attackers can exploit. Getting the best firewall available for your organization can help minimize these threats, but you should also be careful to implement other strategies to protect your IT systems.
With extensive experience in the management and improvement of IT systems, Abacus Managed IT Services can help your company secure and protect your servers from external attack and internal sabotage. Our services are tailor-made for the financial sector, and we’ve become a proud partner of many banks and other businesses looking to improve their IT security. Contact us today to learn more about us and the services we can provide.