Importance of a Firewall

Imagine if you could put a huge wall around the perimeter of your home.  Not a wooden or wrought-iron fence, mind you, but an actual wall made of brick or stone.  The wall would be 25 feet high and only have a few different entry points, all of which are monitored by armed guards.  Because of how the wall is constructed, the only way to enter your home is through these designated points.  Whenever someone tried to approach your house—whether they be a friend, a salesperson, or even a thief trying to decide on their next target—they would be stopped by a guard.  And if the guard decided that the visitor had no business stepping foot on your property, they’d refuse entry.

Between the physical barrier and the watchmen, how much safer do you think your house would be from break-ins or vandalism than it is right now?

In real life, using a fortress-like wall to defend your house wouldn’t be very practical (or pretty, for that matter).  You can, however, get something similar to defend your computer files and personal information.  It’s called a firewall, and it’s very important that you have one installed on any of your computers with Internet access.

Firewalls for Personal Computers
What kind of private material would someone find if they “raided” your home computer?  Would they see personal photos and information?  Learn passwords for your email and social media accounts?  Discover your financial information (including credit card numbers) through online banking and bill pay?  And what would happen if they sabotaged your computer with a virus?  Would you lose important data, files, and/or the ability to complete work for your job?

Firewalls, as their name suggests, are essentially hard-to-breach barriers that protect your computer from harm.  Although they’re not really manned by armed guards, they’re programmed to prevent suspicious-looking traffic from entering your computer’s network by way of the internet.  Ideally, firewalls accomplish this by:

  • Barring unauthorized access to your files and browser information from a remote third party (i.e., hackers).
  • Recognizing and blocking malware, like viruses, Trojans horses, and keystroke loggers before they can be downloaded onto your computer and cause problems.
  • Stopping “drive-by” downloads—that is, downloads that start automatically upon visiting a seemingly-innocent webpage without getting permission from the user.

If you don’t think you’ve ever “seen” your computer’s firewall, it’s actually very likely that you haven’t.  Hardware firewalls do exist, but software ones, which often come pre-installed on computers and routers, are far more common.  Software firewalls are usually more than capable of protecting the average Internet user.  Businesses, on the other hand, might need something a little stronger…

Firewalls for Businesses
Let’s go back to the “wall-around-your-house” metaphor from earlier.  Say you have a housekeeper whom you pay to come by a few days a week.  The guards know who she is and have your permission to grant her access when she comes by to clean, even if you’re not there at the time.

That said, the guards will not let her:

  • Invite one of her friends into your home, even if the friend has her permission to be there.
  • Remove any of your personal belongings out of the house, even if it’s something that she doesn’t think is important.
  • “Hang out” at your house and use your Wi-Fi or media room when she’s not working.
  • Permit her to remove any of your work-related items (briefcase, laptop, etc.) from your house for whatever reason.

In the same way, firewalls designed for businesses tend to be more complex than ones designed for personal use, and they’re often much more strict, too.  Not only can they monitor what tries to enter the network, but they also keep an eye out for—and put a stop to—unsanctioned behavior within the network.  In addition to doing everything that personal firewalls can do, company firewalls can also:

  • Prohibit employees from sending or receiving personal emails on company computers.
  • Block company computers from accessing certain websites (e.g, social media, pornography, video streaming).
  • Prevent file-sharing or the transmission of classified data to a third party.

Some of these restrictions have to do with preventing employees from wasting time while they’re on the clock and/or utilizing company resources for personal projects.  However, a lot of them are actually security measures.  It’s very possible for an unsuspecting employee to accidentally download malware onto their business computer, especially by opening an innocent-looking email attachment or visiting an “unsafe” website.  And if an employee does have malicious intent, then stealing company secrets (like passwords) or insider information can be as simple as copying important files to a portable flash drive.

Hardware firewalls are typically much harder to compromise, and they can be programmed to give varying levels of security clearance to different computers on the network (for example, your bosses’ computer might be able to share files, but yours cannot).  This does come at the cost of the firewalls being more difficult to set up and manage, though, which is just one of the reasons that many large businesses have dedicated IT departments—or hire an IT expert when an issue arises!

Final Thoughts
Firewalls are invaluable tools for keeping the data on networked computers safe from outside threats.  Like a physical wall with dedicated security guards monitoring entry points, they help prevent unauthorized access or unscrupulous behavior from wreaking havoc on internet-enabled devices.  For more information on firewalls, other digital security measures, or IT networking help, give us a call at 817-756-2241.  Our trained specialists can help make sure that your private information stays private!



Photo Courtesy of Linux Screenshots on Flickr.

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