Understanding Your Firewall

As a small business owner, at some point someone has probably told you that you need a Firewall to protect your business. But protect it from who? How? What does having a Firewall really mean? More importantly, is this information you really need to know?

If this is what you think of when someone says Firewall, you should probably keep reading.

Rather than go into all of the technical details, we’re going to discuss the basics that will help you to make a smart, informed decisions to protect your business from cyber threats.

Alright, so what does a Firewall actually do and do I really need one?

You can think of it as a protective barrier that surrounds your network. It stands between your computers and the internet and is designed to keep the bad guys out. Firewalls have only one entrance and exit for information to pass, with a security guard who inspects everything before letting it in or out.

Sounds like a secret military base, doesn’t it? That’s kind of the point.

Keeping your data protected is important, whether its finances, case files, ePHI, inventory, payroll, employee information, or whatever. All of this information has a dollar value attached to it and hackers are looking for the path of least resistance in order to make a profit. Not having a Firewall for your business is like putting out the welcome mat and asking for your data to be stolen. So yes, you absolutely need one.

Doesn’t my internet service provider give me a Firewall?

Most routers come with a Firewall, but not all Firewalls are created equal. This is where we’re going to get into some of the more technical information.

Information travels around the network in packets through the Transport Control Protocol (TCP). You can think of your network as a system of freeways connecting your computers, and the TCP packets as delivery trucks that carry the data from place to place. The TCP packets have a header which contains control information about the source and destination, as well as the data. This control information identifies the sender and receiver and requires the receiver to send an acknowledgement back to the sender before delivering the data. This is just like the UPS driver requiring a signature before handing over your Amazon package.

As we mentioned before, the Firewall acts like a security guard, inspecting the Amazon package to make sure it’s safe before the UPS driver delivers it to you.

A Firewall can be hardware or software based. A hardware Firewall stands between the internet and your network. A software Firewall stands between a single computer and the internet. The problem with a software Firewall is that they don’t have the ability to share an internet connection with multiple computers in a network, so if you have a business, you need a hardware Firewall.

Okay, so I need a hardware Firewall, what about that one that comes with my internet?

This comes down to features. The Firewall that comes with your internet will be able to perform inbound and outbound filtering. This basic function means that it will examine the TCP packets and determine whether or not that information can pass through based on filters or rules. Back to our analogy, it’s like having a security guard with a checklist, and if he checks all the boxes, the UPS driver gets through. Done.

But that’s all these Firewalls are going to do and in today’s world of cybercrime, that’s just not enough.

What else do I need? Well…a lot. Instead of a security guard with a checklist, you want a highly trained secret service agent protecting your network.

Stealth Mode
Stopping the package from being delivered is great, but you don’t want these criminals to even know where you live. Stealth mode will hide your computer so that it doesn’t even look like you’re connected to the internet. A security guard with a  checklist isn’t going to be able to do that for you, a secret service agent can. Hackers aren’t going to continue trying to target your network if they don’t think your online.

Privacy Protection
Imagine sitting at your desk talking about this recent potato chip craving and you turn and see an ad for Pringles on Facebook. Creepy isn’t it? Determining your wants and needs is key in today’s marketing world and there’s lots of software out there that will collect that information on you. Do you want to stop this spyware and adware from reaching your computer? A security guard with a checklist isn’t going to do that. Features that protect your computer from being infected with software that reveals private information about you and your computing habits is bundled into the more advanced Firewalls.

Sure a security guard with a checklist is going to turn deliveries away at the gate, but they aren’t going to necessarily tell you about it. Getting notification that the same UPS driver keeps coming back with packages from the same sender will tell you that your network is being targeted. Hackers are smart, if they want to break into your network they are going to change up their tactics to try to fool your security guard, but if you have a secret service agent working for you, you’ll receive notifications and then you have a much better chance of stopping them.

Intrusion Detection
As we mentioned, hackers are smart, so you want a smart secret service agent working for you. Firewalls that scan all incoming packages for known intrusion methods will be able to do more than just turn away the delivery drivers, they’ll pick up on these tricks and let you know which ones they’ve seen. Knowing that someone is trying to breach your network is good, knowing HOW they are trying to breach your network is even better.

Application Integrity
Even secret service agents can only do so much. When you get that panicked email from Netflix or Paypal or Apple telling you to click on a link to “resolve a account that has big problem” ignoring the weird email address and the bad grammar to click on it (if you don’t know what we’re talking about, please READ our Phising BLOG next). Having a Firewall with Application Integrity will identify the malware you just installed on your computer and send an alert. People make mistakes, it happens, knowing about the problem helps to identify it before it gets out of control.

Now that you understand the basics of your Firewall, you’re in a better position to make decisions about your cyber security. Of course, having a good Firewall is only part of the battle. Setting up rules, monitoring logs, identifying threats, adjusting the rules, conducting forensics on compromised systems, and reporting these attempts are only some of the practices needed to stay safe. It sounds like a lot, but that’s why we’re here.