Why your business needs a strong firewall

Five reasons why you should use a firewall

In the world of digital business, there’s no safety in being small when it comes to online threats.

Most businesses are connected to the Internet for an array of services namely email, social media and cloud storage. While much of this traffic is outbound, that the same Internet connection can allow inbound traffic. If you want to keep your customers’ data protected and avoid damage to your revenues and reputation, then a strong firewall is a good place to start.

Firewalls have been a first line of defence in network security for over 25 years. They establish a barrier between secured and controlled internal networks that can be trusted and untrusted outside networks, such as the Internet. Here’s why firewalls are essential to small business security.

1. Securing databases

Websites and mobile applications all require some sort of back-end database system to run. For example, if a website has a mailing list sign-up form, then each online submission is sent from the user’s browser to the site’s database. The web server will need to communicate with the database in order to create and update records, however this does not mean external users or systems should have direct access to that layer of information. Otherwise business may be at risk of suffering from a SQL injection attack, where a hacker will manipulate a website to expose back-end data. Implementing a firewall is one of the best ways to keep back-end databases safe and secure.

2. Access control

A firewall operates at the network layer and recognises incoming requests based on their internet protocol (IP) address. When setting up access controls with a firewall, businesses must decide whether to start with open or closed access. With open access, all external IP addresses can send traffic to a network except for ones that are explicitly blocked. Closed access is the opposite, with all traffic blocked except for selected IP addresses. A small business will want to allow open access to its public-facing website, so that outside visitors can browse to it. However, the back-end servers managing the site and related applications should have stricter controls. In most cases, a firewall should be set up to protect the business and its website.

3. Virus protection

Modern firewalls do more than just filter network traffic based on IP addresses. One of their other primary advantages is the ability to detect and block malicious network requests. The primary focus for firewalls is typically on the HyperText Transfer Protocol (HTTP). However, today’s strongest firewalls also offer protection through the Simple Mail Transfer Protocol (SMTP). For example, businesses can add firewall security to an email server and let it check for dangerous viruses and attachments that could be spread through incoming messages.

4. Protecting local networks

Hackers are always looking for ways to infiltrate organisations through a single computer. Protecting back-end servers is critical to ensuring the security of business data. However if you leave your local ethernet and wireless networks exposed then you are creating just as much risk. In addition to IP address filtering, firewall tools provide the option to control which network ports are enabled or blocked for computers on your local network. HTTP communication occurs over port 80 (or port 443 for encrypted connections with HTTPS). Leaving all ports open on a workstation can result in the computer being hacked or infected with a virus.

5. Monitoring and alerting

In principle firewall systems operate like traffic lights, they either let network requests through to their destination or block them from passing into the local network. Some systems offer advanced functionality like robust monitoring and alerting.With a firewall solution, businesses can turn on a monitoring and alerting system to record all incoming network activity and identify patterns that occur. This is helpful because the longer the firewall is in place and the more data it records, then the better the system gets at detecting and blocking threats.

The bottom line

A firewall is everything. With all of the above taken into account, it’s worth considering what a firewall cannot do. We’ve already mentioned malware, which encompasses the whole gamut of Trojans, viruses, worms, etc. While a firewall should block backdoor access via a Trojan this can be bypassed. You should always check the security of your internet connection in multiple ways. But firewalls cannot tackle viruses, worms, keyloggers, and other malware. A firewall must be used in conjunction with an anti-virus tool.