Is the mess of cords and cables in your server room weighing heavy on your mind? Whether or not you rely on a managed services provider (MSP) to keep your IT systems organized and in check, you have a responsibility as a business owner to understand the hardware that keeps everything running.
Misinformation about firewalls is one of the most common issues we see at Anderson Technologies. When asked “Do you have a firewall?” most business owners will emphatically respond “Yes!” without realizing that they’re unfamiliar with the hardware that they think is safeguarding their company. That dusty router in the corner of the phone closet or server room probably isn’t doing much more than its job, which is definitely not to protect your network.
We’ve previously written about the differences between hardware and software firewalls, and Anderson Technologies always recommends an enterprise-grade hardware firewall for businesses under our care. But don’t let that be the extent of your knowledge!
Below we’ve compiled a quick guide to understanding the nuances of your firewall and related equipment. By using the tips below, you’ll have an extra level of familiarity when discussing your hardware options with your MSP or teaching your employees proper cyber security protocol, as when striving for HIPAA compliance.
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- Get to Know Your ISP
You might be asking, “What does my internet service provider (ISP) have to do with my firewall?” The answer to this question varies greatly depending on your network setup. When asked about firewalls, many business owners automatically point to their internet modem or router, and misinformation from ISPs and previous MSPs are to blame.
Most home networks don’t have or require a separate hardware firewall, because the modem and/or router provided by your ISP may have a basic one built in—that is, if it’s configured correctly (more on configuration in #2). Businesses, on the other hand, almost certainly require a more robust level of protection in the form of a hardware firewall. Though HIPAA’s security standard §164.308(a)(5) doesn’t explicitly state the particular hardware necessary to protect against malicious software, having a trustworthy firewall can help and is well worth the investment beyond regulation compliance.
Your ISP factors into the firewall equation at a very basic level. After all, if you don’t have an internet connection, what is your firewall protecting? Your MSP can easily adjust things like wireless access points and device connections, but if there’s a problem with the internet itself there’s not much we can do. Whether you’re using your wireless router’s built-in firewall or an enterprise-grade Meraki, that stream of internet flowing into your business relies solely on your ISP.
Along with your IT services provider, your ISP is a partner and resource when it comes to the technical workings of your business. Always have your ISP’s contact information handy in case a security or performance problem is coming from the foundation of your network—the internet itself.
- Configure, Configure, Configure!
Configuration is a term that tends to scare those who don’t consider themselves “tech-savvy,” but at its root, configuration is nothing more than telling your devices how to work.
Think about it this way: when you bring your new smartphone home, it won’t have any of your personal settings or information. Maybe the menu text is too small to read, or the brightness and sound aren’t set to your liking right out of the box. Fixing these settings may take some general knowledge about how the phone works, and possibly some investigation and deduction. But once you’ve changed all the settings to fit your lifestyle, the phone will be working for you and not the other way around.
Configuring your firewall and other network equipment works pretty much the same way, but with nuances that might require outside IT services. Firewall configuration determines which user accounts can manage the firewall’s settings, which computers can access different layers of confidential data, and any other restrictions you need to implement. After this, your firewall will know exactly how to act in a way that meets your business’s individual needs. Guides on configuring your firewall on your own aren’t difficult to find, but when it comes to your business’s firewall, if you feel unsure about how to program it, consulting with a professional is recommended.
- Bolster Your Network—Inside and Out
Businesses are prey to targeted attacks more than ever, according to Symantec’s 2019 Internet Security Threat Report. Cyber criminals are stealthier in how they infiltrate networks and know how to take advantage of any weakness. Your firewall serves as your network’s dedicated bodyguard, but what is a bodyguard without backup when trouble arises? Supplement your firewall with both inside and outside reinforcements.
Network protections from the inside include intrusion prevention systems (IPS), robust antivirus/antimalware software, and protective buffers like Proofpoint or multi-factor authentication (MFA). If a cyber threat circumvents the firewall by entering your network from the inside—such as from unregulated permissions or compromised or unpatched software—security software can mitigate the damage. Inside protection also includes ransomware detection and data backups in case the worst happens.
What about protections outside your firewall? Those can be more difficult to implement, if only because they deal with the most vulnerable factor in any security network—humans. Email filtering tools (like Proofpoint) and internet content filtering software (CFS) can screen most of the potential threats that present themselves to your employees. But all it takes is one employee opening one spammy link from a spear phishing email, and your whole network becomes victim to a targeted attack. Everyone on your team needs to have the same awareness, goals and training because firewalls can only do so much on their own.
Firewalls are amazing investments that can save your business hundreds of thousands in the long run by preventing devastating cyber attacks. It’s important to know what’s going on beyond all those cables, circuit boards, and blinking lights. And when someone asks if you have a firewall, you’ll be able to confidently point out the device and know your network is protected.