Curious about firewalls and why they’re important for your network? Learn about them in our new explainer.
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.
Does your organization or small business have a firewall?
The answer is “yes,” right? If you use the internet, you’ve got to have a firewall! Don’t computers come with them?
Our 2017 audit of St. Louis small businesses found that, while most of the businesses and organizations we surveyed did in fact have a hardware firewall, 100% were not operating optimally. According to a 2018 Sophos whitepaper, 84% of survey respondents agreed that lack of effective application of firewalls was a serious security concern.
A number of businesses think their answer to the firewall question is “yes,” but after investigation, the real answer is revealed to be “not at all” or “only a software firewall.”
Unfortunately, lack of firewall awareness is a trend that continues into 2019.
Firewalls, one of the most important facets of digital security, are often misunderstood and frequently taken for granted. In computing, a firewall is not a wall meant to confine fires within a building, but a digital wall meant to segment networks and protect sensitive information.
Are you beginning to wonder about the state of your firewall? The rest of this article will serve as a brief primer on firewalls, including six questions to ask your IT division or managed services provider to discover just how well that firewall is doing its job.
Hardware Firewall vs. Software Firewall
With hackers, viruses, ransomware and malware compromising computer systems worldwide, every small business needs a hardware firewall. Firewalls provide enhanced IT security to protect your technology from attack, blocking unauthorized access while still allowing legitimate users access to the systems and data necessary to perform their jobs. They are an essential part of any properly designed IT protection plan.
But why a hardware firewall?
The problem with software firewalls is that they exist on the same network where sensitive data is stored. A hacker hitting this firewall has already penetrated your network. Yes, the software firewall does offer limited protection for a single computer, but it is nowhere near enterprise-grade. A hardware firewall, on the other hand, is a completely separate piece of hardware that stands guard at the perimeter of the network and prevents access.
Once you can confidently answer “yes” to having both a hardware and software firewall in place, keep your business safe by asking the following six questions about your firewall.
Six Questions about Your Firewall
- Is my firewall really protecting me?
Anderson Technologies performs an infrastructure analysis at the start of every new client engagement, and we’re surprised by the number of businesses vulnerable to cyber security risks. This is often due to the lack of a firewall (when the business owner thinks they have one) or insufficient and/or out of date configuration of an existing firewall, which results in inadequate protection of systems and data.
- Can it handle the latest security threats?
Because new cyber security threats are developed and launched every day, your firewall’s firmware needs to be continuously updated. It should be tested on a regular schedule to ensure that security flaws are patched by the manufacturer and protected against the latest threats.
- Is my firewall monitored?
Firewalls are not a “set it and forget it” device. Ongoing monitoring of a security appliance like a firewall is vital to understanding what kind of threats your business is exposed to and how often intrusion attempts are made. Knowing if and when your system is under attack allows you to marshal the proper response. Monitoring provides this valuable insight.
- Does its configuration both protect my vital systems and allow my employees to do their work efficiently with minimal interference?
Many firewalls are installed with limited configuration and too often are set to the manufacturer’s defaults. This can lead to cyber security vulnerabilities, unnecessary exposure, and business risk. Firewalls must be configured for the particular business environment they are being installed within to provide maximum security with optimal functionality.
- Is my firewall running effectively?
Blocking malicious attacks requires a firewall to perform many system-intensive background tasks. It needs enough processing power to not only handle the internet provider’s speeds but also efficiently run necessary protection processes while maintaining optimal performance. If your firewall is older, it could actually be causing a “bottleneck” on your network and slowing down your business’s productivity.
- Is my firewall equipment up to the task?
Not all hardware firewalls are created equally! Some manufacturers garner industry recognitions and awards for their security technology and constant innovations while others do the bare minimum. The latter companies lack enterprise-level support and fail to update their hardware to protect against the latest evolving threats. Make sure you have the right equipment to protect your business.
If you can answer these six questions positively, your firewall is likely performing well and protecting your systems and data from attack. If not, we’d love to help. If you suspect your business is vulnerable to attack and would like assistance analyzing options and developing a secure firewall solution, schedule a consultation by contacting us or calling 314.394.3001.