Firewall Software

Firewall software protects networks and users from malicious online threats such as hackers or malware. These solutions ensure that all devices within a network are secure, minimizing the risk of data breaches. Common features include the ability to manage user access to a network, administrator alerts for unauthorized access attempts, and the ability to automate security testing and monitoring.  Read the full software guide...

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What is Firewall Software?

Firewall software is a type of IT solution used to protect a private network, including the computers and other devices connected to it, from malicious programs and other external threats.

The main reason for having a firewall software program installed on a private network server, personal computer or any mobile device is to increase network security and protect against unauthorized access to the internet, intrusion from dangerous malware and viruses, potential security breaches and other forms of attack coming from outside the network. If you have an internet connection, you will want some type of firewall to help protect your computer and other connected devices against external threats.

The most common firewall software is the one built into all Microsoft Windows operating systems, the Windows firewall. Like some of the best firewall systems in the market, it is fairly capable of securing your private network connection and protecting your devices against malware by preventing unauthorized programs from getting unrestricted access to the internet. Think of firewalls as digital barriers that protect your computer from malicious programs, hackers and other forms of cyber threats.

Firewall software solutions can come in either software or hardware form, but both types are capable of providing robust internet security. They provide strong fortification between private networks or LANs (local area networks) and the potential threats coming from the World Wide Web and other outside sources. IT specialists and network administrators configure the level of firewall protection to meet specific system requirements, making sure no data within the private network is vulnerable. Once configured and implemented, IT managers will monitor the network using firewall tools to ensure network security.

Small businesses with basic LAN setups and personal computers on a home private network will rarely need a hardware-based firewall solution. More often than not, a standard Windows firewall should suffice for such use cases. On the other hand, larger companies with more complex network infrastructures may utilize hardware firewalls within their systems in order to restrict access to the internet, to external networks or other departmental systems.

Most firewall software solutions will have severe overlap with other systems, including web security software and network security software. This is mainly because such products are primarily designed to secure the integrity of private network systems and network data. Some firewall software products may be equipped with anti-malware solutions and vulnerability management tools designed to detect, identify and combat threats.

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Types of Firewall Software

Firewall software works as an electronic filter that stands between your personal computer or private network and the World Wide Web. The firewall on each computer or device can be programmed using firewall configuration tools to keep specific web traffic in or out the secured network connection. Firewalls also scrutinize every single message that goes through it, effectively blocking messages that do not meet the predefined network security standards.

For instance, firewall software can be configured, on the outbound side, to keep employees from sending out sensitive corporate data outside the secured network. Conversely, on the inbound side, firewall systems can be set to prevent user access to certain IP addresses, specifically addresses associated with social media sites and other websites irrelevant to the day-to-day operations of the company. Firewalls can be categorized based on the methods used to control or filter traffic going in and out of a private network.

Proxy service firewall

The proxy service firewall protection method has all the computers and other devices within the private network connected to a proxy service. When a request is created to pass in or out of the firewall, the proxy initiates a new network connection that is based on the request’s content, thus removing any direct connection or packet transfer on both sides of the firewall. This approach has all network IP addresses effectively masked or hidden.

Packet filtering firewall

Packet filtering refers to the type of firewall protection that analyzes small pieces of data as they go through a set of filters. The filters are configurable and can be modified by the user. The small pieces of data or packets that meet the filter criteria can go through the firewall without issue. Those that do not, however, are effectively discarded. The filter criteria for outbound packets may differ from the inbound ones, depending on how the network security is set by the network manager.

Stateful inspection firewall

Stateful inspection is a relatively recent firewall protection standard. It is a network security approach that initiates constant monitoring of communications packets over a specific period of time. For instance, outbound packets that request specific types of inbound packets are constantly monitored in real time. Only inbound packets or pieces of data that constitutes the appropriate response to the request will be allowed to pass through the firewall. Firewall software that utilizes this method of network protection is often called next-generation firewall or NGFW.

Appliance vs. client-based firewalls

A client-based firewall is what you would refer to as a firewall software solution. It is installed on all the devices within a private network for the purposes of monitoring data traffic. An appliance firewall, on the other hand, is the physical or hardware version of the firewall software. An appliance firewall comes in the form of a physical device that is positioned between a user’s local or private network and an external or public network like the internet.

Normally, a hardware-based firewall is used in network environments with multiple computers and devices that share the same network connection. Client-based firewall software is ideal for users that want to personalize firewall security levels and customize permissions for individual devices within a separate network.

How to Choose Firewall Software

The most effective approach to finding the right firewall software for your specific use case is to take a closer look at the product’s features, capabilities and other functions it has to offer. Does it meet most of your network security requirements or do you find it lacking in certain aspects? The following are some of the important features that have to come with whatever firewall solution you pick:

Custom restriction capabilities

Custom restriction allows network managers and admins to efficiently manage how users get access to the internet and what websites or network servers they are allowed to access. This is a pretty important function in any firewall software solution and a vital part of the firewall protection process. Access restrictions can be customized according to company policies in relation to network security. For example, the firewall can be set to prevent users from accessing non-business-related websites or IP addresses and servers that are known to possess malicious programs and other threats.

Automation technology

Another key factor you have to consider is how the firewall software solution utilizes automation technology. One of the main advantages of implementing a robust firewall protection system is having the ability to automate some of the more mundane tasks associated with network management and administration. Good firewall software has the power to automate specific tasks like packet monitoring and rules-testing. This leaves admins ample time to focus on other aspects of network security.

Access and authentication control

Firewall software serves as the gatekeeper for network connection access to user devices and the World Wide Web. The software provides access control to network managers. With this feature, admins can configure the access and authentication rules to only allow authorized devices/users to connect to the private network. Once connected, the device/user will only be able to access the servers, applications and data pertinent to their role within the organization. Filtered out websites and external sources will still be restricted.

The above features are available in most top-tier firewall software products on the market. However, you may also find them in a number of free firewall software solutions. If you’re looking to minimize the cost of firewall protection without sacrificing its effectiveness and functionality, you can check out a few good free firewalls that are available. Several good examples of free firewall solutions are Comodo Firewall and ZoneAlarm free firewall. The free versions of Comodo and ZoneAlarm are equipped with enough features to provide decent firewall protection for a small private network.

Benefits of Firewall Software

Gaining a better understanding of the benefits of implementing the right firewall software is a good start in ensuring more robust network security for your private network, regardless of whether it’s for business purposes or personal. The following are a couple of the main benefits of firewall protection systems:

It constantly monitors network traffic

Even free firewall software solutions have the ability to constantly monitor network traffic. They automatically detect and restrict access requests that do not meet the network security standards set by the network admins. The software solutions not only monitor network traffic, they also record and analyze the data passing through the system between sources.

It mitigates attacks from viruses and other malicious programs

The fact of the matter is this is the main reason why you need good firewall software—to keep viruses and other malicious programs out of your private network. Sure, viruses and malware may slip through the cracks from time to time, but having a good firewall as the first line of defense is way better than having no line of defense at all, don’t you agree?

Common Features of Firewall

2-Factor Authentication Adds an additional layer of security by requiring an extra step in the login process. Usually external devices are required for this or a text message with a verification code is sent to the user when trying to login.
Anti-Virus Protect yourself against viruses and other forms of malware by detecting system intrusions and other harmful or fraudulent behaviour.
Bug Tracking Log and track issues to capture, report and monitor bugs for the purposes of software development and maintenance.
Dashboard Dashboards are digital interfaces commonly used to visualise data or give quick access to important features and functions of online platforms. They often serve as an overview gateway in software applications.
Data Export Exporting functionality can be used to streamline the migration of data sets and information across systems, platforms or applications.
Data Import Importing functionality allows you to use data sets from other systems or platforms to cut down on data entry requirements or to more easily migrate records from similar applications you have used in the past.
Data Visualization Data visualization features render a visual interpretation of data sets through the use of charts, infographics and other visual cues generally in form of a reporting dashboard.
DDoS Protection Protection against direct denial of service (DDOS) attacks, ensuring website uptime.
External Integrations Integrations with other software products or platforms to improve efficiency and compatibility across systems.
Firewall Protect systems against viruses, breach attempts and other malicious behaviour exhibited by hackers or employees through the use of firewalls.
Malware Protection Protect your computer from malware, viruses and worms.
Multi-User Supports more than just one user account and generally allows for collaboration with colleagues.
Network Device Performance Monitoring Measure and monitor the performance of device within your network
Network Traffic Monitoring Monitor traffic within your network and with external sources.
Network Visualization Emulate networks and virtual endpoints within your network
Notifications Includes notification support and sends you alerts with information on important events and other time sensitive instances. For example through push notifications on mobile phones or email notifications.
Password & Access Management Manage passwords or access to systems for yourself or your organisation.
Real-time Alerts Provides important, relevant updates to the user.

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