Ultimately, we all know that a firewall protects computers and data within a network, by blocking any malicious files attempting to gain access to the network or any individual device. But what many don’t know, is that there are different types of firewalls, all designed with specific strengths and weaknesses. Ask yourself, what do you really know about software firewall, hardware firewall, network firewall, and their natural progression to next generation firewall? For the network security minded reader, it’s important to know the subtle (and sometimes not to subtle) differences between the different types of firewalls, and what configuration will best protect your network from cyber threat.
In its most basic form, a firewall blocks network connections, be it website, email or files transfer, based on pre-set security policies put in place by network administrators. Firewall in all its forms is ultimately designed to protect data at rest and in transit. A firewall will also log data about network traffic, allowing administrators to closely monitor all activity, and stop attacks before they start. There are several different types of firewalls to choose from.
Why do Enterprises need Firewall?
It’s a common misconception that only large or multi-national enterprises need firewall. While this might have been true once, the rapid progression of cyber threat makes the use of a firewall non-negotiable for enterprises of all size. The recent pandemic has also done its part to move enterprises toward a more cloud-first, or digital cyber security strategy. The most recent “Cost of a Data Breach 2021” Ponemon study found that the cost of data breach rose to $4.24 million USD this year, proving that the need for network firewall is real and pressing.
A good firewall will go far beyond protecting your network from cyber criminals and hackers. Firewalls are used to collect security data on prevalent risks, and automate your protections. It also helps companies maintain compliance standards and fix networking issues that affect productivity. Finally, a good firewall will restrict access to potentially dangerous connections to unsafe sites using your network.
What is Software Firewall?
Software firewall is a firewall that is installed on a computer or server, and tasked with network security. It works with a wide variety of other technology security solutions to provide more robust and cohesive security for enterprises of all sizes.
When a software firewall is installed on a server, it opens up like an umbrella of protection over all other computers connected to the network. It is able to monitor both incoming and outgoing traffic for potential risk or suspicious user behaviour, and also makes setting security policies much easier, faster and more flexible.
This type of firewall is fast becoming in the solution of choice for many reasons. Enterprises love the lower initial cost with few restrictions on the number of devices to be protected. This type of firewall is also critical as it requires very little space (as a computer program), and can be installed remotely on any number of devices. It’s far different from its counterpart, the hardware firewall, which has many unique elements in its own right.
What is Hardware Firewall?
Hardware firewall is positioned between the network and devices, allowing traffic to funnel through the firewall for a close inspection and analysis. A hardware firewall, a term often interchangeable with network or next-generation firewall, protects the network gateways for an enterprise.
Hardware firewall is physical hardware, installed between network elements and connected devices, and is tasked with filtering traffic for cyber threat to the network or devices. Filtering out unauthorized or suspicious users based on traffic analysis is one of the biggest benefits of hardware firewall.
Hardware firewall is most often used by enterprises that need a higher level of security for all users and devices, and for safe connection to vital company data in any environment. Some enterprises choose this route because they have highly skilled IT experts on their staff to manage the firewall and hardware, and those businesses who require more granular control.
Hardware Firewall vs. Software Firewall
It’s important to be as educated as possible on the differences as you make this important choice. Let’s explore a few of the biggest differences between the two types of firewalls.
|Parameters||Software Firewall||Hardware Firewall|
|Broad vs. Granular Protection||Provides granular protection for all individual devices within the network.||Protects the network as a whole.|
|Complex vs. Simplicity||Simpler to set up, change, and maintain.||Requires skilled staff, and physical proximity to the data center.|
|High Cost vs. Low Cost||Cost little to deploy and maintain.||High initial investment in hardware, and a continued investment in skilled staff.|
|Inconvenient vs. Convenience||Software firewall is difficult to bypass, and has very little effect on user experience.||Hardware firewall is often bypassed by employees seeking faster, more reliable connection or access to certain restricted sites.|
|Expertise vs. Usability||Software firewall is easy to use and designed to be easily managed by anyone.||Hardware firewall require advanced IT knowledge to install and manage|
Benefits of a Software Firewall
If you aren’t sure which firewall solution is right for your enterprise, take a closer look at the benefits of a software firewall.
- Lower Cost - As hardware firewall is an actual hardware appliance, it is more expensive to install initially. Software firewall generally starts with free trials, and a low monthly fee. Over time, costs will rise with subscription fees and expansion, meaning it’s vital to budget for both your current and future needs.
- Space Restraints - Hardware firewall, as a physical appliance, takes up space and requires a temperature-controlled environment and access to a great deal of power. Software firewall is, well – software, meaning it has no physical footprint.
- Easy Installation - While hardware firewalls require skilled staff to set up and maintain, software firewalls are often set up in a few clicks.
- Professional & Corporate Licencing – working with a enterprise-quality software firewall gives you access to multi-user licenses and can work with a wide variety of third-party security solutions.
- Regular Updates – while updating a hardware firewall requires skilled technicians with boots on the ground in your data center, software firewall updates are done on all devices with the click of a button.
- Security Monitoring – Unlike hardware firewall, software firewall is designed to incorporate with your existing security solutions, meaning it can monitor inbound and outbound traffic for potential threat.
- Flexibility – it can be configured to flexibly or stringently apply security policies, and can easily pivot as security needs arise. The ability to limit access to particular applications or programs is another benefit of this type of firewall.
- Tailored – as it’s installed on devices like PCs or laptops, software firewall is far easier to remove or update, and goes with the device anywhere the device goes, as opposed to forcing the device to connect through a hardware firewall that isn’t nearly as accessible outside the enterprise.
Why do Enterprises need Software Firewall?
Let’s take a look at some of the pain points that enterprises are using software firewall to overcome.
- Risk of infiltration by hackers or malicious external users
- User access to unauthorized or unsafe websites or applications
- Malware and ransomware attacks
- Bandwidth allocation issues
- Risky virtual private network (VPN) access
- Unlimited device access
- A lack of network security automation and lack of skilled IT professionals
Why move to cloud?
Many incorrectly assume that being cloud-based means you don’t need to worry about firewall. This is entirely incorrect! Your cloud hosting provider will protect your business in the same ways they protect all their other cloud-clients, but your business is unique, and your needs are too. Software firewall is perfect for a cloud-first or cloud-smart strategy, offering the flexibility and granular control you need in a cloud environment. Using several real-life examples, Forbes encourages cloud adoption due to reduced costs, scalability, security, reliability, fast deployment and availability.
Another benefit of moving to the cloud, is the ability to deploy more powerful Next Generation Firewall (NGFW). Gartner defines this type of firewall as a deep-packet inspection focused product, designed to prevent intrusion through careful application-level inspection using threat intelligence.
3 Best Open-Source Software Firewall Options
Going the open-source route is advisable when you are smaller, lighter and have the desire to explore all your options without a big investment. Many enterprises find that they start with an open-source software firewall, and progress to more robust protections. Cyber Security News says that these are 3 of the best open-source software firewalls:
- PfSense – While it doesn't have web filtering, there are many options with PfSense. It can be installed on your VMs or hardware, or they have a preloaded option. The membership fees and support does cost $99 per year.
- Untangle Firewall – Untangle can easily installed on VMs and hardware, with options for both free and paid applications, there are many options for any budget and skill level. Preloaded is also available with Untangle, along with the fun name.
- OPNsense Firewall – OPNsense firewall has a versatile, web-based interface and numerous features. It’s a newcomer to the race for top-dog, but backed by inventor Manuel Kasper, it has moved quickly up the ladder.
Why work with Sangfor?
Sangfor’s Next Generation Application Firewall, or NGAF, is a powerful network firewall security device deployed to filter incoming and outgoing traffic for threats, secure the network from attackers, and provide security intelligence from outside the network. Sangfor NGAF provides a holistic view of the entire organizational security network, with ease of operation & maintenance for administration. For more information on how to work with Sangfor to achieve the highest quality network security on the market, visit us online at www.sangfor.com
What is Firewall?
A firewall is a network security device, physical or software, designed to monitor incoming and outgoing traffic from a network, stop malicious attacks and apply security policies and rules. It creates a barrier between your network and users, and the internet beyond.
What is Software Firewall?
Software firewall is installed on a computer or server, working with a wide variety of other IT security solutions to provide more robust and cohesive security for enterprises of all sizes.
What is Hardware Firewall?
Hardware firewall is a physical piece of equipment, positioned between the network and devices, allowing traffic to funnel through the firewall for a close inspection and analysis.
How do I protect enterprise IT Infrastructure?
Enterprises use software firewall to enforce IT infrastructure security policies, audit security data, and even to back-up data.
Do I need a software firewall if I have antivirus?
Yes, you want multiple layers of security for every device that enters your network. Anti-virus is becoming increasingly ineffective as malicious attacks become more sophisticated and common.
Does my SMB (Small and Medium Business) need a software firewall?
In a word, yes. The frequency of attacks against small and medium sized businesses is increasing. Attackers are focusing on smaller businesses with less robust security protections, and climbing the ladder to clients, users, customers or parent companies.