There is a lot of confusion surrounding computers and computer security which tends to flare up every time there is a high profile incident (such as the recent break in at Ashley Madison). During the few days surrounding the latest virus or security scare, we usually receive many calls to our help desk and sales team asking if this sort of thing could happen to them, if they’re protected, and what would happen if they weren’t. The truth is that it’s impossible to be immune to every threat out there. But in almost every case, it’s also possible to be better prepared for what might be the next one.
So what exactly are firewalls?
Unfortunately, I’m going to have to be a little vague at first with my answer because it’s not an immediately straightforward one. A firewall in it’s most basic sense, is something that network traffic passes through before reaching somewhere else, which makes a decision on what to pass through, and what not to pass through. Think of it like a pool skimmer that filters out all the junk on the internet.
In order to read this article, you’ve likely passed through quite a few firewalls already. But the two that almost every one of you will have in common will be your router and your computer. Your router and computer are almost always very basic firewalls. What they will usually decide is what ports are open or closed on your network and computer. In other words, it simply controls if doors are open or closed and makes no effort to see who or what is going through. It would be like the border between the US and Canada being open at Niagara and closed in Vancouver. No border guards. It’s a simple blocking mechanism that will usually just protect you from computers that scan the internet looking for the most basic open security holes. It's basic, and it's better than nothing, but border guards are absolutely essential.
The firewalls we’re going to chat about though are dedicated firewalls. These guys are the private security firm of your workplace. They are the super elite border security team that has the technology and the resources to inspect every single package and vehicle passing through every single gate. They look at everything and decide if it's OK to pass through or not.
Where the computer and router fall down (such as webpages you’re browsing) is where the hardware firewall picks up the slack. It will inspect every packet, every page you browse to, the programs passing data through, and go through them with a fine tooth comb to ensure you have complete control and knowledge of what passes through the network.
If you are interested in finding out more about Firewalls, keep an eye out for Part 2 or contact us here.