Do I Need To Use A Hardware Firewall?

A dedicated hardware firewall provides a defense system that protects your IT infrastructure from unwanted intrusions.  Although, there are different types of firewalls, many organizations prefer to implement a dedicated hardware firewall.

A hardware firewall is required when there are more than three computers connected to a network.  When you have multiple PCs on a network and a fairly complex IT infrastructure, a hardware firewall is your best line of defense against unauthorized access.  Where a software firewall is considered to be a personal firewall installed on individual PCs, a hardware firewall is capable of protecting multiple devices on a network.  It also protects the hardware components required to run a network, in addition to applications used for daily business activity.

What is a Dedicated Hardware Firewall?

A dedicated hardware firewall is similar to a hardware firewall as it provides protection against unwanted intrusions. The main difference is a dedicated firewall is capable of protecting an entire network and is a single unit of hardware that is designed to protect your Local Area Network (LAN) or Virtual Local Area Network (VLAN).

A dedicated hardware firewall is positioned upstream from your servers and between the Internet and your network. It is configured with a set of rules for permitting specific traffic while blocking unwanted traffic.  The rules can be set to regulate traffic flow from both the incoming and outgoing standpoint, and can be configured for an entire network or a single server. If the firewall fails, then only the devices related to the firewall are affected.

See the Wikipedia page here for more information.

How Does a Dedicated Hardware Firewall Work?

A dedicated hardware firewall such as Cisco, WatchGuard, and Juniper, is an enterprise-class hardware appliance that is setup between your servers and the Internet.  The firewall is capable of providing advanced security protection and monitors every single packet of data that passes through the network.  The data packets are monitored for both inbound and outbound traffic and include monitoring of malicious data packets and unauthorized access attempts.

A dedicated firewall is configured and managed through a centralized control panel.  The panel contains tools that allow you to configure an unlimited number of rules for network traffic that passes through the firewall.  This includes rules for all business applications, email, web access, port usage, access privileges, and more.  A dedicated firewall is typically equipped with intrusion detection to enable it to identify and block unauthorized access that can be harmful to your network and devices.

When a dedicated firewall is enabled, it is capable of protecting all Internet Protocol (IP) addresses on the network, even if the IP addresses are located on different servers.  Additionally, you can translate one IP address into multiple addresses for use with a local range of services on an internal network.

What is the Difference between a Dedicated Hardware Firewall and a Shared Hardware Firewall?

A dedicated hardware firewall provides better protection than a shared hardware firewall.  When you implement a dedicated hardware firewall you can protect you network against IP spoofing by blocking intruders that are attempting to access the network using a spoofed IP address.  This is a method hackers use to gain unauthorized access to a dedicated server.

A dedicated hardware firewall is more effective in blocking brute force attacks on your network services.  A brute force attack involves repeated attempts to steal passwords to gain access to your network services.  This is typically carried out using specialized hacking software that keeps trying passwords until it guesses the correct one.

Ports also provide an opportunity for hackers to exploit the network.  A dedicated hardware firewall is capable of locking down ports to limit which ones are used by a dedicated server.  The locking feature also prevents remote exploitation by locking down specific applications, so only authorized users with specific IP addresses can access the application server remotely.  This rule also applies to administrators that access the network remotely for the purpose of monitoring and maintenance.

In contrast, a shared hardware firewall contains more basic configurations that provide basic protection.  The configurations include data packet exchange filtering between the server and the Internet and blocking of IP addresses that are sending an excessive amount of data packets in an effort to bring down your network.

A shared hardware firewall also creates a log of all incoming and outgoing traffic to enable you to set a limited amount of rules if certain types of traffic is causing server time outs and delays.  You can also close and open ports as needed, in addition to performing other basic configurations.

A shared hardware firewall does not offer the capability to configure specific hardcore rules as a dedicated firewall can.  The rules are rather basic in comparison which limits what you can do in terms of network protection.

Why Should You Implement a Hardware Firewall in the Workplace?

Many businesses implement a dedicated hardware firewall because it offers more detailed and sophisticated protection.  Dedicated hardware firewalls can handle both simple and complex configurations, and provide you with more control over the level of security you provide for your IT infrastructure.

Other advantages of implementing a hardware firewall in the workplace include:

  • Security Policies: A hardware firewall allows you to configure an unlimited number of security policies for inbound and outbound traffic, as well as network and application access privileges. This prevents problems associated with human error and provides strict rules for traffic activity within the organization.
  • Heuristic Blocking:  Instead of using generic blocking rules, a hardware firewall provides intelligent blocking of rogue URLs and IP addresses and other negative influences that are compiled by the firewall and placed in a status report. This allows you to experiment with issues to determine the best approach.
  • Advanced Settings:  Where other firewalls offers general settings, a hardware firewall is equipped with advanced settings that allow you to drill down to security specifics to provide netter protection for the network, connected computers and devices.  For example, if you have people in your organization that require remote access, you can configure the settings right down to the specific Internet Protocol number, port of access, and access permissions to a specific application.
  • Improved IP Control: A hardware firewall provides you with more control over IP addresses.  The configurations allow you to create an assignment for a single IP address or you can configure a range of IP addresses that are allowed to pass through the firewall. The configurations are more specific and can include port use and rules for controlling the routing of each IP address.  For example, IP address 1 could have access to any device on the network, IP address 2 may only be able to access one PC, and IP address 3 may only have permission to access their PC and a database application.
  • Wireless Access:  A hardware firewall is capable of being configured to detect rogue wireless access points.  The settings allow trusted devices to access the wireless network where anything else will trigger an alert.  You can set this configuration to perform scheduled scans for unwanted intrusions or it can scan for intrusions 24/7 365 days a year.

These are a few reasons why organizations use a dedicated firewall to protect an IT infrastructure and a workplace.  The more common reason is the ability to use advanced configurations to block malware attacks, Denial of Service (DoS) attacks that can crash a server, and unwanted intrusions such as backdoors that are designed to steal sensitive data and passwords through continuous access via a network vulnerability. 

Who Can Help You Setup and Manage Your Firewall?

There are established hardware firewall providers such as Cisco, WatchGuard and Juniper that can help you setup and manage a hardware firewall and advise you on configurations.  If going directly to the source proves to be too expensive then you can always outsource to a third party provider. Most IT organisations will employ a team of professionals with expertise in various areas of network security that assist with monitoring, managing, and maintaining network security including a hardware firewall. Speak to your existing provider, or search for Managed Firewall IT services providers on Google to find a local specialist. Our IT Department looks after firewall – www.ouritdept.co.uk

A managed firewall service can help you setup and configure a hardware firewall to meet specific security requirements that match the individual needs of your business.  Once the firewall is in place, you have access to a team of certified experts that can perform updates, security patch installations, and firewall testing for efficiency on a consistent basis.  This is especially important for medium-sized to larger enterprises where an out-of-the-box firewall does not provide the required protection.

Additionally, the established hardware firewall providers such as Cisco can provide you with a multifunction security appliance that provides an advanced hardware firewall, Intrusion Prevention System, and Virtual Private Network (VPN) services at an affordable cost. Managed firewall providers have the expertise onboard that can assist you with implementation, maintenance, management, and best practices for all of these services plus, any customized services you require for added security protection.

The Bottom Line

The bottom line is you can choose to implement cheaper firewall applications that only provide the basic coverage or you can choose to install a dedicated hardware firewall that provides advanced security protection. A network intrusion can be cost prohibitive for any organization. By using the right technologies you can protect your business from server attacks, network outages, and revenue loss by putting the right security technologies to work for your organization.

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David has worked in the technology procurement sector for over ten years. During this time he has served the small business sector, offering technology advise to small business owners and professionals.