In IT security there are a lot of words which are regularly bandied about, like firewall, virus, cookies and malware, but not everyone outside the industry really knows what these things are or why they are important.

When it comes to cybersecurity, these are more than just buzz words and understanding them forms a fundamental part in protecting your data from criminals. A firewall is every bit as important as antivirus software in keeping your and your client data safe.

But what exactly is a firewall?

In short a firewall is a security device which monitors network traffic both inbound and outbound. There are a number of rules integrated into the software which identify and block any traffic which could be considered malicious or dangerous.

For the majority of small businesses and home users a firewall will be a piece of software which is loaded onto a particular device but for larger, networked organisations it is more likely to be in the form of hardware. Hardware firewalls can be integrated into a router or act as standalone devices.  

What does a firewall do?

A firewall acts as a breaker between your PC or a network and the internet, and analyses everything that goes in and out to ensure there is nothing potentially harmful. It’s the equivalent of having a chain on an open door – without it, access is a free for all, but with it you have the first step in protecting your data.

The majority of computers come with a built-in firewall, but the settings can be personalised to ensure only traffic from ‘safe’ sites is allowed. That explains why when using the office computer there are often blocks on shopping sites for example.

It can also be set up to prevent certain types of traffic when using a public network or a home/business network for example.

What happens if I don’t have one? Do I really need one?

When Windows XP first was released it didn’t have an in-built firewall which meant as soon as the device was connected to the internet it was infected within minutes. Therefore, as part of their Service Pack 2 they provided a default firewall.

Disabling a firewall is bad news – and it is surprising how many legitimate companies may suggest disabling the firewall if there are problems accessing their particular website. Never do this.

There are ways of disabling certain ports on a firewall if accessing a particular site which is blocked is necessary, but it should be carefully managed.

Additionally, to perform some software updates, it is necessary to disable the firewall, but if this is the case then it is advisable to disconnect from the internet first.

If you do disable the firewall you are essentially opening the doors for any kind of traffic (inbound and outbound) and it won’t be long before your machine and anything it is networked to is infected with malware, viruses or ransomware.

Disabling the firewall makes it easier for cybercriminals to gain access to your data. If you disable it on a single machine then only that machine will be affected, but if a hardware firewall is disabled then every machine on that network is at risk.

What next?

If you are uncertain what firewall your systems are currently using and would like to know how you can make your network even safer then speak with SupportWise today to see how we can help you protect yourself from cybercriminals. Why not give us call, send us an email or fill in the form on our contact page?