What is a firewall?

The internet can be a dangerous place without good online security measures in place. A fire­wall can keep away unauthorized traffic to protect your net­work and internet-connected devices. Read more and stay safe online.

Fire­walls have been used to improve safety long before the internet was even invented. How­ever, the purpose of these fire­walls was to help contain an actual fire from spreading inside a building. A digital fire­wall, on the other hand, monitors in­coming and out­going traffic.

Definition of a fire­wall

The task of a fire­wall is to let only safe traffic through it while blocking traffic that can pose a threat to cyber security. In a way, a fire­wall acts as a filter between a device, such as a desk­top computer, and an external net­work, such as the internet. A fire­wall blocks unauthorized traffic from coming both into and out of your computer.

For example, a fire­wall can block a hacker from breaking into your computer. It can also prevent a virus on your device from accessing the internet. How­ever, a fire­wall may also in mistake stop safe applications from working. Although a fire­wall is a great addition to your arsenal of cyber security measures, it is not enough alone in today’s online environment, full of hackers and malware.

Luckily most consumer devices have their own fire­walls, so you do not need to buy a separate fire­wall for your computer, for instance. Just make sure that the fire­wall on your device is up and running from the device’s settings. An anti­virus program, on the other hand, is some­thing every­one should get for their devices, as it is some­thing that is not often installed by default.

What is the difference between a fire­wall and an anti­virus?

In order to stay safe online, you need more than just a fire­wall. The most important cyber security tool is an anti­virus program. But how does it differ from a fire­wall? Although a fire­wall monitors and in some cases blocks traffic coming in and out of your device, it does not check what’s in that traffic. An anti­virus program, on the other hand, inspects down­loaded files and visited web­sites to see if they pose a threat to you and your device. If an anti­virus comes across something suspicious and potentially dangerous, it blocks the threat before it can cause any harm.

A common misconception is that the default fire­wall on your computer is enough to protect you. Although it does help, a fire­wall needs an anti­virus program to support it. As fire­walls often block traffic that can stop legitimate programs from functioning or prevent you from down­loading files, many users tend to make exceptions to their fire­wall’s rules or turn it off to avoid inconvenience.

When the fire­wall is turned off without an anti­virus to act as a backup, you are left completely defense­less against malware and hacking. With an anti­virus there to support you, you can safely turn off your fire­wall in order to down­load files or use programs that might be blocked by a fire­wall.

Do I need a fire­wall?

Whether you are an individual user or a large company, a fire­wall adds another layer of protection on top of other security measures, such as an anti­virus. Although the default programs on Windows and macOS devices offer protection against hackers and their attempts to attack you, the cyber security land­scape is always evolving and you need to be prepared for what­ever cyber criminals come up with.

For instance, a fire­wall:

  • Monitors traffic in your net­work. If the fire­wall identifies a threat, it blocks it from reaching your device.
  • Blocks harmful traffic in your net­work. If traffic in the net­work is identified as harmful, the fire­wall can stop it before any damage gets done.
  • Minimize the risk of malware infection. With a fire­wall, you can protect your device from being infected with malware, such as trojans, ransom­ware and spy­ware. How­ever, a fire­wall alone is not enough as your device may still get infected if not supplemented with an anti­virus.
  • Improves over­all security and privacy. All steps of protecting your privacy online and improving cyber security are worth taking. Using a fire­wall is one of these.

Although both a fire­wall and anti­virus have their strengths, you need both for more extensive online protection. After all, cyber security should always be multi-layered. Consider adding a VPN into the mix to browse securely and in private online.

Fire­walls for mobile and desk­top devices

Just like your desk­top computer, mobile devices have their own fire­walls too. On desk­top computers, Windows and macOS have their own fire­walls. The fire­wall on new desk­top computers running on Windows has Micro­soft Defender Fire­wall by default. The default fire­wall on macOS computers, on the other hand, needs to be turned on separately. This can be done from the device’s system settings.

Android mobile devices do not have their own fire­wall installed by default, but you can install one your­self. The same applies to iPhones running on iOS. Just make sure that the third-party fire­wall is one you can trust before installing any­thing.

Software, hardware and cloud-based fire­walls

We can make a distinction between soft­ware, hard­ware and cloud-based fire­walls. There are also different types of fire­walls that fit different purposes, based on how they work and who uses them.

Software fire­walls

A software fire­wall protects only a single device and is installed, as the name suggests, as soft­ware. Soft­ware fire­walls are a common choice for consumers as they are easy to install. In most cases, individual users also do not need to protect an entire net­work with multiple devices connected to it. How­ever, because of this, soft­ware fire­walls can be an insufficient solution for companies and other instances where a larger net­work needs to be protected.

Hardware fire­walls

As opposed to soft­ware fire­walls, hard­ware fire­walls come in the form of a physical device that is equipped with the needed software to block incoming harmful traffic. One benefit of a hard­ware fire­wall is that it allows the user to disable fire­walls running on the device that is being protected. The device’s own resources are no longer needed to run the fire­wall. It can also be used to control net­work traffic coming to multiple devices in the same net­work. How­ever, hard­ware fire­walls are a more expensive solution than ones running as soft­ware and may require some expertise to install and operate.

Cloud-based fire­walls

As the name suggests, a cloud-based fire­wall uses a cloud server to filter and block harmful traffic. The term fire­wall-as-a-service (FWaaS) is also used. Cloud-based fire­walls are a good choice for larger enter­prises that are looking to expand. They are also capable of dealing with large amounts of net­work traffic and securing multiple devices simultaneously.

Stay protected against online threats

For many, a fire­wall is the first — and only — line of defense in keeping their devices safe against threats coming from the internet. Instead of settling only on your device’s own fire­wall to protect you against online threats, strengthen your defenses with reliable online protection. F‑Secure TOTAL does more than just offer an advanced anti­virus for protecting your devices. It also comes with a versatile VPN and pass­word management tools.

Try F‑Secure TOTAL for free and experience every­thing you need to stay protected online.

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