Are All Firewalls the Same? What Are the Differences?
For most people in lockdown during the global pandemic, the internet acts as the connective thread to the rest of the world and society at large. With home users typically relying on ISP-supplied equipment to connect to the internet, chances are their internal network is protected by a router/modem/firewall combination.
Malicious actors have increased their activity by 600% due to the pandemic. With this critical network device, home users have some degree of protection against any number of cyber threats lurking on the internet.
What Is a Firewall and Who Needs One?
Available as hardware or software, a firewall functions as a protective layer between the user’s internal network and external traffic. This security barrier is crucial since, at any given time, a network connected to the internet will be bombarded by numerous malicious connection attempts.
Alarmingly, cyberattacks occur every 39 seconds. For home users, a good number of these attempts will be successful. A firewall monitors these attempts and allows valid traffic to pass while blocking suspicious traffic and known bad external hosts. For both businesses and home users alike, a hardware-based network firewall functions as the first line of defense against cyberattackers, preventing internal networks and IT assets from being compromised by external malicious actors.
Are All Firewalls the Same?
As mentioned previously, firewalls are available in both hardware and software forms. In the case of a software firewall, an application such as Windows Defender sits on the host computer and actively monitors and blocks connections. For macOS users, OS X 10.5.1 and up includes an application firewall that enables them to control desktop connections on a per-application basis.
Software firewalls can be considered somewhat secondary in terms of necessity, but hardware firewalls should definitely not be. In fact, they are without a doubt the most critical security device in an IT environment, be it home, office, or home office.
When ordering internet service for the first time, users will typically receive a hardware firewall or router from the ISP to facilitate quick and secure customer onboarding. The best strategy for achieving and maintaining a strong security posture is one that takes a layered approach. Having both hardware and software firewalls in place is not uncommon for vigilant individuals and firms.
What Are the Different Types of Firewalls?
In general, firewalls can be classified as either software or hardware-based. That said, they can actually be further grouped by how they operate under the hood. The following are five firewall types classified by how they provide protection to internal IT environments or networks.
Packet Filtering Firewall
Packet filtering provides the most basic protection to internal networks by simply checking all data going through the device. If suspicious packets are detected, they are dropped.
Circuit-level gateways are also fairly rudimentary. They only verify the User Datagram Protocol (UDP) and Transmission Control Protocol (TCP) handshakes. If the session is deemed illegitimate, the packet is dropped.
Application-level gateways provide a layer of obfuscation to internet network devices by acting as a proxy for the network’s application servers. As such, they are also referred to as proxy firewalls. These devices effectively prevent direct access to internal systems from external hosts on the internet.
Stateful Inspection Firewall
Combining the best of packet filtering firewalls and circuit-level gateways, stateful inspection firewall devices integrate real-time data analysis with TCP handshake verification. It’s worth noting that these gains come at a price—namely, more compute and memory resources.
Next-Generation Firewall (NGFW)
Next-generation firewall (NGFW) is a catch-all term that describes a new class of network firewalls designed to protect against advanced threats and cyberattacks. These firewall devices combine best-in-class hardware with features such as intrusion detection and prevention system (IDPS), artificial intelligence/machine learning (AI/ML)-based anomaly detection, third-party threat intelligence feeds, and secure remote access, to name a few.
Which Type of Firewall Is Most Powerful?
Clearly, by combining the above protective measures in one device, NGFWs are equipped to provide the most advanced level of firewall protection. NGFW security goes beyond access control to include protection against advanced malware, application-layer attacks, and other types of more sophisticated threats.
As a powerful add-on feature, some NGFWs include an IDPS for detecting more sophisticated anomalies such as social engineering-based attacks, deviations from baseline network activity, and more.
Do Firewalls Need to Be TAA-Compliant?
The short answer is yes—if they are to be included as part of a government contract or procurement schedule. The Trade Agreements Act (TAA) requires all parties involved in government contract bidding to validate that their end products were manufactured or substantially transformed either in the US or a TAA-certified country.
For instance, if a firewall device is intended for a government project, the bidding parties must prove one of the following:
- The firewall device was manufactured in the US or a TAA-compliant country.
- The device’s components are substantially transformed into the final end product in the US or a TAA-compliant country.
Though the TAA’s intent is to foster fairness and transparency in global trade, the end results are TAA-compliant devices that are both safer and of higher quality. For this reason, companies in the market for firewalls often will look to TAA compliance as a measure of quality.
SonicWall, a leading hardware firewall vendor, offers SonicWall TAA compliance information on its Federal Government Cybersecurity page. Similarly, Fortinet TAA information can be found on the Fortinet TAA compliance page, while Barracuda Networks compliance information is available on the Barracuda Federal Government page.
2020 saw a record number of cyberattacks impacting both businesses and consumers alike. Strong cybersecurity starts with a robust firewall deployment to protect internal networks and computers from digital compromises. Despite variations in terms of features and functionality, firewalls all serve one purpose: to keep malicious traffic out and normal traffic flowing unobstructed.