What is a Firewall?

You’ve probably noticed that your computer comes with a firewall, but you may be wondering what a firewall is exactly. In essence, a firewall protects your computer devices from getting damaged by malware, which is malicious software. Firewalls were named after the partitions used by firefighters to prevent the spread of fire. They play an integral role in personal computing, but they also ensure that business networks aren’t subject to devastating malware attacks.

Function of a Firewall

A firewall prevents malicious content from accessing your computer network. Malicious content can take many forms, including Trojan programs, browser hijacking, viruses and e-mail worms, among others. As technology becomes more sophisticated, cybercriminals develop increasingly more complex ways to hack into networks and steal information. Firewalls have existed since the late 1980s, evolving over time to meet the evolution of technology, according to TechTarget. While some firewalls come pre-set to block certain malware, users must take an active role in configuring a firewall system to run properly. Fortunately, today’s firewall products are user-friendly, and most consumers can set up and maintain a good firewall system by reading the device’s instruction manual. The cost and strength of a firewall vary significantly among brands and models, but even low-end products offer basic protection.

Hardware vs. Software

Firewalls come in two forms: hardware and software. Most home computer operating systems come with a built-in firewall software package, but businesses typically take a more proactive approach by having both software and hardware firewalls. Hardware options include standalone products and routers that come with a pre-installed firewall. The benefit of a software firewall is that it can be easier to update and maintain; they’re also more user-friendly and customizable. However, a software firewall can only protect the device on which it’s installed. Every computer in your home will need its own firewall. By contrast, hardware firewalls can protect a network of computers, making them a good choice for businesses or homes with a lot of devices. Ideally, you would want to invest in both software and hardware firewalls for maximum protection.

Ongoing Protection

No matter your firewall configuration, you will need to test it periodically to make sure that it’s performing as it should. Even high-end, top-of-the-line firewall hardware and software can be attacked by rigorous external viruses. For business owners, routine firewall maintenance is essential, particularly if the company accepts credit card payments via computers or a payment processing website. Even home computers contain sensitive information that can be corrupted or stolen with the right malware. To ensure the safety of your virtual identity, check your firewall configuration on a routine basis. You can use a free online firewall tester or purchase physical software that performs the same function. If you discover any discrepancies or issues, and you can’t resolve them on your own, contact your network administrator for tech support.

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Protecting your computer network is easier with a properly configured firewall system consisting of both software and hardware products. To maintain maximum security, set up your antivirus software to run automatic scans, which can detect any suspicious activity between your routine firewall checks. Download and install any updates so that your firewall can do its job. Knowing what a firewall is and how it functions can help you to safeguard valuable information and documents against cybercriminals.