A firewall is any business’ first defender against cyber threats. This security software, or device, monitors the business’ network traffic to spot any suspicious behaviour that might cause concern. Firewalls monitor both incoming and outgoing connections to and from the organisation. The software’s guidelines in detecting malicious traffic depend on each organisation’s cybersecurity policies.
In numerous articles here, we’ve discussed firewall as an installed software on your device. In this article, we will discuss the other type of firewall, Hardware Firewall, what it means, the difference between it and the software version, and we will list the best hardware firewall for small businesses.
What is a Hardware Firewall?
A hardware firewall is a protective device that you can plug into your computer, like you plug a portable device, for example. Unlike software firewalls, which you directly install on your device, you plug your network cable into the hardware firewall and then configure it to ensure the server is protected from any threats from the external network. Much like a software firewall, a hardware firewall performs the same job: filtering network activity to detect possibly malicious traffic and take necessary measures in the event of a possible cyberattack.
The way a hardware firewall works depends on your settings, but each sub-type of this firewall works differently from each other. For example, one type of hardware firewall examines the source and location of data in transit to run them through the hardware’s checklist of permissions. If the data successfully passes this list, the firewall allows it through to your device and vice versa.
What are the benefits of a Hardware Firewall?
A hardware firewall has multiple benefits that distinguish it from its peer, software firewall. These benefits include
- A hardware firewall allows the protection of an unlimited number of devices at the same time. Since the hardware is connected to the server directly, it will protect all devices connected through the same server. Then it will swiftly filtres traffic, making it more useful and economical for businesses.
- You can configure the settings of a hardware firewall to suit your business’s requirements.
- Since this type of firewall is directly plugged-in to your server, this takes off any possible load on your devices’ systems and frees up space for better system performance.
- Hardware firewalls help better allocate IT resources. This means that you can regularly update all your devices at the same time, saving the IT team time for other tasks. This proves more practical for businesses since it will save time and resources and ensure all your business’s devices are simultaneously upgraded.
- You can’t shut down a hardware firewall’s protection unless you unplug the device from your server. This ensures your business’s devices are protected around the clock and means that any power fluctuations will not affect your system’s protection.
- A hardware firewall comes with its own operating system. This means that in the event of a cyberattack or any malicious factor affecting your device, it might not affect the firewall because its operating system is intact. This also means that some cyberattacks can affect software firewalls but can’t affect hardware firewalls, because a software firewall is dependent on, and connected to, your device’s system and affected by it, while a hardware firewall isn’t.
What are the similarities and differences between a Hardware Firewall and a Software Firewall?
At first glance, it’s easy to think the jobs of hardware firewalls and software firewalls are similar, but there are numerous differences between the two firewall types. These differences show how each type works in a different manner and even the scope of threats each of them works against.
- The first difference between the two types of firewalls is the obvious. A software firewall is an application you install on your device that internally protects your network from malicious connections. A hardware firewall is a device you attach via a cord to your device, and all incoming and outgoing connections pass through this device for checking and authentication.
- A hardware firewall is a one-time purchase you plug it into your device; and then you’re ready to go. Its counterpart, however, software firewall, can either be free or paid software. If you want more features, you’ll most likely have to purchase the paid software. This purchase fee isn’t high in the short run. In the long run, however, it can prove to be costly.
- The type of firewall to get might depend on your system capabilities and the workspace. This means that if your device is running low on system storage, a software firewall might not be the suitable choice, since it will take more space from your system. On the other hand, if your workspace is crowded and there might not be room for a physical device, a software firewall might be better than a hardware one, which you might have difficulty adjusting a space for.
- Both types of firewalls are fairly easy to set up and get running. A software firewall needs a few clicks and customisations, while a hardware firewall requires plugging into the required devices, and then you’re all set up.
- When it comes to software installation and regular security updates, software firewalls come in short. The software has to be installed on every device you need to protect. If any security updates become available for the software, but one of the devices is out of date or doesn’t have the proper system requirements needed for the update, you will need to either manually update that device’s security updates or upgrade the device itself. A hardware firewall prevents all this since it is a plugged-in security device, and all updates can be applied at the same time to ensure smooth coordination inside your business.
- A hardware firewall doesn’t affect your system’s performance whatsoever; it’s an external device and doesn’t need your system’s resources to work. A software firewall, on the other hand, requires your system’s CPU and memory resources to work, which can put significant pressure on your system. If your device is rather old, this can cause a problem where it slows the device down significantly.
- If your device is under a cyberattack, a software firewall might not be able to stop all threats from infecting your system. Normally, if one folder of your system is infected, it’s a matter of time before your entire system is infected. With a hardware firewall, there’s a physical shield between the network and your computer. This means that no malicious factor or threatening traffic can pass through and infect your device.
What is a Router? Can you configure your Router to act as a firewall?
A router is a networking device that helps transfer data between networks of connected devices and the global internet network. You can’t configure your router to act as a firewall because it isn’t this device’s main function. However, there are several instances where routers provide an extra layer of protection for your system. We emphasise that even if you benefit from this extra layer, you must use the router beside an actual firewall on your device, whether a software firewall or a hardware one.
Since a router works on rerouting data, it cannot reroute data that doesn’t have a designated destination. The device then scatters this data on the internet and prevents any possible harmful bits of data from reaching your device. You can configure your router to prevent outgoing types of data, which prevents your device from leaking sensitive data.
Despite these two previous features, routers can’t prevent malicious traffic from reaching your device. This is due to the fact that routers transfer data to your device by request, meaning if you request data from a malicious website, the router will reroute this data to your device. Hence, you’ll be under a cyberattack. This differs from a firewall’s job because firewalls prevent malicious data from reaching your device, even if you’re the one who requested it.
Which is better, Hardware Firewall or Software Firewall? And why?
Choosing between a hardware firewall and a software firewall depends on your security settings and goals. Since each type of firewall has its benefits and shortcomings, you are the one who can decide which one better suits your needs.
- Since a software firewall is an installed program, its defence mechanism works on the application level, while a hardware firewall works on a network level.
- A hardware firewall processes more traffic than a software firewall and extends the protection level to all devices connected to the same server. On the other hand, a software firewall will offer you more customisation options.
- Software firewalls work best with controlled environments; hence, they best suit individuals or even micro businesses where the employees use their own devices. Hardware firewalls are more comprehensive so they best suit mega corporations, medium-sized businesses and small businesses that need inclusive protection with less fuss.
What is the best Hardware Firewall for Small Businesses?
In order to choose the best suitable firewall for your device or business, you need to check the agent’s security settings, the network size it can protect, how easy it is to configure and use, the available customer support methods, its compatibility with operating systems and efficiency in blocking threats. On your end, you will need to review your budget, preferences and your business’s security needs and expectations.
As we’ve discussed above, hardware firewall proved to be more effective cost-efficient and offers better protection to businesses than software firewall. We’ve scanned the market to bring you the best hardware firewall for your small business.
We begin with Protectli, a good firewall manufacturing company that works to help small to medium businesses achieve their security potential. You can choose from hardware firewall devices with two to six ports to establish in your small business. These hardware firewalls are compatible with any software firewall you intend to use as long as you take time to understand the hardware’s settings and configurations.
If you choose the four-port device, you’re looking at $199, which will increase in case you upgrade to the next device.
SonicWall is another powerful cybersecurity solutions company that offers both types of firewalls, software and hardware. The company makes hardware firewalls specifically tailored for small businesses, such as its TZ Series. Features such as the Network Security Manager, which displays all information regarding your network, and the SSL and TLS decryption schemes ensure all transferred data is encrypted.
TZ series begins at $468 per year, and you can increase the subscription from one to three years, which will also increase the cost.
WatchGuard has been modifying and upgrading its cybersecurity solutions to best service all sizes of businesses while working on the simplification of its dashboard to ensure the best customer experience. The cybersecurity solutions company offers multiple firewall versions under its Unified Threat Management family. Of these solutions, the T20 and T20W are the most likely to work best with small businesses. The two versions support up to five Ethernet connections and the branch offices.
The T20-W comes at a price of $456 yearly subscription, which extends to $577 for a three-year subscription.
PfSense is an open-source network security solution that offers both types of firewalls, software and hardware. The versatile cybersecurity solutions pfSense offers include firewalls, VPNs, routers and DHCP servers. The firewall’s network surveillance services allow you to optimise network performance and is compatible with computers and network appliances, which makes it suitable for small and medium-sized businesses.
The pfSense packages for hardware firewalls start with Netgate 2100 at $349 through to Netgate 8200 at $1,395.
Sophos is one of the highest-ranking firewall solution options since the company offers both hardware and software firewalls. You can combine these two powerful firewall solutions with third-party antivirus for maximum protection against cyberattacks. This combination will automatically keep your system’s security definitions up to date, hence continuously protected. The firewall’s dashboard will show you, in detail, all gathered data, detected threats and the recommended action.
Sophos’ services best suit small to medium businesses, with a starting price of $249 a year. If you choose the company’s advanced XG 86 protective agent, you’re looking at $470 annually.
Cisco is one of the oldest players in the cybersecurity field and offers great security options. The Cisco Meraki Hardware Firewall is connected to your router to provide ultimate protection from incoming and outgoing threats. The firewall will analyse, sort and process data to detect threats. It also has an intrusion detection system that prevents any unauthorised access to tamper with any of the network’s devices. Additionally, the firewall provides malicious URL detection to prevent your device from accessing suspicious websites.
Cisco Meraki can protect up to 50 devices with one hardware at a cost of $970, which is perfect for a small business hiring up to 50 employees.
If the option to combine both types of firewalls is available, we would recommend doing so. This way, you will get the best features of each type, an additional powerful layer of protection, and each firewall can make up for the shortcomings of the other. If this option suits your budget, you cannot be too safe regarding cybersecurity.