A firewall can either be software-based or hardware-based and is used to help keep a network secure. Its main objective is to control the incoming and outgoing network traffic by analyzing the data packets and determining whether it should be allowed through or not, based on a predetermined rule set. A network’s firewall builds a bridge between an internal network that is assumed to be secure and trusted, and another network, usually an external (inter)network, such as the Internet, that is not consider to be secure or trusted
The term “firewall” has been in use for more than 300 years and originally referred to the wall between a kitchen and the rest of a building that would stop the spread of fire. The first generation of computer firewalls was established by Cisco in the mid-1980s to filter incoming data packets. In the early-1990s, additional research led to the development of circuit level firewalls and application layer firewalls. Newer firewalls include deep packet inspection, which adds intrusion detection and intrusion prevention to rules and stateful-based firewalls.
How Firewalls Operate
Firewalls inspect data that comes in and goes out of the network. Based on the firewall rules the administrator configured or the content of the packet, the firewall allows the data to pass or blocks it. Firewall rules are designed to allow traffic from a certain IP address or of a certain type to pass. For example, a program might need to connect to a server for regular updates. Firewall rules would allow this traffic while blocking other applications or services. Stateful packet inspection and deep packet inspection inspect the data inside the packets and evaluate whether the traffic is legitimate or harmful, regardless of firewall rules.
Types of Firewall
Packet filtering firewalls read the headers of incoming and outgoing data packets for the source and destination IP address, port number and protocol. They rely on firewall rules to determine what should be passed. Stateful packet inspection and deep packet inspection firewalls take it a step further and evaluate the content of the packets based on the packet headers and the content of the packets. Application layer firewalls screen packets to determine what application they are associated with on a computer inside the network and either pass or block the packets based on rules that allow or deny specific applications. Circuit level firewalls or gateways monitor the TCP handshaking on either end of a connection to determine if the connection is legitimate. They do not filter or inspect packets.
Firewalls are an essential part of a keeping your computer and network safe from attack, but they do come with drawbacks. As the network or computer’s first line of defense, the failure or breach of the firewall may leave the network and the computers exposed to hackers. You should always have firewall software running on each individual computer in addition to at the router or network security appliance level. Firewalls also can create a traffic bottleneck, since all data must go through the firewall when entering or leaving the network, creating a single point of failure.
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