If you’re in the market for a firewall, you know there are both hardware and software firewalls out there to choose from. A lot of them. Both are valuable, but they serve different purposes depending on your needs. It’s not really an either-or situation. It’s a matter of which suits your specific needs. Most leading firewall manufacturers, such as Fortinet, Check Point, and Sophos, make both. Hopefully, this article will help you decide which might be better for you.
Hardware firewalls allow you to protect your entire network from the outside world with a single device. This firewall lives between your computer network and the internet. A hardware firewall monitors data as it is transmitted. The firewall either blocks or transfers the data. It does this according to pre-defined rules.
Many (though not all) hardware firewalls include a somewhat involved process to install. They may also (but not necessarily) require IT staff to manage. Separate, hardware firewalls are usually used by large organizations where security is very important. As an aside, most routers today include basic firewall capabilities, but these products target the home or SMB user.
On the other hand, software firewalls provide internal security to a network. A software firewall is installed on an individual computer. It protects that single device. Multiple computers will need will need multiple installations. A software firewall controls the behavior of specific applications. For example, you can block access to certain websites, or a printer on the network. Also, a software firewall can protect the other computers in the same network, in the case that one of them ends up getting infected.
Because they are easier to install, many home users will go with the software option.
Why would you opt for a hardware firewall?
Hardware firewalls protect your network and everything that enters and leaves the perimeter. This gives the network administrator a lot of control over how the network is used. A hardware firewall can also protect other network devices that don’t have built-in firewalls. This would be things like printers and other smart devices.
Hardware firewalls also integrate readily with other kinds of security. Many firewalls also come with additional security features, such as VPN and load balancing.
Once installed, a hardware firewall is a single point of management for your entire network. This just saves time and simplifies your life. On the other hand, software firewalls need to be installed, updated, and managed on each computer. So, in a larger setting with many computers, it could require more IT resources to manage software firewalls than a hardware one.
Why would you opt for a software firewall?
Because they work well as a second line of defense. After all, sometimes cyber attacks and malicious code get through. When a program is trying to access the Internet, the firewall can determine whether it is legitimate or malicious by consulting a regularly updated database. Software firewalls use this database to spot and stop risky activities it recognizes. The database is just a collection of blacklisted IP addresses, known malware definitions, and suspicious application requests.
Software firewalls occupy a different space in the network. For instance, a computer must be behind a hardware firewall to benefit from its protection. However, a remote user would be protected by a software firewall, but not by the hardware firewall.
You will also enjoy a greater degree of flexibility in assigning different users different levels of access and permission. Plus, it tends to be easier to monitor software firewalls.
I think you know where this is headed
As was said earlier, this is not really an either-or. To think of it that way is kind of a false dilemma. These two security options complement each other. In other words, they interlock. And they can do so at a very reasonable price. Plenty of good security software is scott-free, after all. And you can get a very good starter hardware appliance for under $400.
Some scenarios will require both. The healthcare and finance industries traffic in extremely sensitive and valuable data. As a result, they wisely employ both kinds of solutions. The Payment Card industry is another example.
For smaller organizations, it may be easier to go with the simplest kind of firewall to install. However, remember that smaller firewalls can be pretty straightforward and simple to set up. For example, read this post about setting up a FortiGate appliance. And hardware and software firewalls protect against different things. Hardware firewalls block malware before it has a chance to enter your network and software firewalls pick off what makes it through the hardware.
Hopefully this clears up the differences between these two. Of course, If you would like to learn more about any kind of firewall, please email us, or call Corporate Armor at 877-449-0458. Thanks for reading!
Hardware firewall features
Offers granular control over security features
Protects other, unsecured devices
Single point of management for the whole network
Integrates readily with other security technologies
Requires less management in larger organizations
Software firewall features
A good second line of defense
Can protect remote users, as well
Easier to install, initially
Potentially less expensive