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Posted by A-Jay Orr

The Most Important Piece of Business Technology: Is Your Business Missing Out?

It is estimated that 90 percent of data breaches in the first half of 2014 could have been prevented if the right security measures were in place and staff understood how to properly protect classified company information. Business technology connects us to limitless tools and applications, heightened collaboration, incredibly accurate analytics, real time flow of information and the potential for small or mid-size businesses to compete with conglomerates. But with all this possibility, there are also a lot more open doors through which, hackers can walk right in and steal private information.

Amid all the excitement surrounding business technology, many businesses fail to recognize and maintain the most important tool they have or worse — some businesses don’t even have it! Network firewalls.

Network Firewalls are software programs or hardware that help protect your internal network (computers) from external threats (hackers and viruses) that try to infiltrate your business data from the internet. A firewall’s primary role is to control incoming and outgoing traffic on your network.

As with all tech topics, network firewalls can get a little confusing if you don’t speak IT. But business owners must develop a basic understanding to properly protect their company data. We’ll keep it simple for you. If you need extra help understanding the conversation, visit the vocabulary list at the bottom of this page.


The Firewall Dilemma

It’s been said that there are two types of businesses today. Those who have been hacked and those who don’t know they’ve been hacked. Your network firewall is one of the most important safety nets between your business and the outside world. Yet, many businesses either don’t have one, or believe they can purchase a consumer-grade network firewall (like Linksys) from Best Buy to do the job for less money. Unfortunately for these businesses — infiltration is a ticking time bomb.

We can’t stress this enough. If you are a small, mid-size or large business, you need a business-class network firewall to protect your data — period.

Consumer-grade (or residential) network firewalls don’t have the advanced capabilities that business-class firewalls provide. They also lack enterprise features, and many not be compatible with cloud hosted VoIP telephony service, which many businesses have adopted.


Types of Firewalls

Specifically related to business-class, there are several types of firewalls from which to choose:
Embedded Firewalls (chokepoint firewalls): are embedded into a router or switch. These firewalls will not protect your business from application-level invasions, like viruses, worms and Trojan horse programs.
Enterprise Software-based Firewalls: negate the need for hardware investment, offer easy installation and are best suited for companies that require a lot of memory. These firewalls are a reasonable choice for businesses that already have an enterprise class operating system.
Enterprise Hardware-based Firewalls: are bundled, turn-key firewall packages (hardware device with software already built in). They are considered more secure and ideal for companies that require limited amounts of memory.
Specialty Firewalls: are designed to protect certain applications.


How to Choose the Right Firewall for Your Business


Consider How Many Users Your Firewall Will Support

General rule of thumb — the more users you have, the higher “class” firewall you should invest. If you are a very small business with only a few users, you may not use all the features of an enterprise-class network firewall. Conversely, if you’re a medium or large business with many employees, a small office/home office (SOHO) network firewall isn’t going to cut it.

Ensure the Firewall Has RAM

RAM directly influences how compatible a firewall will be with your network.

Select a Firewall That’s Packaged With NAT Choices

One way hackers can infiltrate your business data is via your computer’s IP address. NAT decreases the number of IP addresses an organization needs, thus creating a more secure environment.

Choose a Firewall with Logging Capability

Logging capabilities are highly important. You want to select a firewall capable of logging and organizing numerous “events” so that you can understand what’s happening on your network at any given time. Ask your firewall vendor how many events the firewall is capable of logging and if the firewall does not support Syslog (the most commonly used logging format), move on to one that does.

Make Sure Your Firewall Supports VPN

VPN allows for site-to-site encryption. Most (but not all) firewalls support this feature. Firewalls act as a filter for your network, allowing or blocking information from entering or leaving. But once information leaves your network, it is visible to any public source. VPN encrypts your information so that it is only readable by the intended audience.


Cheat Sheet for Sizing

Under 50 employees (1 office location):
  • Less than 10 mb RAM
  • About 66 Mhz of processing power
  • Less than 10 mbps of packet filter
51 to 1000 employees (more than 1 office):
  • 65 mb RAM
  • About 200 Mhz of processing power
  • Less than 100 Mbps of packet filter

The livelihood of your business depends on the quality of your firewall. Don’t continue to neglect the subject because it’s confusing and stressful. Instead, consider working with a CIO service provider who will evaluate your current network configuration, help you select the best firewall for your operation, manage installation and monitor performance to ensure your business is highly protected at all times.

Glossary of Terms

RAM: An acronym for Random Access Memory. A type of computer memory that can be accessed randomly without touching preceding bytes (a full unit of memory size).

Processor: The component of a computer that responds to and digests the basic instructions that drive the computer.

Packet Filter: The process of passing or blocking packets (units of data) at a network interface based on the source of the packets and the destination details.

NAT: An acronym for Network Address Translation. NAT enables you to translate illegal or private IP addresses into legal public addresses. This helps to protect the internal network infrastructure from hackers.

VPN: An acronym for Virtual Private Network. VPNs are private networks that are constructed using public wires via encryption. They enable remote employees to safely access internal business data.

IP Address: An acronym for Internet Protocol; a numerical label assigned to computers, printers and other devices that communicate within a network. IP addresses help identify where messages came from and where they’re going.