There are several options when it comes to firewalls and unless you were to spend hundreds of hours researching the differences and why one is better than the other you might believe that they are all the same and do the same thing. All firewalls are not created equal and when it comes down to it there are a few things that are extremely important and you absolutely should never neglect.
There are 2 types of firewalls and 2 different classes. The first type is the most commonly known. A software firewall, it comes in virtually every operating system out there or you can download them as an add on from the internet or purchase them with various antivirus programs like Trend Micro, McAffee, Symantec, and Kaspersky just to name a few. These offer a very basic level of protection and are the easiest target for a hacker because they are very readily available. The hacker can simply go to any computer store and buy the program off the shelf, take it home, and start figuring out how it works and how they can bypass it. The second type is a hardware firewall (a physical device that is between your computer systems and the outside world).
The hardware firewall comes in 2 different classes. The first class is a “Staplet level” firewall which basically looks at the information transmitted to you from an outside source and only looks at the source, destination, and verifies that it was actually requested. These are a step above a software firewall, but they are very easily beaten by hackers because like the software firewall they are very readily available at any computer store and the firmware (firewall operating system) does not ever change or get updated unless you purchase a new firewall. These types of firewalls are great for the home user because the reality is that if a hacker were to hit one of these they are not going to spend the time to try to get through it for 1 or 2 peoples identity. These types of firewalls are manufactured by companies like Linksys and Netgear just to name a few.
The second class of firewall is an “application level” firewall which is the type of firewall that you would see in a bank or government office. These firewalls are not readily available and only purchased through authorized resellers. These firewalls are significantly different is the aspect that they offer several different layers of protection and when the information is scanned the firewall looks at the entire data packet from start to finish including the information being transferred. This class of firewall usually comes with options like: “anti-spam” (verify the sender in real time against a current database of known spammers in the manufacturer’s database); “Antivirus” (with real time updates from the manufacturer); and “Intrusion Detection System” (real time updates against hackers kept current by the manufacturer). These firewalls are manufactured by a few companies like SonicWall and Zyxel and are more expensive than others, but they offer the highest level of protection for your business. The only downside is that you do have to pay a yearly fee to keep the firmware and scanning subscriptions current. If you do not keep them current then you are at risk.
At this point you are probably thinking this is a lot of technical garble and why do I need to know this stuff or why is this important to me. The reality is that a firewall is like an insurance policy. I am a safe driver – why do I need to spend a lot of money on insurance when I can get this cheaper policy that will protect me? Well, what about the innocent bystander that was injured and had nothing to do with either driver? What if they were injured and decided to sue me? Would my attorney’s fees be covered? A firewall is the same thing. Your computer network is only as protected as the insurance policy that covers it.