The online landscape is constantly evolving, which is both boon and bane to the IT infrastructure.

It’s boon; because we have seen incredible innovations to make our lives easier and more productive.

It’s a bane; because we also hear frequent cyberattacks, costing businesses huge lump-sum of money and reputation.

Consequently, it embarked on the need to have advanced technologies to protect businesses and people from mishaps. The more sophisticated the cyber attackers go, the more is the need to stay ahead in the race.

Firewalls are introduced to address this concern three decades back, and they are progressing since then. They are protective shields deployed to monitor and control incoming and outgoing traffic to deliver a protected environment for your data and systems.

Now, you could leverage different firewalls to meet your personal or business needs. It includes network firewalls, web application firewalls (WAF), next-gen firewalls, cloud-based, software and hardware-based, and more.

Many a time, organizations find it difficult to choose between cloud-based firewalls or traditional firewalls like software or hardware.

This article is all about connecting those dots in order to help you choose the right firewall based on your needs.

Here we go!

Hardware Firewalls

What are they?

A physical device installed between a computer network and the Internet or at the edge of the network to monitor data packets in transit is a hardware firewall. The name also knows it of the perimeter firewall as it protects your entire network by assessing the incoming and outgoing traffic at the perimeter.

What do they do?

Based on certain predefined rules, it permits or blocks the packets to keep your network environment secure. It filters packets based on data like source and destination addresses. Subsequently, it provides your network administrators with lots of control over the rightful usage of the network.

The bottom line, it protects the connected systems and keeps the bad guys outside.

Requirements

A dedicated hardware firewall may require sophisticated IT expertise and knowledge for installation or a dedicated department or IT employees for that matter. Hence, hardware firewalls are usually leveraged by large-scale companies with an intense security concern, like banking.

Once the installation is complete, you need only one point for managing the entire network security. Ultimately, it saves you plenty of resources and time.

Advantages of Having Hardware firewalls

  • A single firewall can protect your complete network zone
  • Speed and performance remain intact
  • Less vulnerable to attacks
  • Integrates easily with other security systems like load balancing, VPN, etc.

Examples

Some famous names for hardware firewalls are SonicWall, Cisco, and Fortinet.

Software Firewalls

What are they?

As the name suggests, a software firewall is a software-based solution installed as a virtual appliance or on individual computers on your network to safeguard them against vulnerabilities. It can control the behavior associated with certain applications.

For instance, you can use it to block certain websites or printers installed within your network.

What do they do?

Software firewalls act as a 2nd line of defense from online attacks. In a scenario when a malicious program tries to access your network, a software firewall can assess its legitimacy by consulting an updated database.

Using this information, the firewall allows or blocks the program. They are great at mitigating risks coming from a blacklisted address, suspicious applications, unknown malware, and more. These firewalls provide extended flexibility while assigning workstations and users with different permission levels.

Requirements

It is easier to install software firewalls as compared to hardware firewalls. Hence, small businesses and home users widely leverage this type of firewall. Due to its ease of customization, users can have better control over its functionalities and protection features.

Advantages of Having Software firewalls

  • Affordable, even if you go for the top-rated firewalls
  • Economical for a small office with limited systems
  • Easy to set up and manage
  • You can determine the level of protection during its installation and define security level accordingly for a user
  • Better control and flexibility to assess which applications must be allowed or blocked
  • Notifies the users about a malicious program trying to enter the network

Some Disadvantages

  • Utilizes more resources including memory and disk space as compared to hardware firewalls
  • Performance can be affected based on system speed
  • Needs regular administration and updating

Examples

One of the best software-based firewalls is pfSense. Check out a more open-source firewall.

Don’t get confused with WAF (web application firewall). WAF and software firewalls are two different things. WAF is just for website protection (layer 7), where a software firewall is an alternative to hardware that is capable of protecting from network and web threats, both.

☁️ Cloud-based firewalls

Now, this one comes from a different league.

As businesses have started shifting to the cloud, security needs also have evolved accordingly. Hence, it has introduced cloud firewalls.

Unlike software and hardware firewalls that are installed on-premises, cloud firewalls leverage cloud solutions.

What are they?

Cloud firewalls are hosted in the cloud that explains the reason behind its nomenclature. They are also referred to as Firewall-as-a-Service (FaaS). It forms a secure virtual barrier surrounding cloud platforms, applications, and infrastructure.

What do they do?

As in the case of traditional firewalls where they form a barrier surrounding the internal network of an organization, cloud firewalls also work the same way.

They control and manage the data flow between internal systems of an organization and outside domains. To decide which data to permit or reject, it utilizes an intelligent data analysis. First, it draws information about known threats from a database and also analyzes past problems and in-house activities to forecast future threats.

In the case of cloud firewalls, there exists no physical perimeter relative to systems and applications. Here, system elements are dispersed. Instead of data filtration taking place at a single point, cloud firewalls filter data at the cloud-level, keeping the bad players out.

They can filter traffic from multiple sources, including the internet, virtual data centers, between tenants or virtual networks.

Requirements

Cloud-based firewalls do not require you to install or configure yourself. Third-party vendors providing the service take care of all these things. They also manage and keep the updated to face emerging challenges, making sure your network is perfectly safe.

All you have to do is purchase and relax, rest assured your data and systems are secure from attacks. Thus, you can invest all your time in nurturing and growing your business without hassle or worries.

Advantages of Having Cloud-based firewalls

  • Easy-breezy deployment without wasting time
  • Scalable in accordance with the needs of an organization
  • Higher availability guarantees a constant flow of security services, redundant power, and automated backups
  • Identity protection because they are capable of integrating with access controls, giving users better control on filtering tools
  • Better performance as you can control everything from visibility, configuration, usage, logging, etc.
  • In case of any issue, you can utilize snapshots and then recover the desired states immediately.

Some Disadvantages

  • Availability depends on the cloud infrastructure’s availability.
  • Advanced features might slow down your network.
  • Often considers generic use cases that might not be efficient in blocking software-specific vulnerabilities like those in plugins.

Examples

If you want to try some cloud firewalls, you can go for Cloudflare, SUCURI, Sophos, and Imperva.

Conclusion

Now that you have quite an idea about what software-based, hardware-based, and cloud firewalls are, I hope it would be easier for you to decide which one would be suitable for you. Always consider your needs of having a firewall, examine the pros and cons, and then go for the best combination.

Next step,

Explore some of the best web application firewalls to protect websites and online businesses.