Firewall security for businesses: essential strategies to protect your network

Strengthening firewall security measures for businesses in today’s digital landscape

By Mark HoffmannKENOSHA.COM

A leader in the IT industry for nearly three decades, Hoffmann has helped small and large businesses take advantage of technology to better serve their customers and employees. Hoffmann is owner of CMIT Solutions of SE Wisconsin.

Last week, news reports about an unidentified hacking group targeting Cisco firewall hardware illustrated a major threat to government agencies and critical civilian infrastructure.

Because of the high-level targets, cybersecurity experts believe the attack originated with a criminal espionage group employed by a nation-state like Russia, China, or Iran. Neither Cisco nor Microsoft, which is also tracking the attack, commented on which country they thought was responsible, however.

Federal agencies in the United Kingdom, Canada, and Australia issued a joint advisory about the attacks. Meanwhile, the U.S. Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) added two of the bugs to its Known Exploited Vulnerabilities Catalog and ordered federal civilian executive branch agencies to apply security patches and firmware updates to all affected software and hardware.

In the advisory, experts said that the campaign’s sophisticated nature—involving “multiple layers of novel techniques and the concurrent operations against multiple targets around the world”—could cause significant problems.“The capabilities are indicative of espionage conducted by a well-resourced and sophisticated state-sponsored actor,” the advisory added.

Why do firewalls represent such a big threat?

Perimeter network devices like firewalls provide safety, integrity, and continuity for day-to-day business operations. They analyze all incoming and outgoing Internet traffic, identify patterns consistent with known threats, and proactively neutralize potential risks while shielding computers and networks from malicious or unnecessary network traffic.

Firewalls can also prevent malicious software from accessing a computer or network via the Internet. Firewalls can be configured to block data from certain locations, applications, or IP addresses while allowing relevant and necessary data through. Since firewalls perform such important work protecting data as it’s transported into and out of computer networks, they represent a valuable potential intrusion point for sophisticated espionage-focused campaigns.

And anytime a vulnerability is identified in such firewalls, hackers rush to exploit it before it can be patched or updated. Breaking into just one firewall can often grant hackers unauthorized access to an entire network or computer system.

What is a VPN and how does it interact with firewalls?

A virtual private network (VPN) enables a private connection to be created over a less private network. This is done by creating an encrypted channel of communication between your computer and the Internet. A VPN can be installed just like any other app, or it can be deployed in tandem with advanced firewall protection to construct another layer of construction around a machine or network of computers.

For remote workers logging on to business networks from a home office or while traveling, VPNs have become essential for protecting data and digital identities. Firewalls play a pivotal role in VPN security by authenticating and encrypting data traffic between remote users and the corporate network. This ensures that sensitive information remains confidential, even when transmitted over potentially unsecured networks.

Should I maintain the health of my network?

When computers and their interconnected networks are targeted by cyberattacks or left vulnerable to risk, businesses may suffer. Monitoring your network with advanced firewall protection can spot and fix problems before day-to-day business operations are impacted. The data collected thanks to firewall monitoring can be used to improve networks and ensure that they operate at maximum efficiency. Cybersecurity insurance carriers and industry regulations often require this kind of information.

Firmware updates enhance the operational excellence and functionality of a firewall. They also eliminate vulnerabilities that have been discovered since the last firmware update. Depending on the firewall, these updates could include enhanced antivirus monitoring, content filtering, and intrusion prevention. Letting firmware lapse or expire represents a big threat to your business, as hackers constantly scan for such gaps in protection.

Firewall audits help identify vulnerabilities in a network and determine areas of cybersecurity that need attention These audits can meet corporate or regulatory governance requirements that dictate policy and security controls and help business owners proactively respond to vulnerabilities. Like other pieces of hardware and software, firewalls will eventually fail, too. If a firewall has been in service for three to five years, business owners may want to consider replacing it soon to avoid an outage or downtime.

What else do I need to know about firewalls?

● They defend against cyberthreats. Firewalls act as an impenetrable barrier between your business and endless online threats. From malware to phishing attacks, firewalls can stop a vast multitude of attacks, preventing unauthorized access and safeguarding your sensitive data.

● They control access and enforce security. Firewalls enable organizations to implement access control policies, determining who can access specific resources within the network. This granular control helps enforce security policies, ensuring that only authorized users can access sensitive data or critical systems. This is crucial in preventing insider threats and unauthorized data exfiltration.

● They wrap your information in multiple layers of protection. Proxy servers mask your IP address and encrypt data so that it can’t be read during transmission. Unified threat management firewalls add malware, intrusion detection, content filters, and spam protection into the mix. Next-generation inspection firewalls examine packets at the app level, blocking modern threats like application-layer attacks and advanced malware.

● They ensure regulatory compliance. In an era of stringent data protection regulations, compliance is critical. Firewalls play a crucial role in ensuring that your business meets regulatory requirements, providing the necessary controls and monitoring capabilities to uphold data protection standards.

● They help to save time and money. Investing in firewalls is not just a security measure—it’s a smart financial decision. The cost-effectiveness of firewalls lies in their ability to prevent potential breaches and the consequential financial and reputational damage that can cripple a business.

● They provide 24/7 vigilance and reporting. Firewalls work around the clock, generating detailed reports on network activities. This continuous monitoring allows for quick detection of anomalies, prompt response to potential threats, and thorough post-incident analysis. Audit logs are instrumental in identifying security incidents, analyzing patterns of suspicious behavior, and facilitating forensic investigations. By maintaining a record of network traffic, firewalls contribute to the continuous improvement of cybersecurity measures.

A business without a robust firewall is like a castle without walls. If you want to secure your digital fortress, protect your assets, and fortify your business against ever-evolving cyberthreats, contact CMIT Solutions today.

We defend networks and protect data for thousands of clients across North America, guarding against cyberattacks and empowering businesses to survive and thrive in today’s complicated IT landscape.