Your firewall protects your internal network from the public internet. It is the first line of defense to stop intrusions and malicious attacks from entering your network.

The manufacturer of the firewall hardware provides definition files. The firewall scans the network using these definition files, which provide patterns for normal network traffic. By comparing the traffic coming in and going out of your network against these files, the firewall can alert you to potential threats. Firewalls also detect viruses or attempted breaches using these definition files.

Because the manufacturer creates these definition files, they can vary depending on which firewall you choose. That’s why it’s essential that you select the right firewall for your business and security needs.

What to Look For in a Firewall

Firewalls come with some basic features that are the same across manufacturers. These features include the ability to use the firewall as a router and to control remote access to your network. The firewall should be able to be configured to allow certain traffic and used to route that traffic to and from servers. The firewall should also allow access to your network from remote sites, such as branch offices or employees working from home, using a VPN or site-to-site configuration.

Additional firewall features to look for:

  • Antivirus Scanner: Scan websites, files, and links to prevent viruses from entering the network
  • Website and Spam Filter: Block or allow websites and identify and block spam emails
  • Encrypted Traffic Inspection: Inspect SSL encrypted traffic to protect against malware
  • Wireless Access Point Control: Allow and control access of wireless devices such as mobile phones, tablets, and printers
  • Sandboxing: Prevents malicious files from being downloaded and entering the network

You may decide you want some or all of these features in your firewall, depending on the size of your business and the amount of traffic moving in and out of your network.

Hire It Out

A new development in firewall management is Firewall-as-a-Service as opposed to purchasing and managing your firewall in-house. This is a good option for small businesses with limited IT staff or if you want to offload the firewall management work so that staff can focus on other activities.

Typically, firewall-as-a-service options require a subscription and monthly fee, rather than the large one-time purchase of firewall hardware you install and manage yourself.

Next-Generation Firewalls

Another recent development in firewall technology is the next generation firewall. These new firewalls combine a traditional firewall with other network device functionalities. These next-generation firewalls include:

  • Policy Enforcement
  • User Control
  • Intrusion Prevention
  • Deep Packet Inspection
  • Sandboxing
  • Threat Intelligence Feeds

Depending on the vendor, the next generation firewall may include all or some of these features, or some features may be more robust. Again, assessing the needs of your business will help you decide which firewall is the best fit.

Top-Rated Firewalls

To help narrow down the field, we did some research into the highest rated firewalls on the market.

Fortinet FortiGate – Providing security at a reasonable price makes Fortinet one of the most popular firewall vendors.

Forcepoint Next-Gen Firewall – Offers best-in-class security and performance, but it comes at a cost.

Palo Alto Networks PA Series – Isn’t the most affordable option but offers next-gen firewall capabilities with many features.

SonicWall – Offers many firewall options at a value and is easy to manage.

Cisco Firepower Next-Gen Firewall – Offers a breadth of security services with its firewall. However, the protection comes with above average prices.

Juniper Networks SRX – A good option for high throughput and advanced routing support at a low cost.

Making the Right Choice

With many options on the market and each vendor taking a different approach, it can seem overwhelming to choose one firewall over another. The most important thing to keep in mind when making the decision is your users. Security is essential, and your firewall is a key part of your overall security, but if you lock things down too tightly, your users won’t be able to do their jobs.To ensure you’re making the right choice, find a balance between the security features you need to keep your network safe and the ability for users to access the network and other resources they need.