Routers and firewalls can be confusing — they essentially serve the same purpose of distributing internet access to devices on the network. A router like you’d purchase at a big-box store for $100 is designed to serve the needs of home, not the needs of business. It’s likely more important that the Xbox has a great Wi-Fi signal so little Jimmy can play his game, rather than being able to deny all internet access from North Korea.
A firewall, unlike a router, is intelligent. You typically pay a subscription fee because the firewall is constantly updating itself to protect against the newest cyberattacks. Unlike a router, a firewall actually looks at all internet traffic passing through it to make sure it’s legitimate, not a virus, and was requested from a computer inside.
Firewalls also allow us to totally block access by some third-world countries known for producing cyberattacks. And a good firewall can let you know what your staff has been up to — who’s that looking at careerbuilder.com for five hours? Don’t cheap out, and don’t buy your gate to the internet for your business at a big-box store. It truly is the gate between your business and the rest of the world. You want a strongly armed guard, not a non-intelligent robot. If you can afford to invest in one thing, get a good firewall.
P.S. — Business-grade firewalls can be used in homes, too, especially if you want to control the content users can access and see what the people in the house have been doing. There is no rule that a firewall is just for business; they are sold for use in the homes of lots of CEOs, CIOs and other professionals.
Alan Edwards, CISM, is chief information officer at Computerware, Inc., in Vienna, Virginia.