Two female small business owners work across from each other at their computer desk in a modern office space.
Many firewall solutions are affordably priced and easy to install. Learn which type of firewall system is best for your small business. — Getty Images/Tom Werner

You may think cyberattacks only happen to big companies like Target, but small businesses are also vulnerable due to their limited resources and security. If you want to take steps to keep your business safe, a firewall can help.

What is a firewall?

A firewall is a network security system that monitors incoming and outgoing network traffic. It allows or blocks specific traffic based on a set of predetermined security rules. A firewall protects businesses from malware, spyware, and other malicious software.

The first firewalls were developed in the 1980s by technology companies Cisco Systems and Digital Equipment Corporation. And although they have been around for more than 30 years, firewalls are still an important tool in network security.

[Read more: 4 Simple and Easy-to-Deploy Ways to Protect Your Company Data]

Firewalls protect your business from internal and external threats and are a smart step toward improving your overall security.

Different types of firewalls

A firewall can keep your business safe from internal and external threats, but only if you choose the correct type. Here are three different types you can choose from:

  • Proxy firewalls: A proxy firewall is the most secure type of firewall, since it works as an intermediary between the internal network and the internet. It monitors and filters network traffic by examining the contents of network packets at the application layer.
  • Stateful inspection firewalls: A stateful inspection firewall tracks and monitors the state of active network connections while also analyzing incoming traffic for threats. It operates at layers 3 and 4 of the Open Systems Interconnection (OSI) model. This type of firewall checks connections against certain criteria. When those criteria are met, it connects to a “state table” to enable a connection, or if the criteria are not met, to reject it.
  • Stateless packet filtering firewalls: A stateless firewall also operates at layers 3 and 4 of the OSI model, but it doesn’t store, or remember, information about previous data packets. Instead, it evaluates each packet on a case-by-case basis in real time to determine whether it’s authorized or unauthorized and will then either allow or reject the connection.

[Read more: How to Protect Your Business From Being Hacked]

Which type of firewall should you choose for your small business?

The firewall you choose will depend on your business and its specific security requirements. If you want more control over your network traffic, a proxy firewall is probably your best bet. Proxy firewalls are standard in healthcare, finance, and government sectors, since these industries have higher security requirements.

The problem with proxy firewalls, however, is that they can be difficult to use and can slow your performance. If you’re looking for a simpler solution and one that balances security with performance, a stateful inspection firewall is probably a better option. It provides basic network traffic filtering and protects against common cyberattacks.

A stateless packet filtering firewall lacks many of the advanced security features that proxy and stateful inspection firewalls offer. It provides a basic level of protection, but it isn't ideal for organizations that have complex security requirements.

[Read more: How to Protect Employee Privacy]

Benefits of firewalls for small businesses

Firewalls are a smart step toward improving your overall security. Here are the biggest benefits of using a firewall for your business:

  • Ongoing monitoring and alerts: Firewalls continually monitor your networks and send you alerts so you can track and analyze your activity. The alerts they provide can help you identify any potential issues before they turn into a full-blown crisis.
  • Access control: Firewalls monitor network access based on a set of predefined rules. For example, you can authorize or deny certain types of traffic based on things like internet protocol addresses, port numbers, or protocols. This allows you to restrict access to sensitive company resources.
  • Virus protection: Firewalls can also detect and block network threats like malware or viruses. New viruses and threats are constantly emerging, though, so you need to keep the system updated.
  • Cost-effective: Firewalls are a sensible option for small businesses that don’t have a lot of money to spend on security. Firewalls are available as hardware, software, or software as a service, so there are many affordable options that are available on the market.

CO— aims to bring you inspiration from leading respected experts. However, before making any business decision, you should consult a professional who can advise you based on your individual situation.

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CO—is committed to helping you start, run and grow your small business. Learn more about the benefits of small business membership in the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, here.

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