A home firewall keeps know-bad traffic from ever entering your home network.
It can also make it so your kids and guests can’t digitally touch your important data or computers.
Interested? Here’s how it works:
Firewalls are big filters
That little box tucked underneath your desk has a big job: match all the Internet traffic that’s trying to get to your computer against a set of rules. If the traffic matches a rule, it passes. if not, it gets dropped.
A firewall that’s properly setup will allow you to surf cute cat videos all day long, but will automatically filter out traffic from “known-bad-server.com.”
We can also use firewalls to separate the traffic inside our network into zones so that your teen hacker daughter doesn’t “accidentally” access the files on your work laptop. Again.
(Important note: If you’re lucky enough to have a teen hacker daughter, harness her powers for good, and ask her to secure your network! She’ll know best how to do it. 🙂 )
Dumb vs. smart firewalls
There are two flavors of firewalls in the world: those that just follow the rules, and those that “think” for themselves.
- “Dumb” firewalls – These just match traffic against a list. Match the list? Pass. Don’t match? Drop. They expect all the traffic to follow certain rules and standards. From a security perspective, these are better than nothing by about five percent.
- “Smart” firewalls – These not only perform pattern matching like above, but they look inside the traffic that’s coming through searching for a variety of sneaky attacks (fragmented packets, mangled syntax, slow attacks, etc.).
Smart firewalls also tend to have extra protection baked in. Things that do extra analysis and reporting and separating of traffic so you can get a really good view of what’s going on with all your traffic.
Do you really need the extra protection? Good question! Let’s answer that by thinking about…
What’s on your network?
The average home network is a complex critter these days. On any given network, we have work computers (be they laptops or desktops), phones and tablets that blend work and play, entertainment devices (TVs, game consoles, toys), kids’ computers and devices, guest devices, automated or IoT things…
There’s a lot going on!
The question to ask yourself to figure out what kind of firewall to get is this: How bad would it be for an attack to wipe out my most important data, and how much do I want to use the Internet for recreation?
There isn’t any one right answer to this question. Rather, there’s a scale. One one side, there’s “We only use the Internet for Netflix and Facebook, and we don’t have any data (not even family photos) on our devices.” On the other side, there’s “I use my home network for business-critical functions, and I have a file server in my basement with years of confidential data on it, but I also need my both my kids and my lightbulbs to be able to get online.”
Where you fall on that scale determines what kind of firewall you should have in your home.
Basic firewall configuration
Regardless of what kind of firewall you have, it should do a few basic things:
- Drop traffic from known-bad devices coming into your network;
- Drop traffic to known-bad devices leaving your network;
- Lock all the ports you’re not actively using on a regular basis.
The specifics of setting up each brand and model of firewall are too much to go into here, but if you keep those basic tasks in mind, you’ll be good to go. If it’s something you’d rather have just work, get hold of us, and we’ll be happy to get you squared away.