Best Firewalls for Small Businesses
Did you know that businesses make up 81% of all ransomware infections? Here’s everything you need to know to choose the right firewall service to monitor your network traffic.
A firewall is a computer security device that is situated between a small business’s internal network and the Internet. It can work at either the software or the hardware level to prevent unwanted outside access to the company’s computer system. Matthew Sarrel, writing for PC Magazine, provided the following definition: “A firewall must contain a stateful packet inspection (SPI) engine, which examines the content of packets and grants access to your network only if the traffic appears legitimate. Firewalls can also block inappropriate inbound and outbound traffic based on rules or filters. Internet Protocol (IP) filtering, for example, can block employees behind the firewall from accessing or receiving mail from specific IP addresses. Also, traffic can be blocked based on your network card’s unique identifier, called a MAC (media access control) address. Many firewalls can control traffic using keyword and domain filters, letting you block traffic to specific sites. More sophisticated firewalls let you create complex rules.” The firewall thus basically acts as a guard, identifying each packet of information before it is allowed to pass through. It is one of the most effective forms of protection yet developed against hackers operating on the Internet. A “stateful” engine, by the way, is electronics parlance for software able to remember its earlier states, usually by saving values in memory.
Ideally, a firewall will detect intruders, block them from entering the company’s computer network, notify the system administrator, record information about the source of the attempted break-in, and produce reports to help authorities track down the culprits. Since firewalls can be set to monitor both incoming and outgoing Internet traffic, they can also be used to prevent employees from accessing games, newsgroups, or adult sites on the Internet.
Despite the potential advantages of firewalls, however, some small businesses remain unprotected. Owners sometimes believe that firewalls are too expensive or demand too much technical expertise. Others believe that no hacker would be interested in the information contained on their computers. Wrong! Intruders often seek unprotected computers to serve as unknowing transmitters for spam mail. Later the company may discover this when many sites that have protected themselves refuse the company’s own mail. Many hackers also seek to disrupt companies’ operations just for the hell of it. A small business may lose valuable information or cause itself no end of hassle by failing to erect a firewall.
It makes sense that cyber criminals would go after businesses—after all, businesses see more traffic, collect tons of user data, and handle payment info. But it also means going without cybersecurity for your business is just not an option.
We’ve done the dirty work and researched the top firewall options on the market to see which providers offer the best anti-malware software, intrusion protection, and even point-to-point tunneling protocol (more on that later).
Here are our top choices for businesses looking to protect their internal networks and sensitive data from online threats.
SonicWall: Best firewall for businesses with multiple locations
If your business has multiple locations, we recommend SonicWall for its site-to-site VPN capabilities.
SonicWall comes preloaded with virtual private network (VPN) capabilities. The software creates VPN tunnels, which allow remote offices and employees to enjoy file sharing and other functions on your internal network securely—without each employee needing to run their own VPN client software. Basically, it can help you simplify your medium-sized business’s internal processes without jeopardizing your network security.
SonicWall systems also feature a web application firewall, which allows you to control permissions and preferences for each computer application that accesses the web. That means greater security and customization possibilities for your business.
Finally, we wanted to mention that SonicWall also offers load balancing to help you balance incoming requests between your servers—that way, your company website can still operate smoothly even during peak usage hours. SonicWall’s load balancing is fast enough to rival other prominent load balancers (like Peplink Balance), and it’s convenient since it’s integrated with the rest of your network management tools.
Cisco ASA: Our top hardware firewall for small businesses
Of all the enterprise firewall solutions we reviewed, we like Cisco ASA the best.
Cisco ASA firewalls have pretty much everything you need to protect your business. With Cisco, you can get a hardware firewall to protect your entire corporate network, plus software to protect each device in your office. This system creates multiple checkpoints in your network firewall security, so you have complete endpoint protection (a.k.a. complete protection for the “endpoint” of your online interactions: your network).
Cisco ASA also offers a lot of useful features for businesses, like VPN routers for companies with multiple locations. But some users report that the management interface is difficult to use. And frankly, the system might be overkill for a small business with only a few computers to protect.
Palo Alto Networks: Best for file sharing on the cloud
Does your company use cloud-based file-sharing services like Google Drive, Dropbox, or Apple iCloud? If so, you may want to invest in a Palo Alto firewall router for your small business.
Cloud storage systems aren’t part of your internal network, so they’re not protected by most firewalls. But firewalls from Palo Alto Networks use site-to-site VPN tunnels to create a virtualized network that includes your cloud storage. That way, you get reliable protection for any sensitive data stored on the cloud.
One thing to keep in mind, though, is Palo Alto firewalls use only stateful packet inspections (at least as far as we can tell). That means the firewall doesn’t analyze the actual data transmitted to your device—just basic info like the origin IP address. That makes it a bit less effective than some of the other options on our list.