A hardware firewall is a standalone appliance that is meant to sit in front of your IT infrastructure, or in other words between your servers and the Internet, acting as a guard so to say monitoring all traffic that is entering and leaving your network. Software firewalls are isolated to the server on which they are hosted and can only provide protection for a single device rather than an entire network, hence why a hardware firewall can be regarded as a sensible investment for an environment where you would like to apply the same firewall rules across a large expanse of hardware, to include devices that may not have their own software firewalls. Cisco is generally seen as being the best producer of robust and resilient hardware firewalls that are able to see off even the most intense of attacks.
Using a software firewall can undermine the stability of the server. Although a software firewall will have the capabilities necessary to block the IP addresses of computers that are repeatedly attacking the machine, this doesn’t negate the threat as the traffic is still reaching the server and processing power is still being used in dealing with these attacks. This is where the first benefit of a hardware firewall emerges because it is able to stop rogue traffic before it even has a chance to reach your hardware, thereby preventing the attacks from impacting on server performance and stability.
Another benefit that arises from using a hardware firewall is its capability to analyse traffic as it passes through the device, using an anomaly detector to pick out any suspicious packets. Traffic that is flagged as being suspicious will then be stopped in its tracks and prevented from going any further, so that hackers trying to gain access to a server are stopped at the first hurdle.
Configure the firewall, but more importantly, test it
Whilst I’m sure many hardware firewalls come with a great rule sets out of the box, when you are investing in such an expensive piece of equipment, you should read all the available documentation so that you are able to make the most of what really is an investment. If you have had security breaches or have been the victim of DDoS attacks in the past then the first thing you should do is setup firewall rules to reflect this and to make sure that they can be prevented from happening again. It would also be worth consulting a security expert who can provide you with additional pointers on how best to use the appliance to protect your network.
Once you are happy with how you have the appliance configured, go ahead and test it. It’s all well and good having it configured how you like, but how are you sure that these rules are going to protect you if you don’t test them? There are a number of different applications out there that you can use to test a firewall. Alternatively, if you are really confident in your security then why not hire a hacker to test it? Testing applications are just going to be running a universal set of commands, but a hacker will be able to observe your network configuration and test the security in a tailored way that is relatable to common threats.
A hardware firewall is a great way of providing a network infrastructure. Rather than being used for a single server deployment, it is more cost efficient for deployments where two or more servers are being used. The level of protection offered will safeguard the stability of your servers and prevent hackers from getting anywhere near your hardware. For a single server deployment, shared hardware firewalls are sometime available.