Do Firewalls Create a False Sense of Security?

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At a time when digital security is more critical than ever, individuals and businesses alike find themselves wondering what’s necessary to stay safe.

The occasional virus-laden email attachment is no longer the only concern. Instead, malware, ransomware, and other threats are on the rise. Antivirus protections can help, but many also choose to deploy a common tool called the firewall.

Designed to act as a barrier between your machine and malicious connections from the internet, configuring a firewall is standard operating procedure for many digital users. However, it is a mistake to assume that a firewall is a bulletproof line of defense. Let’s consider what firewalls do and why they may not be enough on their own.

Firewall Basics: What They Are and How They Work

Firewalls act as a first line of defense, using pre-defined rules and advanced programming to identify potentially malicious traffic and prevent its entry. At the same time, traffic that the firewall deems acceptable flows in and out of the system. Firewalls can prevent traffic from reaching sensitive systems while ensuring that bad actors can’t exfiltrate secret data from the company’s network. 

Why have firewalls become so common? When you connect computers to the internet, it’s shockingly easy for other users to find ways to connect to those machines. Using a firewall has several advantages:

  • Prevents unwanted access from snooping hackers and roving malware
  • Protects against viruses and Trojan horses attempting to infiltrate your network
  • Offers a simple way to implement access control

However, there are some drawbacks common to many firewall deployments:

  • When poorly configured, can negatively impact performance
  • Can’t protect against every form of malware
  • Not effective against threats that aren’t coming from external sources

To use these tools effectively, it is critical to do more than install a firewall and forget about it.

The Potential Pitfalls of Firewalls and What to Do About Them

With firewalls, there is a significant difference between understanding and applying. Some of the downsides of using firewalls aside from poor performance or user unfriendliness:

  • An external firewall can’t stop an employee who plugs in an infected USB drive and spreads malware on your system, and it can’t stop employees from taking sensitive data outside the organization.
  • Your firewall may not have the capability to inspect data packets as closely as necessary, leaving holes in your defenses.
  • Missing routine updates means that your systems aren’t protected when you think they are. Many organizations learned this lesson the hard way during the WannaCry ransomware attack.

Although these issues present a challenge, they aren’t without solutions—nor do they render firewalls useless. Instead, you should implement additional efforts to strengthen your security, such as:

  • Using modern firewall software built for agility and performance
  • Segregating critical systems from one another on the network with additional “internal” firewalls that can stop infections from spreading too far
  • Using advanced software tools that let users apply security to individual documents and file systems, so that even if an intrusion occurs, hackers won’t find any useful data
  • Configuring automatic updates and performing routine checks to ensure that your capabilities remain up to date

The Final Word on Firewalls

Ultimately, there are multiple strong reasons to use firewalls, especially within business applications—and ditching firewalls can expose users to significant risks. However, you should never regard firewalls as the final word on security. While the individual user likely never needs to worry about encountering malware placed directly on their machine, insider threats and lax security rules within businesses can lead to data breaches, PR disasters, and big financial losses.

Businesses should consider investing in robust anti-malware and firewall tools while equipping themselves with software that makes maintaining internal security a simpler problem to solve. As the threat landscape evolves, so should enterprises and their security postures. Avoiding complacency and remaining proactive are the true keys to digital security. 

By Ben Liu eCommerce Director at Kofax

Ben Liu is an experienced eCommerce director in Irvine, California with more than 15 years building brands and refining the development of revenue streams. After generating more than $100 million of incremental revenue improvements in previous positions for heavy hitters across the tech industry, Ben joined the Kofax team. Now a driving force behind innovative marketing efforts and the growing popularity of Kofax Power PDF with SMBs, he continues to improve outreach via innovative chat bots, data-driven marketing analysis, and a dedication to consumer-first content. By bringing an engineer’s eye for detail to Kofax along with a passion for helping brands reach their potential, Ben’s charting a course for continued success at Kofax.

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