Defend Your Business with a Firewall by Keir Wells

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Broadband services and the ability to work remotely may have huge benefits when it comes to productivity. But without proper protection they leave you and your network exposed to a variety of incursions.

Denial of Service attacks, for example, can deprive you of access to a resource such as your network, email or website and can destroy files and programming on your computer systems. A Trojan Horse is a piece of programming that sneaks onto your system and lurks until it's triggered by a date or event, at which time it activates and destroys files or creates a back door for intruders to enter.

Attacks such as these can cost you considerable amounts of time and money. They can be avoided by installing a firewall across your systems.

What is a firewall?

A firewall is a piece of hardware or software that places a barrier between your network and the internet. It prevents outsiders from accessing your network and systems and delving into your confidential information or performing malicious acts. It can further protect your systems by restricting the surfing activities of those on your network so that you aren't exposed to harmful code that they may pick up when visiting non-trusted sites.

A firewall examines each piece of data sent to your computer or network and decides, based on pre-determined parameters, whether or not to let it through. It also blocks attempts by unknown programs that may find their way onto your system from communicating with the internet.

What doesn't a firewall do?

Firewalls don't protect your systems against viruses. For this you need anti-virus software that scans your computer on a regular basis and your emails as they arrive. These days you can get anti-virus software that integrates with firewall software so that you can monitor malicious code and intrusion attempts from the same place.

You should keep in mind that firewalls aren't 100 percent effective. A good firewall will protect you against 99 percent of attacks, but there is always the possibility of one slipping through.

You need to make sure that you take other precautions to protect your systems, such as keeping to a regular back-up plan. Also remember that a firewall is only as good as its latest update, and its well worth your while making sure everything stays current.

What types of firewall are available?

Hardware firewalls

Hardware firewalls are easy to use and install and are usually faster than their software counterparts. They tend to be more reliable. One of the real benefits of a hardware firewall is that it will often come bundled with additional services. So your hardware firewall may act as a router. They may be more expensive, but you get more for your money.

Software firewalls

Software firewalls traditionally run on top of your operating system. They tend to be more flexible and give you more control than their hardware counterparts. You can install a software firewall either onto the computer that acts as your internet connection router, or on each system on your network. If you install Microsoft Windows XP, you get one automatically. Other options include Symantec and McAfee products.

What to look for when buying a software firewall:

Ease of use - A good software firewall should offer you an easy to use interface that lets you effortlessly navigate through your choices and guides you through the process of setting up your firewall.

Automatic updates - Your firewall vendor should make regular updates available to you at a reasonable price. If they're automatic all the better. Shop around and see what's out there.

Keir Wells is the founder of [ redirected] and writes business articles for Microsoft Small Business

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