A hardware firewall is a physical appliance that is deployed to enforce a network boundary. All network links crossing this boundary pass through this firewall, which enables it to perform inspection of both inbound and outbound network traffic and enforce access controls and other security policies.
These firewalls, which contain both the hardware and software features necessary to enforce a network boundary, can offer a variety of different networking and security features, including URL filtering, an intrusion prevention system (IPS), and even Wi-Fi support.
A network security solution, a hardware firewall is designed to protect an organization’s network boundary by being deployed in inline mode. This means that the physical network cables over which traffic can cross this boundary are connected to ports on the “inside” and “outside” of the firewall.
When traffic enters a network firewall, it is subjected to security inspection and may have multiple different controls applied to it. At a high level, firewalls commonly are configured to block certain types of traffic from crossing the network boundary. This can help to block traffic over any unused or undesirable ports from entering the network and to stop certain types of traffic from leaving the network (such as traffic that could leak sensitive data).
Beyond this, many firewalls also have additional access controls and security inspection capabilities. They may be able to apply signature detection or machine learning to traffic to identify malicious content and to apply access controls for certain resources. All of these filters and protections help to secure the network and the systems connected to it against exploitation.
Hardware firewalls are not the only available firewall option. An organization may choose to deploy a software-based firewall as well.
The main difference between a hardware firewall and a software firewall is that the hardware firewall runs on its own physical device, while a software firewall is installed on another machine. A common example of a software firewall is the firewall built into most operating systems like Windows and macOS. These OS firewalls are bundled with the operating system and can run on any compatible hardware.
However, these OS firewalls are not the only options for software firewalls. Like hardware firewalls, software firewalls are also offered as standalone solutions. An organization can purchase and deploy these firewalls in locations where a hardware firewall may not be a viable option, such as in cloud environments.
Hardware firewalls, deployed as physical appliances, provide a number of benefits compared to software firewalls, including:
A big decision to make is whether to use a hardware or software firewall to protect a network. Both of them have their own advantages and disadvantages and the right choice depends on an organization’s unique situation and use cases.
Beyond the choice of a physical firewall appliance and a software-based firewall, it is also important to select a firewall that provides the features necessary to protect the organization against cyber threats. To learn more about what to look for in a firewall solution, check out this buyer’s guide. You’re also welcome to schedule a demo to learn about how Check Point’s next-generation firewall (NGFW) solutions can help to improve your network security.