October 22, 2017

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What is a Firewall?

A firewall is a part of a computer system or network that is designed to block unauthorized access while permitting outward communication. It is also a device or set of devices configured to permit, deny, encrypt, decrypt, or proxy all computer traffic between different security domains based upon a set of rules and other criteria.

Firewalls can be implemented in both hardware and software, or a combination of both. Firewalls are frequently used to prevent unauthorized Internet users from accessing private networks connected to the Internet, especially intranets. All messages entering or leaving the intranet pass through the firewall, which examines each message and blocks those that do not meet the specified security criteria.

There are several types of firewall techniques:

Packet filter:
Looks at each packet entering or leaving the network and accepts or rejects it based on user-defined rules. Packet filtering is fairly effective and transparent to users, but it is difficult to configure. In addition, it is susceptible to IP spoofing.

Application gateway:
Applies security mechanisms to specific applications, such as FTP and Telnet servers. This is very effective, but can impose a performance degradation.

Circuit-level gateway:
Applies security mechanisms when a TCP or UDP connection is established. Once the connection has been made, packets can flow between the hosts without further checking.

Proxy server:
Intercepts all messages entering and leaving the network. The proxy server effectively hides the true network addresses.

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Function

A firewall is a dedicated appliance, or software running on computer, which inspects network traffic passing through it, and denies or permits passage based on a set of rules.

A firewall’s basic task is to regulate some of the flow of traffic between computer networks of different trust levels. Typical examples are the Internet which is a zone with no trust and an internal network which is a zone of higher trust. A zone with an intermediate trust level, situated between the Internet and a trusted internal network, is often referred to as a “perimeter network” or Demilitarized zone (DMZ).

A firewall’s function within a network is similar to physical firewalls with fire doors in building construction. In the former case, it is used to prevent network intrusion to the private network. In the latter case, it is intended to contain and delay structural fire from spreading to adjacent structures.

Without proper configuration, a firewall can often become worthless. Standard security practices dictate a “default-deny” firewall ruleset, in which the only network connections which are allowed are the ones that have been explicitly allowed. Unfortunately, such a configuration requires detailed understanding of the network applications and endpoints required for the organization’s day-to-day operation. Many businesses lack such understanding, and therefore implement a “default-allow” ruleset, in which all traffic is allowed unless it has been specifically blocked. This configuration makes inadvertent network connections and system compromise much more likely.

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