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Is your firewall protecting the business? 7 questions to ask

If you haven't updated your firewall in the last few years, chances are you're putting your business at risk.

The term "firewall" can be traced as far back as 1666. Webster's tells us that the term was used to describe a wall that could block fire from spreading between storehouses. 

Motorheads know this term, as well. The firewall is the part of the car that sits between the engine and the passenger compartment. It's designed to isolate the heat in the engine compartment, preventing the potentially flammable materials in the passenger compartment from igniting.

Firewall's first use in computing dates back to the 1990s, but some assert that its first use was actually in the movie WarGames, from 1983. 

Speaking of feeling old, how old is your firewall? That's a question I'll bet you don't ask yourself all that often. But it's the first of our seven questions.

In today's computing environments, firewalls block certain data from transitioning from one part of a network to another. This is particularly important when it comes to isolating the internet from a local area network, since traffic on the open internet is often malicious.

In homes and small businesses, the router has some level of firewall functionality. In more elaborate deployments, the firewall can be a separate device, or even a software-based system that's part of a virtual networking environment.

Since this article is intended for small business owners and managers, we'll stick with the idea of a firewall either as a part of a router or a small, standalone firewall device.

Is your equipment outdated?

This brings us back to the question of firewall (or router) age. How long has it been since you've replaced it? If it's more than three or four years, you're flirting with potential disaster. 

How many news reports about hacks and attacks and ransomware have you seen over the past three years? Cyberattacks are incredibly profitable, which means that cybercriminals are investing in and developing techniques to crack security.

Old firewalls, especially if they're from the Windows 7 or 8 era, are just not up to handling the sorts of attacks we're seeing today. They're not fast enough, and they don't have the latest defense features. So here's the takeaway: If your firewall is more than 3 years old, and definitely if it's 5 years old or older, consider replacing it. The cost of replacement will be a tiny fraction of the cost of what will eventually hit you if you don't.

Have you updated your firewall software recently?

Updating your firewall software is as important as updating your operating system software. Many attacks use older exploits. Every time you update, you prevent the newest waves of attacks. If you haven't checked and updated your firewall or router in the last few months, stop right now and go do it. 

This is another reason why you need to replace older equipment. Updates are crucial to preventing attacks, and if your firewall is older and no longer under support, you are probably not getting those crucial updates. 

Have you backed up your firewall configuration recently?

If your firewall glitches and you have to reset it, it's much easier to restore a configuration backup than to set everything up again. It's usually a 5-10 minute process. Once again, go do it now.

Have you increased broadband speed?

We're now in a highly video-centric world. Zoom meetings mean that upload bandwidth is as important as download bandwidth. Even at home, you might have more than one Zoom or video connection happening simultaneously. To handle it, many folks in homes and small businesses have increased broadband bandwidth.

That's great, but can your old router handle it? Routers designed to just feed basic Netflix and let you play games online were never designed for entire families working and schooling all day online at home. If you've increased your network use, it's probably time to upgrade the firewall or router.

Does your firewall inspect large files and zip/compressed files?

Not all routers or firewalls do this, but they should. Your firewall should be able to examine all data coming into your network, whether encrypted or compressed or not. It needs to be able to look inside the packets to make sure nothing malicious is coming into your network.

If your current firewall or router can't protect you adequately, get a new one. (Dell SonicWall offers a host of next-generation firewalls designed for businesses of all sizes.)

Have you added more people? Are people working remotely?

Business routers/firewalls installed prior to the pandemic were probably not intended to support workers connecting into the office from home on a full-time basis. Are more of your people working remotely? If so, all the traffic that used to flow around your internal LAN is now blended with internet traffic. That's a lot more work for a firewall to manage. 

Likewise, if you've increased your network-using workforce, that's a lot more load on the firewall. It's entirely possible that old twenty-teens firewalls will bottleneck or fail. Might be time for an upgrade.

Are all your firewall security features enabled?

Firewalls and routers ship with a lot of capabilities, but they're not all turned on at the factory. That's often because they need to be configured to manage a given network.

If you haven't turned on all the security features available, you're leaving yourself and your company vulnerable. Spend a few minutes logging into your firewall and auditing your security features. If you're not sure how to use those features, feel free to reach out to Dell's support services, who can help you tune everything to best fit your company's needs.

Click here to learn more about network security and Dell SonicWall firewalls, or call 1-877-289-3355 to speak with a small business specialist.