The Internet provides instant access to a world of resources, services and applications. But it also exposes you to mobs of malefactors, crazies and crooks.
Application-specific attacks and sophisticated phishing raids can knock out your network in seconds — slowing traffic to a crawl, hijacking confidential information and destroying mission-critical data. The costs to your business may include lost revenue, angry customers, frustrated employees and a black mark on your corporate reputation.
Like locking your front door at night, deploying a properly configured firewall provides a vital line of defense against malevolent Internet invaders. Firewalls filter both inbound and outbound network traffic. They can control access to host applications, and keep track of all attempts to access the network — authorized and unauthorized. Depending on how they're designed and configured, they may be able to keep the crooks out and your proprietary information in. They may even filter out spam and spyware.
The one thing they can't do is purchase and install themselves. Only you can do that, and only when you're convinced you really need to. Most routers come with a basic firewall built in, as does Windows, but these days that may not be enough. Here are seven signs that you need to upgrade your firewall to full functionality.
1. Do you travel with a laptop? Even if your home network is protected, the first time you put your notebook on a hotel network or airport coffee shop connection, you're risking the loss of all your data and exposing yourself to possible legal action. High-powered firewall software, or portable hardware, will protect that data.
2. Does your business depend on trade secrets and/or proprietary technology, information and data? Whether that information resides on physical storage media or exists in the form of packets moving along network cables, a backward firewall exposes you to multiple opportunities for loss.
3. Does your network, and/or laptop, hold private financial information, either yours or that of your customers? Government regulations now make your company responsible for preventing the theft, destruction, and corruption of credit card numbers, Social Security numbers, street addresses, and other such information. A backward firewall puts you at legal risk.
4. Is your network partly wireless? Most people fail to appreciate that a wireless signal may be available across the street from your office — where a crook with a packet sniffer can cause irreparable damage to sensitive and confidential information. Or the crook may simply steal it and sell it to your competitor. Corporate espionage, anyone?
5. Will you or your customers suffer serious loss if your network goes down? Once a malefactor breaks in, there are countless ways she can disable your network with a denial of service attack — indefinitely. That's merely inconvenient if all you use your network for is exchanging email, but if your company is based on providing full-time customer access, an extended network failure could put you out of business.
6. Does anyone on your network run Java applets or controls while browsing the Internet? Most of us do, but recent application layer attacks have exploited these new technologies to load dangerous "Trojan horse" malware onto users' computers, overwriting files and causing no end of trouble. Only the latest firewalls can protect you against these tricky Trojans.
7. Have you really imagined a worst case scenario? A bad guy with a packet sniffer gains access to user accounts and passwords — and from there it's only a short step to seizing system-level control. Next thing you know the crook builds a "back door" to get into your network resources at any time. The attacker might modify the password for the system administrator, the list of permissions for access to file servers, and the login information for computers that contain confidential information. He could steal your proprietary technology, use your customers' credit cards, or corrupt your databases. Nasty!
Just remember: All this horror is preventable with an upgraded firewall. Can you afford to upgrade? A better question is, Can you can afford to lose critical data and information?
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