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A Beginner’s Guide to Firewalls: Debunking the Top 5 Myths about Firewalls

written by: Ashwin Satyanarayana•edited by: Rebecca Scudder•updated: 8/21/2008

Myths are dangerous. I don't even have to wager a bet to know you will end up on the losing side if you go by them. Firewalls, like many other things, are sometimes shrouded in a think web of myths, and it helps if you have the right information to understand them. This article debunks 5 such myths.

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    The worst things you can live with are myths -- partly because they are unfounded truths and partly because it is plain stupid to believe in them (although it isn’t your fault). The fact that you are reading will keep you from the foolishness of making decisions based on these myths. Below are a few myths about firewalls that you’d better know about:

    Firewall? Who the heck needs it?

    Everyone who has got anything to do with the Internet does. With the kind of security lapses we are plunged in, hackers can be breathing right down on your neck, snoop on your bank accounts and credit card data and flee with the spoils while you are left scratching your head. Even worse, the last thing you would want to see is that your website is hung up like a corpse on a tree and your network seems to be struck at New York City’s snail paced traffic (That at least moves, while your network can seem to be struck forever).

    Firewalls give me an all-rounded protection.

    Sorry about dousing your spirits, but again, it isn’t true. Protect it will, but not fully -- especially against insiders who are intent about copying or embezzling information. Think about it this way. The firewall helps by not allowing a particular kind of sensitive data out of or into the organization; but it can’t do much if someone within the system copies it on to a hard-drive, thumb drive, CD or some other portable copying device and saunters out. Also, most companies tend to think that by having investing in a firewall they would be protected -- but not until they configure their firewall properly. Additionally, a firewall only protects the segment of network it has been configured to protect, not the entire network by default.

    A Firewall can keep the Viruses Out

    That really depends on the kind of firewall you are using. Most of the enterprise grade firewalls do not come with this option. Also, hardware firewalls might not be able to help you with scanning for viruses -- you’ll need to have full fledged anti-virus software to do this job for you. It helps when you consult your vendor as to what your requirements are.

    Firewalls can protect everything; even the data that doesn’t flow through it

    Firewalls can’t protect something that isn’t going through it -- as simple as it might sound, many people don’t seem to get that. If a Firewall isn’t able to do something about the data flow in question, it isn’t the firewall’s technical incompetence- it has more to do with unsound security policies, bad people management, lapses in IT policies and the like. A firewall will very well protect anything that goes through it exactly the way it was instructed -- it is just a few pieces of hardware or code or both.

    Firewalls can be DIY

    Setting up and configuring it can be certainly Do-it-yourself. But it is highly recommended that you don’t spend time and efforts on building a firewall from scratch -- although it can be done, provided you know what you are doing (the objective), and you have the time and the resources required. An easier way is pick up one of the firewalls already available. There are various firewalls that fit various needs. You can even pick up free ones like IP Cop.