Along with an antivirus program, most security experts recommend at least a basic firewall to keep your computer secure, regardless of whether you are a home or a business user. A firewall can be a program installed on your computer, software integrated into your router, or a standalone piece of hardware that is installed on your network.
On your home computer, a firewall prevents malicious programs and hackers from gaining access to your computer and your personal information by monitoring any incoming traffic and blocking or filtering out potentially harmful data packets based on the type of traffic and the communications port being used. It also prevents malicious software already on your computer from gaining access to the Internet without your permission.
Most operating systems have a basic firewall built in that is relatively easy to use, though it may not offer complete protection. Often, it is best to install a third-party solution, which can offer more flexibility, better security and easier configuration.
In addition, many home routers include a firewall, which can range from simple port filtering software to a full-featured firewall. Typically, these are more difficult to configure than a software firewall, and you may require the help of an IT professional if you are not familiar basic networking principles.
In a business setting, software-based firewalls can protect individual computers from harm, though, often, a more robust solution is needed to protect your entire network. Dedicated hardware firewalls offer greater control over your business's security and better protection of both your company's and your customers' sensitive information.
Installed between your network and the Internet, a hardware firewall protects your computers from outside threats, such as malware and hackers, using techniques like stateful packet inspection or application-layer filtering. It also prevents employees from transmitting sensitive data or email communications over the Internet, and it can limit or deny access to your internal network from personal devices like mobile phones, which could harbor malware or access sensitive data. Finally, a hardware firewall can be used to prevent access to productivity-draining services, like social networks, or to sites containing malicious software.
Both hardware and software firewalls require some networking knowledge to configure effectively, and it is often best to work with a trusted IT services provider to determine your security needs and address them appropriately.