Thursday, October 04, 2018

When you Should Use Firewalls, Content Filters & Anti-Malware Software

Firewalls, content filters and anti-malware software are all items implemented to protect hardware devices and the data on them. To understand when you should implement any of these types of protections, it is important to understand how they work. Like a bicycle, car and a bus which fulfill similar purposes, these devices have similar goals but accomplish them in very different ways.

By better understanding how each device works, it is easier to decide which are best to implement to meet your particular needs.

When you Should Use Firewalls, Content Filters & Anti-Malware Software


A firewall sits at the edge of a network between end user devices and the Internet. Firewalls are the gatekeeper whose sole purpose is to control traffic coming in and going out of your network. As the gatekeeper, incoming traffic is verified before being passed along. This helps prevent attackers and other unauthorized access to devices on the network which in turn preserves the integrity of the data on those devices.

Not only do firewalls block attackers, but they are a great way to manage a network with limited bandwidth. Firewalls provide a way to control the amount of bandwidth used by devices, by different sites (YouTube, etc), and can prioritize certain types of traffic over others. Firewalls are typically hardware devices but can also come as software. 

If you own a business and have multiple devices on your network, a firewall should be an integral part of your security plan.

Content Filters

Content filters are commonly used by businesses, governmental and educational institutions. A content filter can be hardware or software and sits between the devices on the network and the Internet. The purpose of a content filter is to block access to specific web sites or categories of web sites. Sites are typically blocked for being inappropriate or having content that is harmful to the device. 

The most effective content filters allow the creation of multiple groups. Groups allow different permissions to be assigned to users in an organized, efficient and easy to manage way. For example, different access could be assigned to users in the following groups:
  • Faculty and students
  • Employees and visitors
  • Staff and contractors
  • Employees and IT staff
Content filters are essential if you must protect certain groups on your network from potentially harmful sites. Like firewalls, content filters can be helpful when managing a network with limited bandwidth because certain types of sites can be blocked. Blocking video streaming sites, online radio stations, and other bandwidth-heavy sites reduces usage so everyone has enough bandwidth to do their jobs. 

Anti-Malware Software

It would be difficult to recommend against implementing anti-malware software. Anti-malware software runs locally on a device and is the last defense against viruses, Ransomware and other various threats. There are free and paid versions, with paid versions providing scans that run at regular intervals. Scans search locally and remove found instances of malware, potentially unwanted programs (PUPs), Trojans, key-loggers, spyware and other nefarious software.

Some anti-malware software includes web browser plug-ins. These warn against downloading potentially malicious files and programs. When downloading software, especially free software, it can be easy to mistake which is the correct link when there are ads sprinkled throughout the page. Browser plug-ins can help protect against this, but keep in mind no software catches everything. It is always best to use caution even with anti-malware software running.

It is advisable to install anti-malware on all end user devices to maintain the integrity and security of the local data.

The purpose of firewalls, content filters and anti-malware software is the same: to protect data on the devices on the network. Firewalls and content filters can be hardware- or software-based and are part of the network infrastructure. Anti-malware is software installed on the local device. From firewalls blocking unauthorized user or program access, to content filters blocking certain websites, to anti-malware blocking unwanted programs, each is unique in how it protects your data and what it focuses on. 

As always, knowing the unique differences between devices that have a similar purpose helps ensure money and time is spent on implementing the right item for your network.

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