What’s the difference between consumer and business-grade firewalls?

By April 15, 2019 Security
Business-Grade Firewall | Next Generation Firewall

Why isn’t it a good idea to go out to your local Best Buy and get a consumer-grade firewall for your business? Can’t you save a few bucks this way, rather than getting a business-grade firewall?

Well…you can. But there is a huge difference between a firewall meant for personal home use versus a business-grade firewall that’s equipped with the tools that a business needs for protection. A consumer-grade firewall won’t be the best solution for your business. Here’s why.

What is a firewall?

In networking, a firewall is a tool that “monitors and controls incoming and outgoing network traffic” (Wikipedia). A firewall is meant to block unauthorized access to your system. It is the first line of defense for your network. It’s often a piece of hardware, but a firewall can also be software, or a combination of both hardware and software.

what does a standard firewall do?

A basic consumer-grade firewall is designed for ease of use, so anyone with little IT knowledge can install and configure it. Some commons features include:

  • Packet Filtering: Filters incoming and outgoing data (“packet”) and accepts or rejects it based on rules
  • Application Gateways & Proxy Servers: Connects systems in different networks using a proxy server, to hide and protect computers behind the firewall
  • Circuit-Level Gateway: Determines whether requested sessions are legitimate
  • Stateful Inspection or Dynamic Packet Filtering: Determines if information is authorized

Consumer firewalls prioritize speed over security. And yes, they’re cheaper. But keep in mind that low cost indicates a consumer-grade firewall is of lower quality and isn’t built to last for a long time. These firewalls aren’t upgradeable either – they are disposable. They will need to be completely replaced much more frequently than business-grade hardware.

What does a business-grade firewall do?

So, if that’s everything that your standard consumer-grade firewall does…what’s it missing? What does a business-grade firewall have that makes it the better choice for business use?

The first difference is in priorities: Where a consumer-grade firewall prioritizes speed over security, a business firewall prioritizes security, remote access, and scalability. Security should be your top priority – and your firewall’s too.

The most popular business-grade firewalls are called “next-generation” firewalls. They can detect and block more complicated attacks and intrusions. They also provide much more granular control and settings for security measures at the port, protocol, and application levels. Some features include:

  • Detect application-specific attacks
  • Deeper control over individual applications
  • Active directory integration
  • SSL inspection
  • Malware reputation-based filtering
  • Block traffic based on geographic location
  • Intelligence in improving blocking decisions
  • Highlight deviations from normal application behaviors
  • Content filtering
  • Anti-virus and anti-spyware features

The right tool for the right job

The ultimate gap between consumer-grade and business-grade firewalls is in their intended purpose and what uses they are developed to handle. A consumer-grade firewall is only designed to protect data for a couple of individuals – like a family. They are intended for a simple home network, with far less data to protect and less traffic to handle. Plus, these simpler firewalls are merely reactive. They do not provide proactive monitoring and defense.

Business-grade firewalls, on the other hand, are designed with much more complex and intense business use in mind. A next-generation firewall is specifically designed to aggressively safeguard a business’s critical data and devices against large-scale attacks and sophisticated threats. To do this, they come with a much more advanced toolset and features that are required in a business environment.

Plus, business-grade firewalls frequently come with continuous support, updates, and management by IT professionals…which you certainly will not get with an off-the-shelf firewall from Office Depot.

Meeting compliance standards

Do you need to comply with standards in your industry? Do you handle medical information and have to comply with HIPAA standards? Are you a law firm with sensitive data? Compliance laws may require certain technical and security standards. A consumer-grade firewall will not be compliant and cannot offer the features required in some cases.

Your business is professional, and your firewall should be too

The conclusion is this: Don’t use a consumer-grade firewall to protect your business, even if it’s tempting to save a few bucks. The choice between a consumer-grade and business-grade equipment is usually a choice between rudimentary basics and an aggressively proactive feature set. A professional business-grade, next-generation firewall is a much smarter investment that will provide you with better security, performance, and peace of mind in the long run.


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