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What Is Firewall Protection?

For website owners who want serious security without the hassle of managing their own firewall, dedicated firewall hosting can provide real-time monitoring and protection for sensitive data and reduce or even prevent Denial-of-Service (DoS) and other attacks.

Why You Need a Firewall

Chances are you're familiar with firewalls, the hardware and software systems designed to protect your computer and the information flowing to and from it from prying eyes and malicious attacks. The same principle applies when it comes to your website; both the content you provide your visitors (in the form of multimedia content, blogs, online shops, etc.) and the information they submit to your site (including very sensitive information such as credit card numbers, purchase histories and correspondence) need to be monitored and defended from the less savory denizens of the electronic ether.

For many website owners (particularly those using shared hosting), a passive or self-managed firewall solution may not be enough. The same level of technology you rely on at home to keep your WiFi secure may not be up to the task of guaranteeing your customers rock-solid security for their financial information and online purchases. Consequently, many people turn to dedicated firewall hosting from their hosting provider.

How It Works

Dedicated firewall hosting boosts your site's security by providing a combined hardware and software firewall that's solely for your server (or partition of a shared server, if you use shared hosting or Virtual Private Server (VPS) hosting). It often includes round-the-clock monitoring of traffic to and from your site by both the software itself and actual human staffers trained to handle suspicious activity.

Many hosts offer a choice of hardware and software configurations that are scalable based on how much activity your site sees in a given period, and plans are often adjustable "on the fly" to meet sudden surges in traffic to your site. As a rule, they'll also include monitoring of specific ports, packet filtering and protocol filtering.

Packet filtering examines each piece of data moving through the system and only lets it through if it meets pre-defined criteria set by you and your provider.

Port monitoring and protocol filtering both involve managing traffic based on the way in which it is trying to interface with your server; port monitoring masks certain ports (the 'doors' through which data travels at various points in the network, including your server, other computers visiting your site, and various network hardware such as routers and switches) or restricts traffic to a specific range of ports.

Protocol filtering, on the other hand, analyzes traffic based on the format it's using to access the server. Examples include the ubiquitous Hypertext Transfer Protocol (HTTP), File Transfer Protocol (FTP) and Domain Name Server (DNS, the language used to humanize the numeric information computers use to route traffic on the Internet). If incoming data seems suspicious or malicious, the software or a technician can stop it in its tracks.

What to Look For

One important factor to consider, depending on your level of expertise, is whether the host provides a fully managed firewall, or whether you still maintain a measure of control.

With a fully managed firewall hosting solution, the provider is responsible for managing every aspect of the firewall, including rules, filters, updates, and more. This may be ideal for individuals who lack the expertise or desire to manage the firewall themselves.

For the more advanced user, however, other hosting services allow the end-user to modify the firewall, setting up custom rules or opening and closing ports.

What It Costs

Some hosting providers include a dedicated firewall as part of their hosting packages, but others may charge additional setup or service fees, depending on your level of hosting.

Dedicated Firewall Pros and Cons

Pros:

  • Protects your website from hacks and DoS attacks
  • Protects your customers' data when using your website

Cons:

  • May come at an additional cost

Points to Remember

With companies like Target and Home Depot in the news for data breaches, breaches that have exposed the data of millions of customers, there's no doubt that cybercrime is on the rise.

If you (and your customers) are serious about data integrity and safety, a dedicated firewall just might be worth looking into.

Firewall Protection Hosting Frequently Asked Questions

  • What is a firewall?

    A firewall is a software or hardwall system that controls network traffic. In general, it acts as a barrier between a trusted network (like an intranet or a web server) and an untrusted network (generally, the internet itself).

  • Why is a firewall important for shared hosting?

    With a shared hosting plan, your content lives on the same server as a large number of other websites (thousands in some cases). If one of your neighbors gets hacked, that could adversely affect your site as well. Think of it like having multiple user accounts on your home computer. If you get a virus, your whole family has a virus.

  • Can I add firewall hosting to any server type?

    Any hosting server should offer some type of firewall protection. The exact technology used will differ between platforms, but they will all provide similar features and effectiveness.

  • Does my site need a firewall?

    That's a decision you're going to have to make based on the content of your website, how important it is to you that it remains secure, and whether or not you're receiving sensitive information from your site's visitors. If you're posting a blog about your family vacations, you probably don't need a firewall. But if you're hosting an online store or an interactive website that stores user information, you owe it to your users to provide the best security possible.

  • Can I make firewall exceptions for others using my site?

    Absolutely. In the same way you can tell your desktop's firewall which programs should be allowed to download information and install updates, you can create exceptions for your server's firewall. The degree to which you can customize these rules will depend on your plan, so be sure to do your homework and pick the plan that provides the flexibility you need.

  • Do I need a firewall if I'm using SSL encryption?

    Encrypting user data is one essential step in securing your customers' information. But while encryption systems like SSL allow for the safe transfer of sensitive information over a network, in most cases the actual sensitive information is still being stored on your server, in a format your computer can understand. In fact, if you are a store owner, you likely have access to much of that sensitive information from your control panel. If you can view that information, so can a hacker who gains access to your server.

  • Will I be able to use my VPN with a firewall?

    Some hosting companies may provide optional VPN usage. This can be particularly useful for businesses hosting their company's intranet, as it allows your staff to securely access your server from any location or from their mobile devices.

  • Can I get a subset of firewall protection, like just packet filtering and port monitoring?

    Your host may provide individual protections, or you may be able to obtain some of them through third party applications. Depending on your needs and the cost savings, this may be a viable option; however, from a total security perspective, any feature you leave out is a potential vulnerability. Hacking tools are becoming more sophisticated all the time, so a full-service firewall that can adjust to new threats is probably a better approach.

  • Are there shared firewall options?

    Yes, many hosts will offer (or even provide for free) a shared firewall option. This is typically much less expensive than dedicated firewall protection, but also provides less security and customization. Since you are sharing the firewall with multiple users, it can only block external requests, not requests made from other computers sharing your firewall, so an attack on one user can be an attack on them all.

  • If I opt for the shared firewall, can I upgrade later?

    Absolutely. In most cases, changing your firewall preference is simply a matter of adding it through your control panel or giving your host a call. If you go with the dedicated firewall and then want to downgrade, your host may have rules in place regarding refunds, but the actual process of returning to a shared firewall should be quite simple.

  • If I have a firewall in place, does that mean my server is hack proof?

    Unfortunately, no. Nothing can guarantee a hack-free online experience. A single successful hack can earn a data thief enormous sums of money, so there are plenty of hackers willing to dedicate large amounts of their time to getting around the latest security measures. But not having a firewall in place makes you much more vulnerable than if you have one, the same way leaving your door wide open makes you an easy target for a burglar.

  • What is a Denial-of-Service (DoS) attack?

    A DoS attack is an attempt to disrupt or shut down a server, to the effect that traffic is either completely stopped or slowed to a point that most users will be unable to utilize it.

    DoS attacks generally involve sending an overwhelming number of communication requests to a server. This leads to the server no longer being able to handle legitimate requests. In some case, this will cause the server to crash. Regardless, the effect is to make the server unusable for legitimate requests.

  • What is a Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attack?

    A DDoS attack is simply a DoS attack where the attack comes from multiple computers. Very often, such attacks are the result of infected computers that take part in a DDoS attack without knowing it. Today, almost all DoS attacks are distributed.

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