Hardware Firewall vs Software Firewall: The Differences

Today, if you search for firewalls, you will see a combination of hardware and software firewalls marketed to small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs). Both are valuable, but they serve different purposes depending on your needs. We will look at the difference between hardware vs software firewalls and determine which firewall offers the best protection for your company.

What is a Firewall exactly?

A firewall is software or hardware that, like a security fence, surrounds a network or computer system and protects them from certain cyber threats. A software or hardware firewall can be considered the first security barrier to network input. Therefore, any data must first pass through the firewall before it can reach your network from the Internet or other networks. But how does a firewall detect what should and should not cross the network boundary?

For this purpose, the firewall checks the data packets, including the source and destination addresses of the packets, complies with the set of rules defined for the network, and then determines whether the packet is allowed to pass. By setting up a firewall, malicious sites can be blocked to prevent unauthorized access or the entry of viruses and other malware into the network. Firewalls are either software or hardware.

hardware firewall vs software firewall

What is Software Firewall?

A software firewall is a firewall that is installed on a computer or server and tasked with network security. It works with a wide variety of other technical security solutions to provide more robust and cohesive security for enterprises of all sizes.

When a software firewall is installed on a server, it opens up like an umbrella of protection over all other computers connected to the network. It can monitor both incoming and outgoing traffic for potential risk or suspicious user behavior, and also makes setting security policies much easier, faster, and more flexible.

This type of firewall is fast becoming the solution of choice for many reasons. Enterprises love the lower initial cost with few restrictions on the number of devices to be protected. This type of firewall is also critical as it requires very little space (as a computer program), and can be installed remotely on any number of devices. It’s far different from its counterpart, the hardware firewall, which has many unique elements in its own right.

What is Hardware Firewall?

A firewall is a stand-alone hardware device that has a dedicated processor, memory, and operating system. Because in many medium and large networks, servers and other network equipment are installed inside the rack, some stand-alone hardware firewalls are designed to be installed in server racks and therefore have a standard size. Some hardware firewalls are also part of a network router instead of a standalone device. In other words, some network routers also have an internal hardware firewall.

The hardware firewall is located at the network boundary, ie between the router and the outside world (Internet or other networks). Therefore, it is the first line of defense at the entrance to the network. Any data must go through the hardware firewall before it reaches the router and then the computers on the network.

Another advantage of a hardware firewall rather than a software firewall is that it hides the computer or local area network from the outside world. So the external monitor sees only a hardware device instead of the network that has an unfamiliar operating system (because it was said that the operating system of the hardware firewalls is proprietary). This method of secrecy is called network address translation (NAT). Of course, this measure does not work against the entry of e-mail viruses.

hardware firewall vs software firewall

Difference between a hardware firewall vs a software firewall

As is clear by now, hardware firewall vs software firewall has advantages and disadvantages as cybersecurity tools. However, the selection of an information security tool depends on multiple factors. Both these firewalls serve the same basic purpose, but the use depends on the threat perception.

Here, we try to make a hardware firewall vs software firewall comparison by looking at a few distinguishing features of the two firewalls.

  • Hardware firewalls can protect a whole network of computers in an organization, while a software firewall is required to be installed on individual computers.
  • Hardware firewalls are more complex to set up while software firewalls are much simpler and easier to install on computers.
  • Hardware firewalls entail a big investment, which is proportional to the sophistication required, while software firewalls generally mean less investment. However, the cost of software firewalls increases if an organization hosts computers of different brands and operating systems.
  • Hardware firewalls free up the critical server resources as the related software is installed outside the server in the hardware firewall itself. Any additional software firewall on the server would take away some space from the server.
  • A hardware firewall protects all systems included in a network. A software firewall, on the other hand, is not available for gaming consoles, smart televisions, and similar devices.
  • Hardware firewall offers greater information security for the whole network as they act as a barrier between the external internet and the internal organizational network due to their positioning. However, a software firewall on individual computers can’t offer similar protection to the entire network.
  • A hardware firewall protects the network from unauthorized users by inspecting data packets, while a software firewall offers protection to the individual computers from internal threats like viruses, trojans, malware, spyware, email spams, and similar attacks which might get embedded into the individual systems from various sources. For ex., a virus can infiltrate from an infected flash drive that is used at the local level.
  • Employees might try to bypass a hardware firewall for various reasons like the convenience of operation. A software firewall might be useful in many such situations.

Which Firewall is the Best?

Now that you have an idea of what each type of firewall does best you are ready to decide which firewall is right for you. One more thing to keep in mind is that you can always run both a hardware firewall and a software firewall at the same time. The hardware firewall will not slow your computer down at all, and it will add protection to gaming consoles and other network devices, as well as provide a whole-house ad blocker. Each computer, tablet, or phone can add on its dedicated software firewall to offer content-based protection. This is a popular option for parents who may not need or want much filtering on their own devices but feel the need to protect their children from various dangers on the internet.


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