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The world stands at a point where comprehensive cybersecurity is more vital than it has ever been.
Based on a study completed by the University of Maryland in 2019, every 39 seconds, there is a hacker attack. The daily average of attacks during the year was 2,244. Whether you view things as a business owner or someone on a personal network, this statistic reveals one clear fact. You need to know, understand, and be accountable for the cybersecurity measures in your environment. There are many tools and approaches used in a protection effort. Two of the most powerful and most popular are antivirus and a firewall. The most fundamental difference between the two lies in the kind of protection that they offer.
An antivirus is for your internal and external security. It is a proactive tool that specializes in alerting you to, identifying, and assisting you in removing malware, which includes viruses, worms, and rootkits.
A firewall, on the other hand, protects your network against exclusively external threats, using a series of policies and port rules to determine what traffic should be allowed or blocked. This applies to bidirectional traffic from your private network to the Internet and vice versa.
Comparison of Antivirus and Firewall
|Point of Implementation||The software level is the only one possible||Implementation can occur at both the hardware and the software layer|
|Threat Protection||Internal and external threats rooted in software, webpages, files, etc.||Exclusively external threats identified based on rule composition|
|Mode of Operation||Approval and rejection of traffic based on source and destination rule allowances. Filtering and monitoring are also done based on established policies.||Proactive or on-demand scanning of local files and potential internet threats, such as webpages. Quarantining and removal of the said threats is also included|
|Countermeasures||Malware removal||Routing attacks and IP Spoofing|
Understanding an Antivirus
Antivirus is a term used to speak to any software that protects your computer against both cybercriminals and malware. It is purely implemented at the software layer, and it deals with the inspection of data, such as files, software, web pages, and applications. The operation of an antivirus involves inspecting the referenced data items for known signs of threats. It also does program monitoring, so it can successfully flag any suspicious behavior.
Some persons call the importance of an antivirus into question, but that is a misinformed stance, considering the current landscape of cyberthreats. Good antiviruses use a signature database that is consistently updated to help your system recognize the various threat types that could wreak havoc on your system.
Malware is an umbrella term that is used to speak to various malicious entities. These unwanted components can be installed on your devices in multiple ways, and they have various purposes. Some of these include controlling the operations of your device, allowing cybercriminals access to your system resources, crashing your machine, logging your online activity, Stealing your personal information, etc. Antiviruses provide protection against the following malware types:
A comprehensive antivirus solution aims to protect you against these things by maintaining a catalog of files and system components to be inspected, completing proactive and on-demand scans, identifying potentially suspicious or malicious code, and reporting on the safety standing of your machine. The protection that you are offered from antivirus solutions falls into three main categories. Before you settle on an antivirus provider, try to do some research to ascertain the presence of all three protection types before you make your decision.
- The first is the implementation of malware signatures. A signature refers to the digital footprint of malicious code. Antivirus providers record these footprints in signature databases, which the antivirus can then use to identify and neutralize known threats. Of course, if this is the only kind of protection the program gives, then there is a considerable lack of consideration for newer threats.
- The second layer of protection is system monitoring. This is an active inspection that helps to determine any activity that is abnormal. For example, requests to allow data to be read by external sources. A notification is typically sent to the user when such atypical occurrences happen, so confirmation or denial can be granted to each operation.
- Machine learning is the final protection type. This is one of the most comprehensive types because it benefits from the operation and experiences of the various users running the antivirus client. The idea is to establish a standard for known and accepted network or computer operations. As multiple users send this kind of data, the establishment of suspicious activity becomes that much easier and more intricate.
Understanding a Firewall
The best way to understand how a firewall operates is to imagine it as a gate between the Internet and your private network. All the traffic that passes between both must go through the gates. The policies and rules that you implement are like guards. Only approved traffic can flow either way.
The firewall inspects every packet that attempts to go through it before the action is either approved or denied. A log of all successful and failed transmissions tends to be maintained for auditing and review purposes. Your firewall implementation can consist of both software and hardware approaches. The Windows Firewall and its Advanced Security component are examples of software layer firewall systems. At the hardware layer, you can purchase dedicated firewalls to set up as edge devices that connect to your ISP, or you can buy routers that have firewall capability built into them.
Firewalls can be broken down into three types. This categorization depends on the data state, the site of communication, and the site of data interception. These firewall types are:
- Circuit level firewall – this firewall type offers protection in two ways. The first is the hiding of device IP addresses from the Internet. Traffic still gets adequately routed, thanks to Network Address Translation (NAT). Secondly, it only allows predetermined and accepted packet types to enter your private network. Any packet that falls outside of the established rules is automatically denied.
- Network-level firewall – this firewall type does proactive monitoring of packets that flow in either direction. It has a built-in filter that is used to accept or reject any that are being sent or received based on the configuration of the said filter and associated policies.
- Application layer firewall – this firewall type tends to be rooted within single applications. It applies similar security approaches to the other firewall types to ensure that only approved traffic passes through the network.
Conclusion and Strategy Recommendation – Which Should Be Used?
So, now that you have a better understanding of an antivirus and a firewall, which should you implement in your environment? The simple answer to this is that no preference should be granted to either. Both components make up a part of what should be a comprehensive security strategy to protect your internal network in an online world.
While antiviruses and firewalls have immense capabilities that were described above, each also has drawbacks that are compensated for by the other, as well as additional strategy components, such as security awareness training, penetration testing, security posture evaluations, VPN usage, etc.
While antivirus is good at protecting you internally, it requires priority access to files that are being scanned. In other words, if you have a file open, the antivirus cannot scan it as it is already being used by an existing process. Additionally, you cannot examine read-only files.
While a firewall is impressive, it does not have malware protection capabilities built into it. Additionally, it is rule and policy-based, and cannot identify that a threat is passing through if the said threat is compliant with the established rules.