There seems to be some confusion about the differences between the router and firewall. One of the contributing factors to this is that device manufacturers tend to combine the functionalities into one device. Traditionally, these devices are specialized hardware that does a specific job well.
Both of these devices have advantages and disadvantages over the other, unique features, and different purposes. In this article, we will define what they are, identify their primary use in your network, and explain why you may need both.
What is a router?
A router is a device that quickly forwards data from one network to another. For example, for your devices to communicate to the Internet, you need a networking device to transmit the traffic from your home to the Internet Service Provider (ISP). Typically, this device is a router that either you purchased or provided by your ISP.
The type of router found in most homes and some small businesses is called a wireless router. The wireless router combines the functionalities of multiple devices: wireless access point, switch, and a router.
Furthermore, a lot of routers in the market provide some level of network security by including features like Network Address Port Translation (NAPT), Stateful Packet Inspection (SPI), etc.
What does a router do?
The principal function of a router is to route network traffic between networks. The job of a router is similar to the role of the United States Postal Service (USPS). The router tries its best to forward the data between the sender and the receiver in different networks.
Since the majority of routers in a lot of small businesses are wireless routers, they also allow the connection of wired and wireless devices such as computers, printers, mobile devices, etc.
What is a firewall?
A network-based firewall is a device that provides security by monitoring incoming and outgoing traffic and makes a decision whether to allow or deny specific traffic based on the rule sets.
For many years, the firewall has been an integral part of any successful security program. It serves as the first line of defense in network security.
Today’s modern operating systems, such as Windows and macOS, include a software firewall that provides added network protection. A software host-based firewall functions similarly to a traditional network-based firewall.
Nowadays, firewall manufacturers add extra features like anti-malware, Intrusion Prevention System (IPS), application awareness, URL filtering, etc. referred to as a next-generation firewall (NGFW). An NGFW offers far improved security than a router or a traditional firewall.
What does a firewall do?
The principal function of a firewall is to provide network protection by blocking unwanted traffic. A job of a firewall is similar to the role of the Transportation Security Administration (TSA). The firewall inspects network traffic to make sure everything looks good before it is allowed to pass through.
Some firewalls designed for small businesses or branch offices also combine functionalities of wireless routers, allowing both wired and wireless network connectivity.
Which one should you buy?
Unfortunately, the answer to this question is it depends. Determining the right device for your business requires an understanding of the goals and requirements.
For a small coffee shop, a wireless router from your favorite retailer may be sufficient. For some small and medium-sized businesses (SMB), they may opt to purchase NGFW for better security.
In some scenarios, you might need to purchase both a router and a firewall. For example, if a branch office has the following requirements: WAN connectivity options (both wired and wireless), VoIP, switching, NGFW, and computing. Then, buying a router that can do the majority of these requirements and a separate NGFW could be a suitable solution.
There are some instances where you don’t want to, by default, restrict network traffic. For example, in higher education space, the researchers may expect no restrictions and a fast network to transfer data between each other.
Both devices can provide a level of network security. However, NGFW gives a higher level of protection compared to a router with some firewalling features.
Choosing between a router and a firewall will vary from one company to another. The key to determining the proper device is by gathering the requirements, goals, and business and technical constraints.
If security is paramount to your company, then purchasing a next-generation firewall with a subscription to the advanced features is the right way to go.
Still unsure on what to get?
Let us answer your questions by contacting us. We’ll help you with hardware selection, design, configuration, and implementation.
NetworkJutsu provides networking and network security consulting services for startups, a more established small and medium-sized business (SMB), or large business throughout the San Francisco Bay Area.