Hardware Firewall vs Software Firewall: Complete Guide


A firewall is a barrier which is used to protect a personal computer or a network of computers from malicious external internet traffic. This protection is achieved by using a software firewall application or a hardware firewall device or a combination of both to allow only authorised traffic and filter out all unauthorised users from accessing private computers and networks. A hardware and software firewall in a computer or network is a type of cybersecurity tool for information security by detecting and blocking out all attempts at unsolicited access to a company’s internal network. Windows 10 has an inbuilt software firewall. 

What is a Hardware Firewall

A hardware firewall definition is that it is a physical device or a set of physical devices which act as the first line of defence for a computer network by filtering out traffic from unauthorised users. A very basic hardware firewall example is a router which is usually used with Wi-Fi Fibernet connections in most of the households  

Hardware Firewall – The Good and the Bad 

A hardware firewall relies on the hardware to perform the function of data package filtering for information security. Major advantages of a hardware firewall are:

  • A hardware firewall has reduced latency. This is the time taken to process a data packet.
  • Another major advantage is that it has an increased bandwidth. This is the capacity to process a higher number of data packets per second. 
  • A set of rules as per the company’s policy controls the information data traffic.
  • It frees up additional resources from the server as the software for the firewall can be installed outside the server.
  • A hardware firewall can support a VPN connection. This has the advantage of a higher level of encryption and security for the network. VPN also enables the provision of access to authorised users when they are travelling or working from outside.

However, as with any system, hardware firewalls also have some disadvantages. 

· It is costly and the higher the protection required, the higher the investment.

· It involves additional space.

·  It requires additional skilled manpower to maintain the infrastructure.

· The field of cybersecurity sees faster obsolescence. This type is difficult to upgrade, besides higher cost as many devices might have to be replaced. As a company expands and more users added, these problems might recur unless such contingencies are taken care of at the initial stage itself.

· It might prevent new users from accessing all required information until the configuration is done properly.

· If the firewall restricts the availability of all information and degrades the performance of legitimate users, then dangerous bypassing of the firewall protection might be resorted to by the employees.

What is Firewall Software

A software-based firewall, as the name suggests, is a software application installed on computers which take up the role of protecting the system from unauthorised internet usage and prevent malicious attacks on the system. It needs to be installed on individual computers and hence, software firewalls are more popular in home computer users for cybersecurity. Software firewall definition is that it is a software application which is installed on a computer to protect it from unauthorised access.

Software Firewall – The Good and the Bad 

A software firewall relies on only a software application to function as a cybersecurity tool.

Software Firewalls – The Good

  • A software firewall is cheaper to install. 
  • It doesn’t require additional space and hardware to install.
  • Maintenance is easy.
  • Access to chosen internet websites can be blocked as desired from the device.
  • Individual systems can be configured differently in an organisation. For example, junior staff can be given access to only the company intranet while those higher in the hierarchy can be given full internet access.
  • It requires simple regular updating which can normally be done by the users themselves.
  • It protects computers from hackers, email spams, virus, malware, and more. This firewall software meaning offers more value for home computer users.
  • It is good for supervising the internet activities of kids.

Software Firewalls – The Bad

  • A Software firewall alone will not filter data packets based on information.
  • The installation and updating or up-gradation, whenever required, has to be done on each computer in an organisation 
  • One software firewall may not be compatible with all the computers in a company. So a mix of computer brands in a company necessitates different firewalls for each type of computer, which results in cost increase.
  • It might slow down the performance of a computer.
  • It is not available for smart TV, gaming consoles and other such devices.
  • A software firewall takes up system resources as it is installed on a system

Difference between a hardware firewall and a software firewall

As is clear by now, both hardware firewall and software firewall have their 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 organisation, 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 organisation 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 organisational 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 unauthorised users by inspecting data packets, while a software firewall offers protection to the individual computers from internal threats like virus, 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 which 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. 

We can conclude that for a medium to a big organization with a network of computers, a hardware firewall is preferable for better information security. However, even the best of hardware firewalls alone in a network configuration might have some vulnerabilities. So, it might be better to go in for a combination of hardware and software firewalls for the highest level of cybersecurity for organizations that are in critical fields of operation.

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