Today's Technology: Firewalls

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Whether you want insider information on technology strategies for business growth or on how to keep your Internet connection secure, Carl Mazzanti is your guy. All the Hoboken, New Jersey-based co-founder of eMazzanti Technologies asks is not to ask him about market timing.

“Two weeks after founding the company in 2001, our focus went from development and salesforce automation to security,” Mazzanti said. “My co-founder and I were in the World Trade Center when the first plane hit. Some of our customers evaporated and since that day, security has always been a focus of our business.”

Almost 14 years later and the technology company — like so many other Americans — has used that infamous day to drive them forward. They’ve since been WatchGuard Partner of the Year five times and helped countless companies stay cyber safe.

If there’s one subject Mazzanti certainly welcomes questions about, it’s firewalls. While he and his team set up and install over 100 of them a month, Mazzanti said he’s still always a little shocked when he hears about someone who doesn’t have one.

“A firewall is a gatekeeper for Internet traffic. It’s responsible for filtering information before it enters or leaves your business or home,” Mazzanti said. “You can control what’s happening on your network before it takes place with a firewall. For instance, if you want to offer free Wi-Fi to waiting customers, but you don’t want them to have access to certain websites, a firewall will give you those capabilities. But the most important reason for businesses to have them is to keep credit card and customer information secure.”

Everyone is used to typing, swiping and handing over their credit card information without thinking twice about it — myself included. But the minute you switch into business mode and begin accepting credit cards, you should also be actively protecting your customer’s information and, in turn, protecting yourself.

“What keeps you up at night? If you’re an operator without a firewall and you accept credit cards, it should be the thought of potentially losing your customers’ data and credit card information and being held liable,” Mazzanti said. “A firewall can prevent that by segmenting out the credit card traffic, so it’s not able to get to the Internet at all. If you use a system like VeriPhone or a Square reader, a firewall can regulate it so it’s only able to access the credit card processor and any other locations you designate. If you have open Internet accesses to your POS system, not only are you not PCI compliant, you’re putting yourself at a higher threshold for liability.”

There’s a good chance you have multiple locations to manage. If you’re not organized and equipped with the right tools to get the job done, it can get hectic in a hurry. It’s nice to be able to seamlessly transition from shop to shop. If you’re at one location but need to access information from another store, it’s possible to do so with your firewall.

“If you want to tie multiple locations together, you can,” Mazzanti said. “Let’s say you’re at one of your stores but you’d like to watch the security footage or check your sales numbers from another, a firewall will allow you to.”

So how do you know if you have a firewall already? The first way to find out is to look just past your Internet connection. If there is an appliance right before you get to the switch, more than likely, you have a firewall. If your facility is very small — I’m talking one computer — then you may be using a software firewall that’s been built into whatever software you’re running. For example, Windows 8 or later already has a software firewall that turns on by default. Mazzanti highly suggests businesses — no matter the size — have a hardware firewall installed because of the sensitive nature of credit card information and liabilities, such as the ones previously mentioned.

They say you’re only as secure as your last firmware update. If you already have a firewall, make sure it is up to date. Security is an ongoing battle, and companies are always making improvements to firewall software. However, they don’t work as well if you’re operating on old firmware.

Think of it like your smartphone. If you’ve had a smartphone for any length of time, you’ve probably noticed it gets slower the further away your phone gets from the original software. Your Internet security gets more vulnerable with every new version of protection that’s released because your firmware is getting further away from the original software. It’s important to keep your firewall updated. Professionals suggest renewing your firewall subscription and getting new hardware every three years.

A three-year subscription to a firewall service can cost up to four or five thousand dollars, so why can’t you solely trust your virus protection software to keep your business safe?

“There is a concept called Defense in Depth. It’s an idea meaning you need multiple layers of protection. You can’t simply rely on one,” Mazzanti said. “While a firewall will stop something harmful from coming in through the Internet, it won’t stop things coming through on external drives like USBs, CDs or DVDs. It won’t protect you from malware or viruses sent to you via email, either. By the same token, an anti-malware or virus software won’t protect your system from something harmful coming through your network.”

The Internet has changed the way we live, work and play. It’s opened doors, but it’s also made us think about our increasing vulnerability. You wouldn’t consider heading home before closing your bay doors, locking up your office and turning on your security camera. But if you’re operating without a firewall or with an out-of-date firewall, you’re still leaving a door unlocked.

If you don’t have a secure Internet connection, it’s only a matter of time before the wrong people realize you’re not operating on a secure network and can wreak havoc on your business’ and customer information.

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