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Firewall is a cybersecurity solution that filters and authenticates data packets in network traffic before they can go into or out of your system. A firewall protects your devices and data against hackers, online fraud, malware, and other cyber threats.

Almost every piece of data you send over your network is assembled into small, distinct data packets that contain identifiers like the sender and receiver’s IP addresses and port numbers. A firewall inspects each data packet and decides whether it should be discarded (silently or with an error reply to the sender) or forwarded based on a set of rules. Different types of firewalls use varied methods to filter data, so each has its own strengths and weaknesses.

Packet filtering firewalls are one of the oldest and simplest types of firewalls. They compare the identifying information in each data packet to a list of established criteria, such as packet protocol headers, and flag suspicious packets for further inspection.

Stateful inspection firewalls save a table of information regarding open connections, and analyze incoming and outgoing packets in the context of these existing connections. This allows them to be much faster than proxy-based firewalls. However, stateful inspection firewalls are vulnerable to man-in-the-middle attacks.

Proxy firewalls act as intermediaries between your devices and the Internet, connecting them to a proxy server that then connects to the web servers you need to access. As data comes in or out of your device, it goes through the proxy server where it is examined and potentially blocked based on the proxy’s settings.