Host-based firewalls are a software-based type of firewall that is deployed and fully operated on the network’s devices, using the designated operating system-run software, instead of directly in the line of network traffic.
Their primary task is monitoring and responsibly blocking incoming traffic that originates from public networks and internet connections. This enables them to effectively block malicious traffic and unauthorized individuals and servers from accessing the network’s operating system.
Host-based firewalls are only available as software and are best used to protect individual devices or servers within a network rather than the entire infrastructure.
Continue reading to learn more about how host-based firewalls work, their advantages and disadvantages, identifying the ideal situation for employing a host-based firewall, as well as the best providers of software on the market.
For more information, also see: What is Firewall as a Service?
How Host-Based Firewalls Work?
Used to protect a relatively small section of a network, host-based firewalls are much easier to set up and typically don’t function in complex ways.
Host-based firewalls are list-reliant firewalls. They require the network’s admin or device used to create a set of rules that specify with great detail the type of traffic that should be allowed to enter the host, and which should be blocked.
While this may seem too simple to be secure, the rule lists allow for an incredible level of detail. You can freely include and exclude IP addresses, ports, communications and encryption protocols depending on what you deem safe.
The rules can be set manually for ultimate control, which is sometimes the only available option, especially for budget-friendly or older software releases.
More modern versions of host-based firewalls can be set to generate list items and update them automatically. They’re able to do this by monitoring the network’s incoming traffic over a prolonged period of time and identifying patterns of malicious and suspicious behaviors as they arise, and blocking them.
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Pros and Cons of Using a Host-Based Firewall
When it comes to making a decision on the type of firewall to implement for your cybersecurity strategy, it’s important to first look at both the advantages and disadvantages of the solution.
Host-based firewalls perform a very niche role in network security. This allows them to be highly efficient in certain areas while falling short when employed to protect network resources for which they weren’t designed.
Advantages of Using a Host-based Firewall
The numerous benefits and advantages of using a host-based firewall are the reason for the popularity of the solution, especially among organizations and businesses that prefer to provide added protection for individual devices.
Host-based firewalls are some of the most affordable firewall solutions out there, with some available as the result of open-source projects. They are entirely free to use.
Even when looking for a paid solution with added features and support from the vendors, most host-based firewalls are priced under the $100 price tag.
Because the firewall software is deployed directly on the machine, host, or application it’s protecting, they automatically follow when the host is moved between environments, servers, and clouds.
Additionally, the set configurations and rules lists don’t change during the move. However, if the firewall is set to automatically update the rules through traffic monitoring, it’ll likely start adding new rules based on the new environment and its associated threats.
Host-based firewalls are more often than not implemented as the second layer of defense, rather than the first. This grants you an additional chance to detect and block malware or a malicious connection before it reaches the rest of the resources.
Paired with adequate segmentation and behavior control, host-based firewalls can be used to add a layer of protection to particularly vulnerable or critical hosts.
Using proper configurations and rule lists, host-based firewalls can also prevent insider attacks. They can be made so any user, device, or application is unable to access the protected host without meeting a set of criteria.
The firewall software installed on each device can be configured separately depending on that device’s security and privacy needs.
Additionally, the rules and configurations of individual devices are completely customizable and can be adjusted at any time, giving you full control over the functionality of the firewall.
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Disadvantages of Using a Host-based Firewall
Host-based firewalls aren’t an all-in-one solution. Even when implemented and configured properly, they still come with their fair share of cons that may be a deal-breaker to some users.
Host-based firewalls aren’t ideal for wide-scale use. The installations, configurations, and management of them quickly become tedious and incredibly time-consuming. Additionally, there is an increase in the total number of possible points of error, where the configuration wasn’t ideal or the software wasn’t up-to-date.
Also, traffic analysis and diagnostics aren’t their strong suit. Even if a host-based firewall successfully blocks a malicious flow of traffic, it makes it difficult for network admins to further investigate the reason for the block.
Adding to it, host-based firewalls aren’t particularly sophisticated or advanced in their approach. When they block incoming traffic, that is a sign the malicious traffic has already made its way through the perimeter of your network, where your more advanced firewall and network security solutions are situated. The further from the source the threat is, the harder it is to trace back.
For more information, also see: How to Secure a Network: 9 Steps
Host-based Firewall Guidelines
There is a set of recommendations and guidelines you should follow when implementing a host-based firewall solution, in order to ensure the best at the device level for your network.
Minimizing Remote Host Access
When working with hosts where remote access is necessary, such as wireless printers and IoT devices and networks, it’s important that you limit the number of allowed connections to the host.
For access requirements by remote users, using identity authentication and encrypted communications tunnels enables you to minimize the risks.
Connect to Network Vulnerability Scanners
Since it’s best for the host to also be protected by a more comprehensive security solution, such as a network-based firewall, it’s important to allow it access into the host when needed.
This ensures that the firewall-protected host is included in any and all vulnerability checks, audits, and malware scans performed network-wide.
Control Outbound Traffic Flow
Unmonitored outbound traffic flow can be exploited for data leaks and insider attacks. Depending on the type and the role of the host in the network, you should either restrict or outright ban outbound traffic.
Activity and behavior logging, while not necessary for the active protection of the host, is incredibly beneficial for analyzing the security status of the network, audits, and conducting cyber forensics investigations when needed.
When You Should Use a Host-Based Firewall
Host-based firewalls aren’t a stand-alone solution. You should only consider adding them to your family of network security tools once you have a more holistic solution applied.
While options such as network-based firewalls and Endpoint Detection and Response (EDR) can be used to elevate the security of your network, those tend to be more extreme approaches and are not always suitable for smaller organizations and businesses.
You should consider using a host-based firewall if you have a handful of devices, servers, or applications that carry particularly sensitive data and information. They can act as an added line of defense which you can enforce with strict rules and configurations that might otherwise be too restrictive for your network as a whole.
Furthermore, it can be used as an emergency solution to protect your most vulnerable assets until a more comprehensive security solution is installed.
Best Host-Based Firewall Providers
Following are a couple of the best providers of host-based firewalls on the market:
Check Point is a San Carlos, California-based vendor of hardware and software solutions. It offers a wide variety of security products and solutions, from cloud and endpoint security to network security and security management.
ZoneAlarm is Check Point’s anti-ransomware, host-based firewall solution that’s capable of detecting, analyzing, and blocking suspicious behavior and activity on your device. It uses Check Point’s proprietary firewall technology, OSFirewall, to stop malicious individuals from accessing your network.
It’s highly rated on multiple third-party review sites, such as PeerSpot, with a 4 out of 5 rating, and G2 with a 4.4 out of 5 rating.
GlassWire is an Austin, Texas-based cybersecurity company and provider of advanced network monitoring and protection solutions that includes a built-in firewall. It’s most known for its outstanding capabilities in bandwidth control and remote server monitoring.
GlassWire can also be deployed as a host-based solution, allowing you to visualize network activity for analysis and audit, in addition to alerts that ring out as soon as it detects malicious traffic or behavior.
It’s widely respected by users as showcased in its overwhelmingly high reviews on third-party review sites. It has a 4.6 out of 5 rating on G2, and a 4.7 out of 5 rating on Capterra.
Bottom Line: Host-Based Firewalls
Host-based firewalls are used to boost the security of individual devices, applications, or servers within a network. They can be configured either manually or left to develop the rules based on traffic monitoring.
While a host-based firewall is incredibly beneficial as an affordable solution that’s easy to control, it can’t be used on a wide scale.
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