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Last modified: Thursday, August 26, 2004 

(fīr´wâl) (n.) A system designed to prevent unauthorized access to or from a private network. Firewalls can be implemented in both hardware and software, or a combination of both. Firewalls are frequently used to prevent unauthorized Internet users from accessing private networks connected to the Internet, especially intranets. All messages entering or leaving the intranet pass through the firewall, which examines each message and blocks those that do not meet the specified security criteria.

There are several types of firewall techniques:

  • Packet filter: Looks at each packet entering or leaving the network and accepts or rejects it based on user-defined rules. Packet filtering is fairly effective and transparent to users, but it is difficult to configure. In addition, it is susceptible to IP spoofing.
  • Application gateway: Applies security mechanisms to specific applications, such as FTP and Telnet servers. This is very effective, but can impose a performance degradation.
  • Circuit-level gateway: Applies security mechanisms when a TCP or UDP connection is established. Once the connection has been made, packets can flow between the hosts without further checking.
  • Proxy server: Intercepts all messages entering and leaving the network. The proxy server effectively hides the true network addresses.
  • In practice, many firewalls use two or more of these techniques in concert.

    A firewall is considered a first line of defense in protecting private information. For greater security, data can be encrypted.

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    Describes security issues when connecting to the Internet, with information on how to protect your network. This page is hosted by Cisco Systems Inc.

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    related categories

    Business Computing



    related terms

    application gateway

    bastion host

    bit bucket





    IP spoofing



    packet filtering

    PIX Firewall

    port scanning

    proxy server

    pulsing zombie


    stateful inspection



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