What type of firewall is best for small business?

When it comes to protecting your small business’s network and data, having a firewall in place is crucial. However, with the variety of firewall options available, it can be challenging to determine which type of firewall is best suited for your specific small business needs.

What is a firewall?

A firewall is a network security device that monitors and controls incoming and outgoing network traffic based on a set of predefined security rules. Firewalls act as a barrier between your internal network and external networks, such as the internet, to block malicious attacks, viruses, and other threats from accessing your systems and data.

Firewalls work by examining each network packet that enters or leaves your network and rejecting or permitting traffic based on the firewall’s security rules. For example, a firewall may block incoming traffic from unknown outside sources while allowing outbound traffic to access the internet. The firewall filters traffic at the network layer of the OSI model.

Key features of an effective firewall

When evaluating firewall options, look for these key features:

  • Traffic monitoring and filtering – The ability to inspect incoming and outgoing traffic against a ruleset and block or allow packets accordingly.
  • Intrusion prevention – Blocking of known network-based attacks.
  • Network/port scanning detection – Detection of attempts to discover vulnerabilities in your network.
  • Gateway antivirus – Scanning of inbound traffic for viruses.
  • Stateful packet inspection – The ability to distinguish legitimate traffic from malicious traffic based on the characteristics of the communication taking place.
  • Encryption – Secure encrypted tunnels to protect data in transit.
  • Load balancing – Distributing network traffic across multiple firewalls for optimal performance.
  • High availability – Fault tolerance and redundancy to maximize uptime.
  • Application control – Granular control over applications and websites that users can access.
  • User authentication – Verifying user identity before granting network access.
  • Reporting and logging – Detailed logs and reports on all firewall activity for analysis and auditing.

Types of firewalls

There are several types of firewalls to consider for your small business network security strategy:

Network-based firewalls

Network-based firewalls, also known as packet filtering firewalls, provide a layer of security at the network level. They filter incoming and outgoing packets based on source and destination IP addresses, ports, and protocols. Network firewalls work transparently without requiring any client configuration, making them easy to deploy at the edge of your local area network (LAN).


  • Blocks threats before they reach endpoint devices
  • Simple to configure and manage
  • Low resource requirements
  • High throughput performance


  • Limited ability to inspect packet contents
  • Vulnerable to IP spoofing attacks
  • Does not filter application-layer attacks

Stateful inspection firewalls

Stateful inspection firewalls track the operating state and characteristics of network connections traversing the firewall. This allows the firewall to distinguish legitimate traffic from malicious traffic based on the context of the communication session rather than just static packet filtering rules. Popular examples of stateful firewalls include Cisco ASA and Palo Alto Networks.


  • Understands context of connections
  • Blocks malformed packets used in protocol evasion attacks
  • Prevents denial of service attacks
  • Tracks connection state in memory


  • More complex to configure
  • Requires more processing overhead
  • Typically more expensive than packet filtering firewalls

Proxy firewalls

Proxy firewalls act as an intermediary for network traffic, meaning that connections are established through the proxy rather than directly to the destination. This allows the proxy to inspect traffic at the application layer and prevent direct attacks on protected systems. Proxy firewalls evaluate traffic based on the applications being used rather than just port or protocol. Popular examples include Squid and Microsoft ISA Server.


  • Inspects application layer rather than just network layer
  • Hides internal network details from external hosts
  • Can filter based on users and groups
  • Prevents direct attacks on internal servers


  • Potential performance bottleneck
  • Requires client configuration changes
  • Does not work for some protocols

Next-generation firewalls (NGFWs)

Next-generation firewalls (NGFWs) combine traditional firewall capabilities with other advanced security features in a single integrated package. NGFWs integrate functionality such as intrusion detection and prevention, application control, deep packet inspection, and encryption to provide a full suite of network protections. Leading NGFW solutions include Palo Alto Networks, Fortinet, Cisco, and Check Point.


  • Integrated multi-layer threat protection
  • Advanced malware blocking
  • User and application visibility and control
  • Identity-based policies
  • Encryption and VPN capabilities


  • Higher cost than basic firewall options
  • Complex advanced features may require training
  • Overkill for basic networking needs

Cloud-based firewalls

Cloud-based firewalls deliver firewall functionality as a cloud-hosted service rather than as on-premises appliance. This helps simplify deployment and management without requiring investment in hardware. It allows organizations to scale firewall protection more easily as their needs change. Leading providers include Zscaler, Check Point CloudGuard, and Palo Alto Prisma.


  • No hardware to install or maintain
  • Scales easily with cloud-based capacity
  • Managed by the cloud provider
  • May integrate with other cloud security services


  • Subscription-based pricing model
  • Less control than on-prem firewalls
  • Performance limited by internet bandwidth

Unified Threat Management (UTM)

Unified threat management (UTM) systems integrate firewall capabilities with other security protections such as gateway antivirus, intrusion prevention, web filtering, spam blocking, and more. Leading vendors include Sophos, WatchGuard, and Barracuda Networks. A UTM can provide an all-in-one security solution on a single appliance.


  • Consolidates multiple security services
  • Simplified management console
  • Comprehensive threat protection
  • Affordably priced for SMBs


  • Can impact performance with everything on one box
  • Less flexibility than standalone products
  • May not have all enterprise-grade features

Key considerations when choosing a firewall

With the variety of firewall options available, focus on these criteria to select the right firewall solution for your small business:

  • Security requirements – Consider the level of threat protection needed and identify any gaps in your current defenses. Your firewall should fill these gaps.
  • Performance – Choose a firewall that can handle your internet bandwidth and network traffic volumes without slowing communications or becoming a bottleneck.
  • Scalability – As your business grows, your firewall needs to be able to grow with it. Ensure the firewall can scale up if needed.
  • Management – The firewall interface should allow easy centralized configuration, monitoring, and reporting to reduce management overhead.
  • Reliability – Look for a firewall with high availability and redundancy capabilities to maximize uptime.
  • Support – Know what technical support resources are available from the vendor if issues arise.
  • Budget – Consider both upfront and ongoing costs for hardware, software, licensing, and support.
  • Integration – Choose a solution that integrates well with your existing network infrastructure and security products.

Best firewall options for small business

Taking into account the firewall types, features, and selection criteria outlined above, here are some of the best firewall options to consider for a small business:

Fortinet FortiGate

Fortinet’s FortiGate next-generation firewall provides extensive protections in a single system. It combines firewall, IPS, antivirus, web filtering, VPN access, and more. FortiGuard security services deliver constantly updated threat intelligence. Management is simplified through Fortinet’s FortiOS operating system and dashboard. FortiGate firewalls scale from small business models up to large enterprise-grade solutions.

Cisco Meraki MX Firewalls

Cisco Meraki MX firewalls provide robust unified threat management security tailored for small business environments. The Meraki dashboard enables intuitive web-based management and monitoring from anywhere. Advanced security protections include content filtering, intrusion detection and prevention, traffic shaping, and malware blocking. Auto VPN securely connects remote sites. Cisco Meraki can scale up as small business needs grow.

WatchGuard Firebox

WatchGuard Firebox unified threat management firewalls consolidate network security, VPN access, and management controls into a single easy-to-deploy solution designed for small businesses. Firebox UTM bundles provide gateway antivirus, intrusion prevention, application control, data loss protection, and URL filtering. WatchGuard’s centralized management console enables policy-based administration and visibility across multiple Fireboxes.

Sophos XG Firewall

The Sophos XG Firewall integrates next-generation firewall security with advanced protections including deep learning AI to block advanced threats. The XG Firewall is managed through the cloud-based Sophos Central platform and includes consolidated reporting across endpoints and firewalls. Synchronized Application Control ensures consistent policy enforcement across network and endpoint traffic. Sophos XG Firewalls scale gracefully to handle growing networks.

Barracuda CloudGen Firewall

Barracuda CloudGen Firewalls use cloud-connected security services for real-time protection against the latest threats. Advanced malware prevention blocks zero-day threats. Available both as hardware and virtual appliances, Barracuda firewalls consolidate firewall, VPN, intrusion prevention, web filtering, and application control. Centralized management provides visibility of network security policies and events across all firewalls.


Selecting the right firewall plays a critical role in protecting your small business from increasingly sophisticated cyber threats. The firewall options presented provide leading solutions to safeguard your small business network and data. Focus on capabilities like unified threat management, next-generation protections, cloud-enabled administration, and strong support resources.

A network-based firewall like FortiGate can provide robust first line defenses while being easy to deploy and manage. For a consolidated all-in-one security solution, UTM firewalls like WatchGuard or Sophos integrate vital security tools on a single appliance. Cloud-hosted firewalls like Cisco Meraki or Barracuda offer seamless scalability and offload management overhead.

The best firewall balances strong security, performance, and protection against advanced malware and network-based attacks. Taking the time to carefully evaluate your small business requirements and infrastructure will enable you to select the ideal firewall platform to securely enable your business connectivity and growth.