The average cost of a cyberattack on a business organization is calculated at $3.86 million. Admittedly, if you only run a small website and you get hacked, the losses won’t be that scary, but they can still be enough to spell the end for the entire project.
Years of hard work can be undone in seconds, so you really need to learn how to protect your website.
The firewall is an excellent place to start. It’s one of the most basic security mechanisms, and it’s available to every server owner. Let’s see how it works.
What Is a Firewall?
A web hosting server processes incoming requests and delivers the correct content whenever and however it’s needed. For the most part, the requests come from legitimate users who want to access your website.
However, sometimes, they are generated by attackers who want to guess your password and take over your website or flood the server with junk traffic and bring it down.
Your firewall’s job is to identify and block these malicious requests. It uses a set of predetermined rules to filter incoming and outgoing traffic and protect the website and the server from a wide range of cyberattacks.
For example, if an unusually high number of requests hit your website from the same IP address, this may be a sign of an attempted brute-force or DDoS attack. A correctly configured firewall will blacklist the offending IP, cutting away the hackers’ access to the website.
This is the most basic example. Every firewall has a complex set of rules determining what sort of traffic (if any) is allowed through each of the 65,535 TCP and UDP ports. You can use these rules to temporarily or permanently restrict incoming and outgoing traffic for specific applications, services, or ports.
In addition to the vital protection against cyberattacks, the firewall also gives you better access control. For example, you can make your website unavailable in specific countries or geographic regions.
How to Set Up a Firewall on My Hosting Server?
Firewalls come in all shapes and sizes. You can find many premium and free firewall solutions and configuration tools, with some advertising better protection and more features and others concentrating on a more user-friendly experience.
Because most web hosting servers run on Linux, this is the operating system we’ll be focusing on today. Here are some of the names you’re likely to stumble upon while looking for a firewall solution for your Linux server:
● iptables – Iptables is the default firewall integrated into most Linux distributions. It’s been around since 1998, and it allows system administrators to set up chains of IP packet filter rules organized in tables.
● Nftables – Billed as iptables’s successor, Nftables is already available on some Linux distributions, and it’s set to become the default firewall solution for the open-source operating system.
● UFW – Short for Uncomplicated Firewall, UFW is integrated into recent Ubuntu versions. One of its main advantages is the easy-to-use Graphic User Interface you can use to configure the firewall’s packet filter rules. However, in the context of a web hosting server, it may be debatable how useful it could be.
● ConfigServer Firewall (CSF) – CSF is widely recognized as one of the best firewall solutions for web hosting servers. To a large extent, this is due to the seamless integration with web hosting control panels like cPanel/WHM and DirectAdmin.
● Shorewall – Shorewall is an open-source firewall tool that builds upon Netfilter – the firewall framework integrated into the Linux kernel. It offers greater flexibility thanks to the option for describing filter rules with text files.
● pfSense – pfSense is a comprehensive routing platform with capabilities spanning well beyond those of a regular firewall. Among its features, you’ll find a stateful packet inspector, WAP, and VPN endpoint functionality, real-time information feed about the server, and load balancing capabilities.
Whatever Linux distribution your server has, you can be pretty sure that it comes equipped with a firewall installed and activated out of the box. If you choose to use a different solution, you’ll need to look for instructions for setting it up.
Most of these projects are open-source and supported by large communities, so information on making the most out of them is readily available. Bear in mind that using a third-party solution requires the deactivation of the operating system’s default firewall. Usually, this is done via the Terminal, and it’s only possible if you have root access.
Do I Need to Set Up a Firewall on My Own?
Whatever the firewall solution, correctly configuring it is essential if you’re going to keep your website safe. Unfortunately, this isn’t something everyone can do.
If you have the skills to configure the firewall and you want to do it yourself, you need a self-managed server. With it, you get root access, choose the firewall you want to use, and have the freedom to configure it to your exact specification. It’s the perfect solution if you need a custom environment for your website and you have the technical skills to set everything up.
On the other hand, if you want to launch a more conventional website and you don’t have any specific requirements for the server’s security setup, you’re better off looking for a managed VPS or dedicated account.
With a managed plan, you still get the entire server to yourself, and you still have guaranteed resources and a dedicated IP. However, you don’t need to worry about setting up or configuring the firewall and the rest of the systems critical for the machine’s correct performance. Your hosting provider is responsible for all this.
The web hosting control panel you get with a managed server still lets you tweak some of the machine’s settings, and your host’s support team should be available 24/7 in case you have any specific requests. The complex sysadmin work, however, is left to the provider’s technical specialists.
Because setting up the server and keeping it going is the responsibility of your host, managed services tend to be a bit more expensive than self-managed ones. However, given the amount of time and effort you save and the guaranteed security you’ll get with them, the extra cash may just be worth it.
Many website owners overlook the importance of the server’s firewall, and unfortunately, the consequences of this are often pretty serious.
Thanks to managed servers, you don’t necessarily need to know how to set up and configure the firewall yourself. Nevertheless, you might want to learn a bit more about how firewalls work and what your hosting provider has done to ensure the best possible performance and security for your website.