Most contractors opt out of networking projects when terms, such as “network security,” “firewall” and “software,” start getting thrown around. But, that may not be the best move to make, as network security is a niche market where contractors could easily profit.

Firewalls have become one of the most necessary components in any network because they protect against hackers and viruses.

“Networks are mission critical,” said Rocky Rosas, technical marketing engineer of D-Link, Fountain Valley, Calif. “It does not matter whether a company is large or small, they are all connected to the Internet and can be a target.”

There are two types of firewalls: hardware and software. Software-based firewalls are more recognizable by the general public. The main draw of these is that they are easy to install, and no additional hardware is required.

While suitable for home and small business usage, they are not as secure as hardware options. A router is one hardware-based firewall option. While a router is often included as part of a network switch, it can also act as a hardware firewall. This is quickly becoming the defense of choice among many engineers.

Rosas explained the surge in interest. “Companies are migrating to hardware-based firewalls because software-based ones run on operating systems, which themselves are vulnerable,” Rosas said.

This means if the operating system is compromised by a rogue virus, so too will the firewall.

A router with firewall features and a hardware firewall only have slight differences—the biggest being cost. Routers tend to be cheaper, but they also offer less functionality.

Most of the hardware firewalls available have additional protection associated with them, such as content filtering and virus protection, two of the big security defenses vital in helping to protect networks.

Contractors can step in

One network security area that contractors can participate in is the selection and installation of hardware-based firewalls. This is because these devices need to be hardwired to the network, and that generally falls in a contractor’s area. And, as with most devices, routers require power for operation.

It is also quite feasible that a contractor may be called on for this type of installation whether they are ready or not.

“New laws and regulations such as the Sarbanes-Oxley Act actually put requirements on how data is secured and privacy maintained. Businesses need to have the right tools to help them stay in compliance,” Rosas said.

Many routers are now installed during initial network installation, though going back after installation is common. Both are situations where contractors have opportunities to add to their bottom line.

Most agree that the best defense when talking about hardware-based firewalls is have them reside on the network’s perimeter and every connection going in and out of the network. Plus, additional routers with firewall functions are being placed in front of such important resources as database and Web servers. That equates to a nice amount of installations at a typical facility.

Other types of hardware firewalls, such as virtual private network (VPN) firewalls, are also gaining popularity. There is ample opportunity for this type of installation, as most organizations require more than just one router at the back end of the network.

Addressing the need

So, why are firewalls necessary?

“Nowadays companies are collaborating with one another, even those who were once competitors, and they share documents and files by accessing one another’s networks and resources,” Rosas said.

Most contractors have come across this situation. Some contracts now mandate that contractors, prime contractors and subcontractors work together on projects. That means tapping into one another’s networks to access, manipulate and share documents, which leaves the network vulnerable.

Perhaps the best way for contractors to start working in this niche market is to work with a value-added reseller for their own network security needs. Once the process and system is understood, selling the concept and importance to customers will just fall into place.

Network security is needed in business these days. That means not only for every customer that a contractor works with, but for the contractor as well. Just ask anybody who has had a virus unleashed on the network—especially one that could have been stopped by a firewall. EC

STONG-MICHAS, a freelance writer, lives in central Pennsylvania. She can be reached at JenLeahS@msn.com.