What is the Difference between a Firewall, Router & Secure Web Gateway
Many of us, while discussing cybersecurity appliances, get confused about the difference between a router and a gateway. When asked what the difference between a secure web gateway and a firewall or UTM is, we often tend to give vague, sometimes confusing answers. We might even say it’s all the same, which, to an extent is true. Yet, there are differences.
There was, and still is, a trend to call modem-router devices as gateways. In fact, this is correct as the term “modem” is rather outdated today. Modem, short for “modulator-demodulator”, refers to the device that demodulates the analog signal from a telephone line into digital information for being consumed by computers as well as modulating back (retransmitting) digital information back into analog mode. The technology that we use today in broadband connections is different, but we still tend to use the word modem by force of habit.
Now, coming to the term ‘router’, it’s a device that regulates network traffic. Routers have two IP addresses. That’s because all simple four-port wireless routers will have two NICs (Network Interface Cards), one connecting to the WAN port that goes to the modem and the other (sometimes multiple internal NICs) that are for wireless antennas and ports. Routers are configured commonly to segment traffic on an enterprise network, to enhance performance and for better security. And in this context, many people tend to call a router a gateway.
Well, a gateway is a hardware tool that’s used to regulate traffic between two networks. Thus, the usual one-piece modem-router can also be called a gateway. A router can thus be called a gateway.
Now, let’s discuss the difference between what we call UTMs and firewalls, and what’s known as a web security gateway.
A hardware firewall, as we know, sits between the modem and the router (sometimes as a standalone piece and sometimes built into the router) and inspects packets. Sometimes the same functionality is made possible by setting up a virtual server as a router and installing an antivirus tool, thereby converting it into a firewall. Now, another perspective! A business-grade hardware firewall of today, which sits at the network perimeter, is by itself a router with inbuilt security features and hence it’s also a gateway. It would inspect packets and filter out malicious content. The IT guys can configure firewalls to do content filtering and thus function as gateways. Thus, seeing it from the other side, we should say that today’s web security gateways are basically firewalls and that we have arrived at a state where the borderlines are all thinned down to almost a level where they either don’t exist or exist for technical nomenclature purposes only.
The basic difference between a UTM or firewall and a secure web gateway is that the latter carries out more robust content filtering plus application control. Secure web gateway also mostly have robust reporting platforms. Firewalls lack these features. Firewalls help businesses as regards ensuring security, but for closely monitoring and reporting user activity, a company should have a secure web gateway.
Julia Sowells923 Posts
Julia Sowells has been a technology and security professional. For a decade of experience in technology, she has worked on dozens of large-scale enterprise security projects, and even writing technical articles and has worked as a technical editor for Rural Press Magazine. She now lives and works in New York, where she maintains her own consulting firm with her role as security consultant while continuing to write for Hacker Combat in her limited spare time.