Routers and firewalls are two technologies that have different purposes, so why do we even compare them? Thanks to the evolution in the tech world, both routers and firewalls are constantly changing. Now you can find routers with built-in firewalls, very advanced hardware firewalls and software firewalls.
A typical router is a network device that manages the traffic on the network. In order to do it, it forwards data packets between different devices and networks. When the router receives the data packets, it checks them and compares them to its routing table. Then it redirects these packets to the next network on the way to the final destination. You probably have one at home that lets you connect to the Internet.
Purpose: Manages traffic
The layer of operation: Layer 3 (network) and 4 (transport) of the OSI model
Encryption: No encryption
Network sharing: It can share internet between various networks (LANs, WANs)
The firewall is a hardware or software barrier. It filters the data passing through it and that way it protects the devices form spam and malicious software.
The firewall can exist as a stand-alone device or it can be built-in in a router. It is very convenient to have it built-in. That way you will need one less device and you will have active protection on your network.
The firewall does its job by reviewing the headers of the data packets and then it makes a decision whether to trust them or drop them.
The software firewall is an application that can be part of your antivirus suit or it can come separately. You can install it on your device, start it or stop it as you please. It won’t protect the whole network, just the device on which it is installed. To protect all the devices on the network with a software firewall, you would need to install it on each of them. A drawback is that the software runs in the background and it could slow down your device.
Purpose: To filter data
The layer of operation: Layer 3 (network) of the OSI model
Encryption: Encrypts before transmission
Network sharing: No
So should you go for a router that has a built-in firewall? If you have a small deployment – yes. It is not a bad choice. However, in case you have a bigger deployment you can use a dedicated router and a dedicated hardware firewall. You can benefit from advanced features like better VPN capabilities, higher traffic speed, and easier configurations.