A Beginner’s Guide to Port Forwarding: A Simple Explanation

Giant corporations and small businesses implement Firewalls in their networks to protect their data. The firewall helps organizations to shield their data against any unethical access.

If you have incorporated a firewall in your business network, you can be free from the worry of many unethical data breaches. But, the problem arises when you have to give access to a client or a remote employee for some documents or to work in your network. We need port forwarding in these scenarios.

Let’s Understand Port Forwarding

Let’s understand the concept before we move forward to understand how we can implement port forwarding. Port Forwarding is a process where a private network allows outside devices to access its data.

Organizations use this technique to remotely access their employees and clients in their protected networks.

In computer networking, we define a port as a communication endpoint where the connections start and end in an operating system. A port number represents this endpoint, which acts as an address to an application or a protocol.

In an office setup, many devices are connected to a Local Area Network (LAN). A router connects this LAN to the internet. The devices connected to the LAN have their unique IP address, helping the network to identify each device. So, these devices communicate to their network using their port numbers.

You must take the necessary steps for your private network to protect your data from unauthorized sources. If your client or a remote employee has trouble accessing your network, you have a good security infrastructure.

But, it becomes mandatory to allow people to access your private network. Your employee, remote business partner, stakeholder, and certain clients may need access to your data. Port forwarding helps in these situations.

The Port forwarding method simply redirects an incoming request from a remote device having a unique port on the router’s public IP address to a device on the private network. You configure an internal IP address on your Firewall. Then you connect that IP address to an IP address outside that the authorized remote devices can access and reach your network.

In this way, you can maintain your visibility to the people who need to access your private network while your data remains secured from unethical sources.

How Does Port Forwarding Work?

Here’s how port forwarding works:

  • The external or the remote device requests on the internet to access a document or an application running on your private network
  • The request is sent to the router’s public IP address and destination port number.
  • The router decides where to redirect the incoming request by checking its port forwarding settings.
  • The router forwards the incoming traffic to the requested port number and internal IP address of the device on the private network based on the configured port forwarding protocols.
  • The device in the private network receives the forwarded request and sends its response back through the router to the remote device.

How to Setup Port Forwarding?

Log into your router first to give remote access to your network to an outside source. Go to the Port Forwarding Section and enter the port numbers to which you want to give access, and type in your IP address. Choose the appropriate forwarding protocol and save your changes
Here’s a step-by-step guide to setup port forwarding:

  • Open any web browser of your choice.
  • Enter your router’s IP address in the address bar and access the administration interface. The router’s IP address is generally printed on the router itself or is written on the user manual. It’s a series of numbers like 192.168.X.X or 10.0.X.X.
  • Log in to the administration interface using the administrator username and password on the user manual.
  • Once logged in, go to the router’s settings and search for “Port Forwarding” or “Virtual Server”.
    Add a new port forwarding rule for your network in the virtual server. Enter the following information to complete port forwarding:
    1. Service/Application Name: Give a name for your port forwarding rule that’s easy to understand and tells what the rule is for.
    2. Enter the port number that needs access to your network.
    3. Add the Port Forwarding Protocol: You will find options like TCP, UDP, and others on your port forwarding tab.
    4. The IP address of your LAN device. Through this LAN device, the remote port will access your data.
    5. Internal Port: You will also have to mention the port number of the LAN device.
  • After you have entered all the information, save the changes.
  •  Restart your device to see the changes once completed.

Safety Concerns in Port Forwarding

While setting up port forwarding to allow access to an outside device, you should look into all the potential security threats. Here are four ways to enhance the security impact of port forwarding:

Limit Port Forwarding to Specific Ports and Services

Forward the ports only if they are necessary for your project. Do not allow every access request or permit a wide range of ports. There will be less chance of attacks if you limit the number of devices that can get a peek at your data.

Allow Port Forwarding Temporarily

Instead of giving a permanent port forwarding to an outside device, allow it temporarily as per the requirements. Configure your router to activate port forwarding only when someone needs access to a document or service. Disable or remove the port forwarding rule if they no longer need remote access.

Implement Firewall Rules:

Configure your router’s firewall to allow inbound traffic only to the ports and IP addresses required for the forwarded services. This helps restrict unauthorized access and minimizes the impact of potential attacks on the exposed services.

Use Secure Protocols and Strong Authentication

Always try to go for security protocols like HTTPS or SSH, which provide encryption for data transmission. In addition, ensure that the services or applications behind the forwarded ports employ robust authentication mechanisms, such as complex passwords, two-factor authentication (2FA), or certificate-based authentication. Strong authentication helps prevent unauthorized access to the exposed services.

You must also update your router’s firmware regularly. Following best practices for network security, like using strong passwords, securing Wi-Fi networks, and monitoring network activity, are also essential to protect your confidential data while port forwarding.

Key Takeaways…

Port Forwarding permits external devices to access the data of a private network. It redirects the access requests from authorized ports on the router’s public IP address to devices on the LAN connection of the network.

If you are confused if you want to implement port forwarding in your network, you must ask yourself the following questions:

  • Are there remote working employees, partners, or other business stakeholders who need access to your private network?
  • Do you have all the necessary port numbers you want to give access to and do you feel safe enough to provide them access?
  • Are there important clients of your company who needs access to some documents in your private network, and the only way out is port forwarding?

If you know the answers to these questions and are sure about moving with port forwarding, maintain all the necessary safety guidelines and implement them in your network.

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