Is Port Forwarding Safe?

Is Port Forwarding Safe?

Port Forwarding

If you’ve been spending some time researching computer networking concepts, then you may have come across the term port forwarding. Essentially this process is what allows users to access devices remotely by “forwarding” into the ports of various devices.

For example, when you control your home thermostat with your smartphone while you’re at work, your phone is directly accessing the data port of your smart thermostat, allowing you to make changes, even though you’re far away on another network.

Port forwarding is commonly used in networking and has a number of advantages. However, it also presents some significant security risks as well, and can open the door for hackers to access sensitive information and data on your devices.

In today’s post, we’re going to give you a brief overview of the concept of port forwarding. We’ll explain what it is, what it’s used for, how networks are firewalled against unauthorized forwarding, how it works with VPN networks, and the overall safety of port forwarding.

You might want to bookmark this post for later as it will be full of technical info that you may need some notes for!

What Exactly Is Port Forwarding?

According to the Wikipedia definition, port forwarding is:

  • … an application of network address translation (NAT) that redirects a communication request from one address and port number combination to another while the packets are traversing a network gateway, such as a router or firewall.

Wow… that’s an earful if we ever heard one! No wonder nobody wants to go to school for computer science and networking… You may as well read the Oxford Dictionary while you’re at it.

So, what does all that mean in layman’s terms?

Basically, port forwarding is what allows devices to access one another within a given network. For example, let’s just say that you want to host an Xbox Live match online. By allowing port forwarding, you’ll allow every other Xbox user in the match to “port into” your Xbox server and take advantage of your faster internet speeds. This results in reduced lag, faster loading, and limited wait times.

Another common example is with virtual computing. Let’s say that you’re using a company computer, working from home, and you’re having some tech issues. Instead of having to go all the way back to the office and talk to your IT support guy, you can give them a call and they’ll use port forwarding to remotely access your laptop to fix whatever’s going on.

NAT Firewalls Prevent Unauthorized Port Forwarding

Most of today’s modern computer operating systems and game consoles feature built-in NAT (Network Address Translation) firewalls that prevent unauthorized port forwarding. Most remote computing applications require both parties to share their public and local IP addresses (ports) with each other. It’s kind of like a two-factor authentication process.

The NAT firewall prevents any unauthorized computers or devices from accessing your network. For example, in the example above, when the IT guy is remotely accessing your desktop, both you and them need to provide each other with your IP addresses and approve the port connection. This bypasses the NAT firewall and allows the remote connection to be made.

However, if a random computer used by a potential hacker tried to remotely port into your device, it would be blocked by the NAT firewall as it’s IP is unrecognized.

Windows Security

Do NAT Firewalls Work With VPNs?

If you’re using a VPN service like NordVPN then it will pretty much render your NAT firewall useless. Since your NAT firewall is built into your router or your device itself, it will have your home network’s IP address saved.

Since VPNs reroute your internet traffic through an external server with a different IP address, your computer’s built-in NAT firewall won’t do much. For this reason, almost all reputable VPN servers have built-in NAT firewalls to provide an additional layer of protection from any hackers that are trying to hack into the VPN server itself to access user data.

Is Port Forwarding Safe?

For the most part, port forwarding is generally regarded as safe. Since port forwarding is used so often in modern networking (gaming, remote computers, smart home devices), most of today’s modern laptops, internet routers, and smartphones have built-in defenses against unauthorized port forwarding.

And that’s where the key difference lies. Unauthorized port forwarding is not safe and happens when your firewalls are disabled or you’re using an older device/OS to access the internet.

If a malicious hacker were to take advantage of your compromised system, they could port forward into your computer and access all of your vital personal information that you had stored.

They’d be able to peruse through files, access programs on your computer, and even download copies of those files to their own device.

Why You Should Use A VPN When Port Forwarding

If you’re going to be port forwarding for any purpose, then we recommend using a high-quality VPN service. This will mask your personal IP port address, ensuring that the other party is only able to view the IP port address of the VPN server.

The VPN server will, of course, have plenty of additional security measures in place to prevent worst case scenarios to their own system. In short, using a VPN while port forwarding on your device provides you with an added layer of defense from unauthorized hackers. This is especially true if you’re using older or outdated devices with older operating systems!

Final Thoughts

Port forwarding is an essential part of modern day computing. Without it, there wouldn’t be online gaming, virtual computing or smart home devices. Port forwarding is what allows you to change your thermostat, control your home DVR, or check the security cam footage while you’re not home. It allows you to use your external devices (such as a laptop or phone) to directly access smart devices connected to your home network, even if you’re not at home.

So, in short, yes– port forwarding is perfectly safe and is used every day without most people knowing what it is!

That being said, there are risks associated with port forwarding, as it presents an opportunity for hackers to penetrate your home network and device. However, as long as your home devices have the appropriate firewalls and your home computers with sensitive information are using a VPN service for added protection, you should be perfectly safe.

Sources:

  1. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Port_forwarding
  2. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Network_address_translation
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