Stateful inspection, also referred to as dynamic packet filtering, is a firewall architecture that works at the network layer.
Contrast with Packet Filtering
Unlike static packet filtering, which examines a packet based on the information in its header, stateful inspection tracks each connection traversing all interfaces of the firewall and makes sure they are valid. An example of a stateful firewall may examine not just the header information but also the contents of the packet up through the application layer in order to determine more about the packet than just information about its source and destination.
Stateful Inspection Firewalls
A stateful inspection firewall also monitors the state of the connection and compiles the information in a state table. Because of this, filtering decisions are based not only on administrator-defined rules (as in static packet filtering) but also on context that has been established by prior packets that have passed through the firewall.
As an added security measure against port scanning, stateful inspection firewalls close off ports until connection to the specific port is requested.
Origins of the Phrase
Check Point Software is credited with coining the term stateful inspection in the use of its FireWall-1 in 1993.