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Your first line of defense: personal firewalls

 Network & Internet

Every day, the news reports on "hackers" or "cybercriminals".  They steal credit card numbers, turn computers into zombies, and use people's home PCs to hide illegal files.  We all want to protect ourselves.

The good news is, you can protect yourself pretty easily.  The components of basic protection are:

  1. Antivirus and antispyware software.
  2. A personal firewall.
  3. Being careful!

We will talk about personal firewalls, what they do, and some of the available software.  In the future I will cover the other areas.

What is a firewall?

A firewall is a system to protect a computer or network from intruders.  Firewalls can be either hardware or software.  This article is about software firewalls that protect individual computers.

One thing that a firewall does is very simple: it blocks all network connections from the outside. If the intruder can't even connect to your computer, the attack fails.  Obviously, some things, like certain multiplayer games, require network connections to work.  In these cases, you set the firewall to allow exceptions.  Be selective when making exceptions.  Don't allow every program to do everything.

More advanced firewalls actually check the data coming in over the network, looking for the "signatures" of dangerous software.  For instance, an advanced firewall can detect everything from viruses to so-called "Trojan Horses" and prevent the transfer from continuing.

Modern firewalls will also block connections out of your computer unless you make an exception.  Why?  Because if some "malware" does manage to get installed on your computer, this function can stop it from sending spam or serving illegal files, and the firewall software will also alert you that an unauthorized program is trying to access the Internet.

What firewall to use?

Microsoft Windows XP and newer come with a built-in Windows Firewall.  If you do not have another firewall installed, you should definitely be sure that Windows Firewall is activated and working. Windows Firewall is not considered a particularly advanced or powerful program, but it is certainly better than nothing.

The Iolo Personal Firewall has a special "IntelliDefense" feature which makes smarter decisions while bothering not bothering the user with unneeded popups.  It provides an extra layer of defense by monitoring important files on your system so that they can't be modified.  Advanced users also will like the superior logging and customization features.

Agnitum Outpost Firewall Pro includes several kinds of protection in a single package: it is a firewall, antispyware protection, and also steers you away from dangerous web sites that host malware or attempt to steal passwords.

Ashampoo offers two firewall products.  Ashampoo Firewall FREE offers standard firewall functionality.  Ashampoo Firewall PRO adds a host of additional capabilities:  a child protection mode, stealth ports to allow Internet access without being detectable to hackers, an Internet accelerator, and more.

If your computer connects to the Internet, not protecting it is like leaving your wallet in an unlocked car.  It's just asking for trouble.   Please be sure you have a capable firewall protecting all your computers.

I hope you've found this article useful. 

John M.


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