All About Firewalls

By | June 16, 2012
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Jack wants us to explain firewalls
So many other sites claim we need something better than Windows firewall but you say we don’t. If I have a firewall do I still need antivirus and antispyware? I’m not a new to computers but sometimes all this ballyhoo gets too difficult for me to sort out.. I love Fridays because of your newsletter! Thanks for everything…Jack.

Our Answer
Hi Jack…and thanks for your kind words and your support.

First, we never said you don’t need a firewall. What we said was that if you’re using XP, Vista, Windows 7 or Windows 8, you don’t need a 3rd-party firewall – the Windows firewall is adequate for home users – if they have good antispyware and antivirus installed. A 3rd-party firewall is any firewall that you’d have to download and install. Windows XP, Vista, Windows 7 and Windows 8 have firewalls included with the operating system.

We’re not going to give you all the nitty-gritty about why, if you’re using Windows XP, Vista, Windows 7 or Windows 8, you don’t need a 3rd-party firewall. But, it seems that many people really do not understand what the function of a firewall is. In order to define what a firewall is, we must first define what it isn’t.

We are going to be very “un-technical” here as we are trying to keep this from being geeky. We want keep this simple so everyone gets an idea of what firewalls are and are not.

What firewalls are not:

It isn’t an anti-virus
A firewall won’t protect you from most viruses or malware

It isn’t an anti-spyware program
A firewall won’t protect you from spyware and adware

It isn’t a rootkit detector
A firewall won’t prevent rootkit infections

It isn’t an antimalware program
A firewall won’t protect you from rogues

It won’t protect you from yourself
If you want to download some sort of malicious program, a firewall won’t protect you from it or stop you from downloading it.

A firewall is software or hardware that checks information coming from the Internet or a network, and then either blocks it or allows it to pass through to your computer, depending on your firewall settings.

A firewall can help prevent hackers or malicious software from gaining access to your computer through a network or the Internet. A firewall can also help stop your computer from sending malicious software to other computers.

A simple software firewall monitors Internet traffic to and from your computer. It’s designed to indentify and stop malicious traffic from reaching your computer and to prevent malicious software installed on your computer from “phoning home”.

Windows’ built-in firewall monitors incoming traffic only. Some say this makes it worthless. We say it does not. We say it does not because if you take these precautions we recommend in every newsletter:

Install a good anti-virus program and keep it updated
Install at least two good anti-spyware programs and keep them updated
Install a good anti-phishing Web browser (Internet Explorer 8 or 9, current versions of Chrome, Firefox, Safari or Opera). You don’t need a toolbar like Web Of Trust
Use good common sense when downloading and while your browsing the Web

you will not have to worry about any malicious programs phoning home (sending transmissions from your computer to a computer on the Web) because they won’t be on your computer in the first place.

And if you really want outbound protection, Windows Vista / Windows 7 / Windows 8 firewalls provides both inbound and outbound protection, however the outbound protection is turned off by default. But it can be turned on, if desired.

Almost all 3rd-party firewalls offer both inbound and outbound protection and almost none of them can, by default, tell the difference between malicious inbound and outbound traffic and non-malicious traffic. And therein lies our complaint and the problem. Most 3rd-party firewalls will automatically attempt to block traffic from applications they don’t recognize – and this means most all programs made by smaller companies. Since most software is made by smaller companies, users with a 3rd-party firewall installed can become overwhelmed by firewall popup warnings of potentially malicious traffic which is actually legitimate traffic. Users must then determine, for themselves, what the traffic is and whether to allow it or not. After a time, most users simply click “OK” to move quickly on with whatever they are doing.

Hardware firewalls are superior to software firewalls. Once set up, no user interaction is required. Most wired and wireless routers sold today have built-in firewalls.

We recommend Windows users save their money and use the Windows firewall since, if you follow our recommendations in this article, you will be adequately protected without dealing with all the annoyances that come with most 3rd-party firewalls. Additionally, third-party firewalls confuse users with unnecessary warnings and can and do block legitimate programs from smaller companies that require access to the Internet.

In short third-party firewalls cause more confusion than necessary and don’t really provide any additional protection or uses who follow our advice of installing and maintaining a good antivirus program ad a good antispyware program.

If you are (are there any of you left?) still using Windows 98, ME, or Windows 2000 the you will need to install a 3rd-party firewall since these very old versions of Windows do not come a firewall installed.

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