Firewalls: What They Are and Why You Need One
So you've heard about spyware and all the problems it can cause with your computer, and you're now doing something about it. That's a good start, but did you know that you're still exposed to hackers, trojans, and viruses that can steal your financial information, hijack your email, or even destroy your computer altogether?
Anti-spyware tools block only a few types of common PC invaders, such as spyware, adware, dialers, search hijackers, and so on. For complete security, you also need a firewall (you also need an anti-virus program, but that's the subject of another article).
You should be using a firewall product if...
You regularly use wireless networks other than your own (ie: at a Starbucks or an airport)
You are at risk of having someone spy on you (paranoid employer, ex-spouse)
You have valuable or irreplaceable data on your computer (spreadsheets, legal documents, email, personal writing, etc)
You want an extra layer of defense against spyware, Trojans, and viruses.
What Do Firewalls Do?
There are a variety of ways in which an attacker can detect and get into your computer. Spyware companies make use of some of these methods ("drive-by installs"), but they aren't the only ones trying to take advantage of you. Spammers have written programs that will hijack your computer and use it to send junk email. Trojans and worms are often spread via email, instant messenger, or other means. Jealous spouses or paranoid employers can even purchase off-the-shelf software to spy on your every online move. Anti-spyware tools don't do anything to prevent any of these kinds of invasions.
This is where the firewall comes in. It plugs the security holes that anti-spyware tools don't, preventing outside attackers from gaining access to your system in the first place. And if a malicious payload does somehow manage to get on your PC, the firewall will prevent it from communicating with the outside world, rendering it useless.
In short, a firewall stops any and all data transfer between your computer and the internet except for that which you specifically approve.
Sadly, only 10% of computer users have any type of firewall installed on their computer.
Doesn't Windows come with a firewall?
Windows XP SP2 does come with a personal firewall but it provides only a bare minimum level of protection (Windows 2000 users and earlier, you're completely unprotected and you need to get some type of firewall installed ASAP). The firewall that comes with your operating system blocks in-bound attacks only, but leaves you completely exposed to threats that originate on your computer. For instance, if an ex-spouse installs spy software on your computer, Windows personal firewall is completely useless.
This quote from David Berlind at CNet UK explains it nicely:
"Once a malicious payload gets in, your reliance to stop it shifts from the inbound firewall to something internal to your network or workstation -- like your antivirus or anti-spyware software. But, in the cat-and-mouse game of security solution developers vs. hackers, there are some pretty clever mice. And, as was demonstrated by at least one recent exploit of a vulnerability in Internet Explorer, there are certain exploits that anti-anything (virus, spyware, pop-ups, etc) products are powerless against. What's your last line of defence to keep one of these exploits from phoning home? Outbound blocking -- a feature that the Windows Firewall lacks."
If you think you're safe because you've downloaded the latest Windows update, think again. Hackers are faster than Microsoft, the maker of the world's most insecure software products, will ever be.
So How Do You Remain Protected?
You should seriously consider purchasing a commercial firewall product. A good product will provide the following:
* Make your computer invisible to hackers by default
* Allow you to share files and printers with people you trust
* Ensures only applications you trust can access the internet
* Prevents malicious programs from disabling the firewall
* Automatically locks down your PC if the firewall is compromised
Windows firewall does none of these things and unfortunately has given a lot of people a false sense of security.
What Firewall Programs Are Out There?
We've tried a few and have settled on ZoneAlarm. This is the firewall we run on all of our personal and company computers. ZoneAlarm is the market leader and sells the most effective firewall software available.
|Download ZoneAlarm Pro Here|
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