Firewalls Redux

Firewalls became a hot topic in the latter part of this week at HMR (a web site visitor abbreviated our name that way and it works pretty well). I decided to bring up this tip and updated it for 2006.

As recently as 2003, I recommended against dial-up users using firewalls. My reasoning for this advice included the substantially decreased time most dial-up users spend online in one stretch, ISP's provide firewall services into and out of their modem banks, and most 'hacking' at the time centered around denial of service attacks and other activities that was meant for computers with 'fat pipe' connections (DSL, cable, etc).

Today, however, I believe that a firewall is becoming an essential piece of our security arsenal. Firewalls (either hardware based or software based) prevent unauthorized access to and from your computer. The most recent threat of unauthorized use is spyware and adware. Spyware and adware can bring a system to its knees if not properly and completely stopped. A firewall can help reduce the toll of spyware and adware.

At the very least, every computer user using Windows XP should perform the following few steps to enable the XP firewall. If you have updated to XP Service Pack 2, the firewall will be enabled by default. Here's how to enable the Windows fiewall:

  1. Click My Computer from the Start menu (or your desktop)

  2. Click My Network Places from the task pane on the left

  3. Click View Network Connections again from the task pane on the left

  4. When the windows opens, RIGHT click on your Internet connection

  5. Click Properties

  6. Click the Advanced tab

  7. Check the box that says "Protect my computer and network by limiting…"

  8. Click OK

If you want a more industrial strength firewall that you can tweak and configure, try one of these free or commercial firewalls:

ZoneAlarm (free version)

ZoneAlarm Pro

Tiny Firewall

For broadband users who use a router to share access with other computers, the router acts as a firewall as well. Adam made some accurate points this week about the usability of firewalls. Too many computer users, hope to 'set it and leave it', but most firewalls require careful initial setup and a good knowledge of how to interact with the messages that it will generate. Read through your manual or go to the manufacturer's web site to learn how to best utilize your router and software firewall's capabilities.