Is a firewall necessary?

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You have probably heard the term “firewall” sometimes, in relation to computers and security.  Let’s talk about what a firewall is, and if you need to make any changes to your computer setup in order to be secure.

firewall

First of all, what is a firewall?

Basically, a firewall is what its name suggests – a tool that blocks some access to your computer.  When you are connected to the internet (which for most users is 100% of the time), there are all kinds of little bugs and bots and malicious people that would like to get into your computer and take a look around.  You don’t want any of these bad things having access to your computer.

Second – do you really need a firewall?  Yes, you do need a firewall.  The good news is, you are probably already protected.

There are essentially 2 types of firewalls: hardware and software.  Hardware means an actual piece of physical equipment that acts as a firewall, and software means a program running on your computer as the firewall.

Think about your computer, and how it connects to the internet.  In most situations, the internet signal comes in to a modem, and the modem is in turn connected to a router.  Then, your computer gets the internet signal from the router (either wirelessly, or by a direct cable).  In some cases, the modem and router are actually a single combination box (that’s how it is with my Verizon FIOS connection – the modem is also the router).

If your computer connects to the internet using a router, you already have a firewall built in to your security, because the router acts as a hardware firewall.  In my opinion, that’s all that most people need.

If you want the additional protection of a software firewall, your Windows computer has this already built in to the operating system.  You have the choice of turning it off or on – just go to Control Panel and look for Windows Firewall.

Some people will tell you that Windows Firewall is insufficient, because it only blocks traffic one direction – from the internet to your computer.  Their point is that if something infects your computer and is trying to access the internet, Windows Firewall won’t block that access so you need another third-party software that blocks access both directions.

This is where other firewall manufacturers come into the picture, such as ZoneAlarm, Norton and Comodo – and of course if you ask them, you definitely need their software in order to be protected. I would say they are a little biased because they want your money.

Obviously, the final decision is yours, but I will tell you two things:

1. I have not run a third-party firewall program on my computers in a long time – probably more than 15 years.

2. In many cases, where I am checking a computer with problems and it can’t connect to the internet and/or get email, the issue traces back to a software firewall that is blocking access (usually because of being configured incorrectly).  Get rid of that program and the problem goes away.

What is your opinion?  Let us know in the comments area below.  And if you find this helpful, please do me a favor and click the Like and +1 buttons at the top or bottom of the post.  Thanks!

 

 

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jayden
September 19th, 2011

I personally believe you should have a good firewall like comodos firewall, because it is not only a strong 2 way firewall but has a feature called defense + which blocks malware and potentially unwanted software from running on your computer. It also has a sandbox which if will protect your system files on your computer if u run or install a malicious program. I use this and is a great layer of protection. Thanks for your blog scott 🙂 interesting as always

Scott Johnson
September 19th, 2011

We use Malwarebytes (paid version) to block malware from getting in. It also blocks the user from inadvertently visiting a malicious website. Thanks for the input Jayden!

jayden
September 19th, 2011

True, that is very good too, i just find it pretty heavy on system memory with real time protection.

Ken Leatherman
September 19th, 2011

Scott,

I could not agree with you more on the Windows Firewall.
No virus for the last 2 and a half years since I turned it on.

Thanks to the advice of a good friend of mine, a real
computer geek, I got rid of my 3rd party Firewalls. All
they did was cause my computer to run very slow and
freeze it up with their updates.

Several months ago I had a minor computer problem that
you fixed for me in less than an hour. And you advised me
to install the pro version of Malware, which of course I did
and bingo no more problems.

Thanks for your blog and I look forward to reading it every
Monday morning.

Ken

Jon McKeone
September 19th, 2011

A second layer of protection, in the event malware does gets in, would be to use a DNS solution like that at http://www.opendns.com which can detect and flag any questionable outgoing traffic from your system that is associated with known malware.