What is a firewall, and do you need one?

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(Thanks to my friend Paul for suggesting this topic. If you have a question that you would like to see answered here, email me at pctutor@gmail.com.)

A firewall is a form of protection for your computer. It prevents unauthorized access to your computer by another computer. When you are on the internet, you are connected to other computers all the time. If you view a website, you are connecting to the server that hosts that website. If you get email, you have to connect to the computer that stores your email.

So, for the question “Do you need a firewall?”, the answer is definitely YES.

The next question is, what kind of firewall should you use? There are basically two fundamental choices: a hardware firewall or a software firewall.

The most common hardware firewall is your router. If you have more than one computer in your house and they all use the same internet connection, you are most likely using a router to make that happen. Your router has a firewall built in, and that prevents unauthorized access to your computer when you are on the internet. For most people, this level of protection is sufficient.

If you don’t use a router, then you should have a software firewall installed on your computer. Fortunately, Windows comes with one already – you just need to make sure it is turned on. Go to Control Panel and click on “Windows Firewall” to see if it is turned on. You can actually have this turned on even if you do use a router, just for an extra level of protection.

For those that are really concerned about comprehensive protection, you can get a third-party firewall program such as ZoneAlarm (they offer a free version that works fine). If you go this route, be prepared to configure the software so that your normal daily activities (email, web browsing, antivirus updates, etc.) are allowed to access the internet.

Sometime in December you will probably be at a party with friends or family. That’s when you can bring out this little trick – a game you are sure to win.

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