This week we’ll be discussion Firewall software after I recently received this letter from one of my readers from the Midlands.
You talked in one of your articles about Anti Virus software, and mentioned in particular the free product from Grisoft called AVG. Can you recommend a free Firewall product?Just for your information, my dad thinks so highly of your articles that he regularly sends them to me here in Hereford!
Mike Coleman, via E-mail.
For those of you who are not entirely sure what a firewall is, let me just briefly explain. When you’re connected to the Internet you essentially become a part of this worldwide network, which also has millions of others connected to it at any one time.The majority of these people using these computers will go about their own business quite happily but there are also those connected who have their own hidden agenda and who may try to invade your privacy or damage your machine.By using a number of different software tools, these people may try to fine your computer on the Internet and then exploit security weaknesses found in many operating systems or view information stored on your computer by the way of a Trojan Horse program that you may have inadvertently installed from an infected files downloaded off of the Internet.
If you are unaware as to what a Trojan Horse program is then think of the Greek legend which tells of how the Greeks won the Trojan War by hiding in a wooden horse in order to get into the heavily fortified city of Troy – You install the Trojan Horse from a mundane file such as an infected screensaver and this program in turn gives a hacker on the Internet access to your computer.The Trojan horse may give him the ability to remote control your machine, damage it or steal passwords and credit card details which you may have stored on your hard drive.
A Firewall basically sits between your computer and the Internet and tries to keep all hackers out of your machine by only letting the data in and out that it feels should be allowed, whilst ideally making your machine invisible to everybody else on the Internet.I won’t go into details of how the firewall software achieves this, as it isn’t important, although as requested I will tell you of a number of free software packages that will do this job.On the following sites, you may have to have a look around for a little while as the companies quoted also produce paid for versions, which offer extra support and features, and so they are obviously going to try and flog these versions first whilst making the free ones harder to find.The addresses you need are those of OutPost Firewall (www.agnitum.com), Zone Alarm (www.zonelabs.com) and Kerio (www.kerio.com), and although I haven’t comprehensively tested out these packages they all seem to include the features that any small business or home user is likely to need.
Once your Firewall is up and running head along to www.symantec.com and click on ‘Symantec Security Check for Home Users’ and then on ‘Scan for Security Risks’ which will make the website emulate a hacker trying to break into your computer so you know if you’re secure or not.
Windows XP users should also bear in mind that a simple but effective Firewall comes included with their Operating System and that this should be sufficient for most users – Simply go to your connection properties to check that this has been turned on.
I’ll finish by saying that sometimes precaution verges on the side of paranoia – If you use the Internet for just a couple of hours a week and have a low speed connection then I personally believe that a firewall isn’t actually necessary; I’ve seen examples of people who don’t even have their computer connected to their Internet EVER with Firewall software installed.Firewall software can sometimes have undesired effects as it may block legitimate items that you are trying to view from entering your computer and they obviously take up a small amount of system resources as it will always be running in the background; Assess your need for the product before installing.
Finally, always keep Windows up to date by running a Windows Update every couple of weeks and installing the latest critical updates that are released as these often correct security vulnerabilities recently found in the Operating System or its components.I would say that for the majority of home users, running Windows Update and having an up to date Anti-Virus package (such as the free AVG) installed should be enough.
About the Author – Chris Holgate works for Refresh Cartridges who supply a wide range of printer cartridges at the UK’s lowest prices.