A firewall is an essential security device for anyone who connects their computer to the internet.
What does it do though?
Whilst anti-virus and anti-spyware programs have a clear role to play, a firewall is often overlooked as it runs in the background, never seeking publicity.
WHAT IS A FIREWALL?
A firewall is typically hardware, though it can be software too, that aims to block attacks on your computer that come from other computers over the internet.
You should already know that viruses and spyware can find their way onto your system when you connect to the internet.
However, they generally require help through some sort of user interaction in order to gain entry.
A firewall is designed to deal with other, unseen, attacks that can occur even if your email client and web browser are closed.
Due to the huge number of unprotected, or poorly configured computers around the globe, there are millions of zombies lurking in cyberspace, waiting to attack.
These compromised machines are constantly scanning the internet, searching for unsecured computers that they can infiltrate.
These zombie machines constantly scour the internet, looking for security holes, many of which can be found in Windows based machines.
There are so many compromised machines in the hackers’ network that it is certain that they will find an opening in an unprotected machine.
And they will do it FAST.
If you connect a Windows based machine to the internet, without the protection of a firewall, then it is likely your machine will become targeted, attacked and infected in less than half an hour.
There have even been some cases of machines being infected with malware in as little as 2 minutes!
RING OF FIRE
So what does a firewall do?
A good firewall will block those security holes I mentioned earlier and will block undesirable, random traffic from connecting to your computer.
Many of the threats to your system that are posed by the internet are not malware and spyware as opposed to just viruses.
Therefore, your anti-virus program will not prevent such attacks.
Most people will be pleased to hear that they may well have a firewall in operation already.
If you connect to the internet through a router then it is quite likely that it will have it’s own firewall.
By default most routers are shipped with the firewall switched on, though it is highly recommended that your check the particular model you are using.
If your routers firewall is switched on then that should suffice – you can configure it for different purposes but the default settings will probably be ok.
If you don’t connect to the internet through a router then you may still be covered if you use Windows XP or Vista.
The Windows firewall can be switched on via the control panel.
It works adequately well as is, and is on a par with most commercial alternatives.
Only one firewall is required so there is no need to use a software firewall if your router already provides such protection.
Once you have a firewall in place you can largely forget about it as it silently protects you from a multitude of internet-based threats.
Learn more about basic internet security.