Marshall Adult Education



Steps to protecting your computer, Step 2:  Firewalls

We’re talking about steps to locking down your computer to prevent those who would want to gain access to it and possibly steal your sensitive information.  Firewalls can help protect you from outside intruders.  “A firewall is a software or hardware device that prevents outsiders from accessing a computer or network.”

If you are worrying about your computer at your workplace, you probably don't need to be because most workplace networks have excellent firewalls protecting your computer.  But you should be concerned with your home computer. 


If you are using Microsoft XP Operating System, Service Pack 2, you have a built in firewall.  You can check it out like this.  Click on the Start Menu and click on Control Panels.  Now click on Security Center.  You will see the Firewall and you will see if it is On or Off.


Now the Windows XP firewall is not a great firewall.  It’s better than no firewall but it’s not great.  The Windows gurus kinda know this.  That’s why they are working on their latest security software called Windows Live OneCare.  It’s not a freebie.  Read about it here.


How do I know that Windows XP firewall is not that great?  I’ll answer that in a minute.


First - there’s this neat little FREE program called LeakTest that you can download to your computer.

You can use this program to test and see if your firewall can be penetrated.  The neat thing about this program is that you download it to your computer but you don’t have to install it.  Just download and save the download to your desktop (or anywhere else you want to save it).  


When you are finished downloading it, you can double-click on it to start it up and test for leaks.  (Remember – you don’t have to install it!)  It takes about 30 seconds to test your computer.  If your firewall is working, you will see a message that says, “Unable to Connect.”  Congratulations – your firewall is doing its job.  If your firewall is not working, you will get a message that says, “Your firewall wall has been penetrated.” 


OK – back to the questions - How do I know that Windows XP firewall is not that great?  When I test my Windows XP Service Pack 2 firewall, it doesn’t seem to block the intrusion when I use LeakTest.  I fail the test every time.  I get the “Your firewall wall has been penetrated” message every time.  So it’s not offering me great protection.


Hmm…What to do???  Well, there is another neat FREE program called ZoneAlarm.  You guessed it – it’s a firewall – but a good one.  This firewall does a great job protecting your computer from intruders.  And, yes, it stops LeakTest from penetrating my computer. 


There is a commercial version of ZoneAlarm that does quite a bit more than the free basic ZoneAlarm firewall.  It will set you back about 40 bucks.  Unless you want to get into a very high level of protection, you can stick with the free basic version and get excellent protection.


If you decide to use ZoneAlarm, be sure to watch the Flash tutorials and learn the basics about how it works.  It’s pretty simple to understand and to use and it will offer you excellent protection.


Download the free version of ZoneAlarm here:


One last thing – There are 2 types of firewalls – a software firewall and a hardware firewall.  We have been talking about a software firewall. 


What’s a hardware firewall?  A hardware firewall is typically a broadband router that filters incoming and outgoing traffic.  There is quite a bit more customizing that is required when setting up a hardware firewall in order to get it to filter efficiently.  Whereas, a software firewall like ZoneAlarm is very easy to install and setup.  In fact, there is really no customizing necessary - just install it and you're ready to go.


You can certainly use a software firewall with a hardware firewall (router) for even better protection.  You will need a router if you want to use 2 computers (or more) connected to a cable or DSL modem.  Otherwise, it really isn’t necessary to get a router.  Stick with a software firewall like ZoneAlarm.


Here’s a good article on Hardware vs Software Firewalls.


Are there other firewalls available?  You bet there are.  Fred Langa had his readers rate the various firewalls available (some of which are free).  Read more about the various firewalls here.  Notice that ZoneAlarm far outweighs all the other firewalls.  It is the best!


The Sygate firewall is also an excellent software firewall but the freeware version is dissappearing.  Within a week, Symantic, who bought Sygate 3 months ago, will discontinue support for the free Sygate firewall.  If you are using it, be aware of this.  You can switch to ZoneAlarm which is still FREE.


Get your firewall going and get protection! 




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