A firewall is a protective system that lies, in
essence, between your computer
network and the
Internet. When used
correctly, a firewall
prevents unauthorized use and access to your network. The job of a firewall is
to carefully analyze
data entering and exiting the network based on your configuration. It
ignores information that comes from an unsecured, unknown or suspicious
locations. A firewall plays an important role on any network as it
provides a protective barrier against most forms of attack coming from the outside
Firewalls can be either
software. The ideal
firewall configuration will consist of both. In addition to limiting access to
you computer and network, a firewall is also useful for allowing
to a private network through secure authentication certificates and logins.
While many people do not completely understand the importance and necessity of a
firewall, or consider it to be a product for businesses only, if your network or
computer has access to the outside world via the Internet then you need have a
firewall to protect your network, individual computer and data therein.
Hardware firewalls can be purchased as a
stand-alone product but more recently hardware firewalls are typically found in
routers, and should be
considered an important part of your system and network set-up, especially for anyone on a
broadband connection. Hardware firewalls can be
effective with little or no configuration, and they can protect every machine on
a local network. Most hardware firewalls will have a minimum of four network
ports to connect other
computers, but for larger networks, business networking firewall solutions are available.
A hardware firewall uses
to examine the header
of a packet to determine its source and destination. This information is
compared to a set of predefined or user-created rules that determine whether the
packet is to be forwarded or dropped.
As with any electronic equipment, a computer user with general computer
knowledge can plug in a firewall, adjust a few settings and have it work.
To ensure that your firewall is configured for optimal security and protect
however, consumers will no doubt need to learn the specific features of their
hardware firewall, how to enable them, and how to test the firewall to ensure
its doing a good job of protecting your network.
Not all firewalls are created equal, and to this end it is important to read the manual and documentation that
comes with your product. Additionally the manufacturer's Web site will usually
provide a knowledgebase or
FAQ to help you get started. If the terminology is a bit too tech-oriented,
you can also use the Webopedia search to
help you get a better understanding of some of the tech and computer terms you will encounter
while setting up your hardware firewall.
To test your hardware firewall
security, you can purchase third-party test software or search the Internet
for a free online-based
firewall testing service. Firewall testing is an important part of maintenance
to ensure your system is always configured for optimal protection.
For individual home users, the most popular firewall
choice is a software firewall. Software firewalls are installed on your computer
(like any software) and you can customize it; allowing you some control over
its function and protection features. A
software firewall will protect your computer from outside attempts to control or gain
access your computer, and, depending on your choice of software firewall, it
could also provide protection against the most common
Trojan programs or
worms. Many software firewalls
have user defined controls for setting up safe file and printer sharing and to block unsafe
applications from running on your system.
Additionally, software firewalls may also incorporate privacy controls, web
filtering and more. The downside to software firewalls is that they will only
protect the computer they are installed on, not a network, so each computer will
need to have a software firewall installed on it.
Like hardware firewalls there is a vast number of
software firewalls to choose from. To get started you may wish to read reviews
of software firewalls and search out the product
Web site to glean
some information first. Because your software firewall will always be running on
your computer, you should make note of the system resources it will require to
run and any incompatibilities with your operating system. A good software
firewall will run in the background on your
system and use only a
small amount of system resources. It is important to monitor a software firewall
once installed and to
download any updates available from the developer.
The differences between a software and hardware
firewall are vast, and the best protection for your computer and network is to
use both, as each offers different but much-needed security
features and benefits. Updating your firewall and your operating system is
essential to maintaining optimal protection, as is testing your firewall to
ensure it is connected and working correctly.
A resource for daily information on e-security targeted to IT managers. The site
provides users with information from a variety of sources, including experts at
security product and services firms, and the consultants who follow the security
Firewall Debate: Hardware vs. Software
Small Business Computing debates the merits of software and hardware firewalls
and details the advantages of each.
Home PC Firewall Guide
The purpose of the Home PC Firewall Guide is to provide easy access to basic
information about, and independent, third-party reviews of Internet security and
privacy products for home, telecommuter, and SOHO (small office, home office)
Why You Need a Firewall
Describes security issues when connecting to the Internet, with information on
how to protect your network. This page is hosted by Cisco Systems Inc.
Yahoo!'s firewall companies page
Yahoo!'s directory of firewall companies.
Vangie 'Aurora' Beal
Last updated: November 5, 2004