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What you need to know about firewalls

New malicious software threats hit the Web on a daily basis. To fully protect a system we need malware solutions, an updated system and a firewall. What role does the firewall play in overall computer defenses?

Simply put, firewalls act to keep the bad things out while allowing the good things in. One of the biggest threats today is the loss of personal data while another threat is allowing our system to be partially taken over for illegitimate uses. No Internet connected computer is perfectly safe, but a computer with a properly configured firewall is protected to a much higher level than one without a firewall.

The Windows XP Firewall provides decent protection for inbound connections but does no outbound scanning. That means that users have basic protection against port scans and such but if malware slips through via other methods the firewall will not catch anything going out.

Vista's Firewall is supposed to be a better performing, two-way fire that should intercept illicit outbound messages but recent testing by PC World found the outbound protection to not be very good. So what are Windows users to do?

First, research and increase your knowledge of firewalls. If you are unhappy with the protection afforded by the built-in firewall then take a look at a free for personal use third-party firewall. One such firewall is called ZoneAlarm from Checkpoint (zonealarm.com) while the other one is called Comodo (personalfirewall. comodo.com). The Comodo firewall comes bundled with an antivirus solution.

I do recommend an on-line test of the firewall. Go to auditmypc.com/firewall-test.asp and follow the directions on the page. Visitors have a choice of a basic or advanced test and can select a standard security scan or a more in-depth ranged security scan. A pop-up window will display the results.

Ron Poland is a professor in the Computer Information Systems AAS program at Clinton Community College. Poland is certified in company repair and networking by the Computer Technology Industry Association (CompTIA). He is also a Cisco certified network assistant. Questions may be sent to him via e-mail at ron@ronpoland.com.

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