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Home PC Firewall Guide

The Internet is a hostile network like the wild west without a sheriff! A personal computer connected to the Internet without a firewall can be hijacked and added to an Internet outlaw's botnet in just a few minutes. A personal firewall can block malware that could otherwise scan your computer for vulnerabilities and then try to break in at a weak point.

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The only way to make a home computer 100% secure is to turn it off or disconnect it from the Internet. The real issue is how to make one 99.9% secure when it is connected. At a minimum, home computers need to have personal firewall and anti-malware software installed and kept up-to-date to find and remove viruses, spyware, Trojans and other malware. A home network that uses a wired or wireless router with firewall features provides additional protection.



Home PC Firewall Choices

Choices -- Your choices include using the firewall built into Windows, using a third party product, choosing an Internet security suite that includes a firewall, and/or using a hardware firewall router or gateway.

Microsoft Windows Firewall -- The Windows 7, Vista and XP Service Pack 2/3 operating systems have firewalls built in that are turned on by default to block threats from the Internet. You should leave this feature turned on until you replace it with third-party software and/or hardware.

Two-Way Third-Party Personal Firewall Software -- These firewalls block both incoming and outgoing threats. A computer may have outgoing threats when it becomes infected with a virus, Trojan horse or spyware. A challenge for this type of firewall is to distinguish between threats and legitimate software. Three common ways to address this are by vendors including a list of safe software for the firewall to check [white list], malware to block [black list] and/or by issuing a pop up alert to the user asking for advice on what to do [better for experts]. For links to vendors and reviews of over thirty products, see our Personal Firewall Reviews page.

Recommended personal firewalls with links to vendors:

Internet Security Software Suites -- These products include two or more security features such as a personal firewall, anti-virus, anti-spyware and more. For links to vendors and reviews of over thirty products, see our Internet Security Suites page.

Recommended Internet security (IS) suites with links to vendors:

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Hardware Firewalls -- A hardware firewall is usually a small box that sits between a modem and a computer or network. The firewall is either based on "network address translation" (NAT) which hides your computer from the Internet or NAT plus "stateful packet inspection" (SPI) for more protection. There are three basic types of hardware devices that include firewalls for home users, Wired Routers, Wireless Routers, and Broadband Gateways. They are inexpensive enough to be used with one computer and can also be used to create a home computer network. They can be used in addition to a software firewall on each computer because they run on a separate box preventing most compatibility problems.

Recommended hardware firewall products with links to vendors:

  • D-Link 655 Xtreme N Wireless Router with QoS and Gigabit Ports -- "Support for WEP, WPA™, and WPA2™ security standards ensure that you will be able to use the best possible encryption regardless of your other wireless devices. To prevent possible attacks from the Internet, the DIR-655 uses dual active firewalls (SPI & NAT) to help protect your valuable data." Editor's Choice -- PC Magazine, Computer Shopper, LAPTOP Magazine, Maximum PC, Practically Networked...
  • ZoneAlarm Secure Wireless Router with a SPI firewall and WPA2 security also includes gateway antivirus, remote access VPN, intrusion detection and prevention, secure wireless communications, fast wireless performance, extended range, built-in USB 2.0 wireless print server, setup wizard, web-based management, monthly security report, flexible optional services, automatic updates, online technical support.

Important Tips -- Never use two personal firewall software products at the same time. Fully uninstall one before installing another to prevent compatibility problems. Also, turn off the firewall built into Windows 7, Vista and XP Service Pack 2/3. After installation, be sure to test it with an online service like Security Space to make sure that it is configured correctly.

Staying Up-To-Date -- For current security news, alerts and reviews, see our Internet Security News page and sign up for our free newsletter.

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