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Firewall Software

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Chances are you've come into contact with a computer virus, or at least know someone who's been "infected." You may even know someone who has had personal information stolen via the Internet or perhaps had a bank account compromised. These home computer "attacks" are common today, and most could be easily and inexpensively prevented through the use of firewall software.

An Introduction to Firewall Software

Assessing Your Need for a Firewall

While most people at least have an idea of what a firewall does, few actually have them in place at home. It's unfortunate, because if you regularly connect to the Internet, and especially if you have a high-speed connection, you're playing Russian roulette every time you browse the Web. The list of threats to your home computer or network include hackers, viruses, trojans, worms, spyware, and other assorted oddities.

Don't believe you're at risk? According to the Internet Storm Center, unprotected PCs come under attack within 20 minutes of being connected to the Internet. High-speed connections get attacked even quicker. High-speed Internet users are more likely to be attacked because every time their computer is turned on it automatically connects to the Internet. This gives hackers more time to do their dirty work.

Learning Firewall Basics

So what is a firewall? It's basically a software program that uses filters to scan information coming through the Internet to your computer. It operates using a set of "rules" that the user helps to define when the firewall is first installed. If something breaks the rules you have in place, it is denied access to your computer.

To be more specific, a software firewall protects your computer's network ports, which are defined as anyplace your computer is connected to the outside world (not to be confused with USB, serial, and other ports used to connect peripherals to your computer). For instance, Internet services use ports: HTTP (for the Web) uses a port; FTP (for uploading/downloading large amounts of data) uses another port.

One thing to keep in mind as you learn about personal firewalls for your home computer is that they are different than anti-virus software. Anti-virus programs usually scan email attachments and files on your computer looking to weed out malicious content that could harm your system. But a firewall is simply concerned with building a virtual wall around your home computer or network so nothing intrudes in the first place that can cause harm.

Choosing a Firewall

Some firewall software won't let you run existing anti-virus software you may already have on your computer. Why? Because oftentimes, the company that makes the firewall wants you to use their brand of anti-virus software. However, there are some firewall programs that will cozy up to your existing anti-virus software without any problem (more on that later). Also, some firewall software will come bundled with their own anti-virus software, killing two birds with one digital stone.

Some factors you'll want to consider when looking for a personal firewall are price, platform (Mac or PC), support, and updates. Luckily, price is not that bad. Most of the best software is available for under $60. Some are even free. Good support and updates are really important because when new threats emerge, you'll want to be able to get free updates right away from your firewall software vendor.

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