All About Firewalls
This is the forth and final step in the Netizen Guide that covers the purpose and function of firewalls, a brief discussion on the pros and cons of windows firewall, and last, our recommendations for the best firewall.
To begin, the purpose of firewall is to prevent unwanted communications both to and from your computer. A firewall is to your computer as a lock on the front door is to your house. Without a firewall you are essentially leaving an open door to security threats (or leaks). Obviously the firewall is a vital component to your security so you will want the best firewall for your system (we recommend two of the best firewalls at the end of this page). You should always and only have a single active firewall because more than one can conflict to cause system instability or security holes. However, to be clear, your firewall is NOT a substitute for an active defense program (covered in step 2) and vice versa. It is essential you have both a single firewall and a single active defense service running on your computer at all times. The exception is a security suite which already includes both an active antivirus service and a firewall such as Comodo Internet Security Pro 2011 (the only security suite fully endorsed by the Netizen Guide).
By their nature, firewalls cannot be entirely automated. Depending on your firewall policy setting, certain types of communications will be automatically blocked and your firewall will remember what programs you have defined as safe and intended. However, if you are running a new program for the first time, your firewall may ask you about it or, in the case of windows firewall, some new programs may automatically be blocked until you set your firewall to allow them. Because of their greater sensitivity, best proactive firewalls may prompt you more often but again this is this is only because the process cannot be entirely automaticed.Even the best firewall could not read your mind to ‘know’ if a program is initiated by you or if it is a malicious process that you did not start yourself.
By default, Windows Operating Systems comes with Windows Firewall already installed and active. If you are a novice at computers, it is perhaps ‘adequate’ because of it's relative ease of use and you are probably already at least a little familiar with it. However, there are far more powerful and effective firewalls out there. We highly recommend you choose a more powerful firewall and if you do, make sure windows firewall is disabled to prevent conflicts.
Windows Firewall is known as a silent firewall because it does not ask you many questions about what communications and programs to block or allow. The downside is that it will often automatically block programs you would have wanted to allow and will sometimes allow connections that you would have wanted to block. This is why our two recommendations are proactive firewalls that will ask you about every new program and block every communication by default unless it is verified or explicitly trusted. This is why a proactive firewall used properly is significantly more effective than a silent firewall. However, windows firewall is far from the best firewall even among the silent firewalls. If you want the simplicity of a silent firewall combined with a simple, fast, and effective antivirus, Avast! Internet Security 6 includes an unobtrusive silent firewall that is considerably more effective than Windows Firewall, although it is not free.
If you are currently using Windows Firewall we highly recommend you upgrade to a more effective option but firewalls are largely a matter of personal preference and the type you choose depends on what you want to deal with in terms balancing power and obtrusiveness with ease of use. However, the all-around best firewall in terms of power will be proactive so that is our recommendation.
Our Recommendations for the Best Firewall (choose only one):
Congratulations, you have completed the Netizen Guide to the Best Security of 2011!
You may proceed to our Final Words or review any of the previous steps in this guide.