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Do I Need Firewall Software?

So, you've protected your computer with topnotch antivirus and anti-spyware software. You should be all set, right? Think again. There's more to protecting your PC than using those programs. As beneficial as anti-spyware and antivirus programs are, it pays to have one additional line of defense: an Internet firewall. More than likely, you've heard the term mentioned in the past; read below to find out what it is, what it does, and why it's important.

What is a Firewall?

Before you can understand why you need firewall software, you need to understand what it is. When you connect to the Internet, your computer receives communications from outside sources; if it couldn't, you wouldn't be able to go online. However, it can also receive communications from less-than-savory sources. Hackers love nothing more than finding a computer that's not protected by a firewall, since they can communicate with it directly and freely.

An Internet firewall works as a safety net between your computer and the "world at large." It uses a set of rules and criteria to determine whether any given inbound communication is friendly or potentially harmful. If it's deemed friendly, it's allowed through; if it sets off red flags, it is blocked. Basically, a firewall works by monitoring traffic on a computer network and by preventing unauthorized Internet users from accessing a computer. Instead of sealing a PC off altogether, it allows communications through on a case-by-case basis.

Benefits of Firewall Software

If you use a router to connect to the Internet, it probably has a firewall built into it. This is called firewall hardware, and it generally works quite well at protecting your computer from malicious attacks. However, it's still smart to install firewall software directly onto your PC. That way, you have yet another layer of defense against potential threats.

Sometimes, firewalls block friendly communications; when that happens, games and other programs may not work. You should be able to configure your firewall software to allow friendly programs through. Sometimes, a little tweaking is necessary. It's well worth it, though, since you don't have to worry about harmful entities getting into your computer's files.

One of the greatest benefits of firewall software is that it generally works behind the scenes. You don't have to allow or deny each and every communication manually. If a rule doesn't exist about a particular communication, or if the firewall software is otherwise unable to confirm or deny entry, it will prompt you for a response. Over time, your firewall program should become fine-tuned to meet your exact specifications. When paired up with free antivirus software and anti-spyware software, a firewall can form a strong defense against potential problems. It's just one more way to safeguard your computer from harm.

Free Firewall Alternatives

Don't want to pay for a firewall program? There are several good free firewalls available. Here are 2 popular free firewall alternatives:

      i) Windows Firewall - Windows built-in firewall that can be accessed via the 'Control Panel'

     ii) ZoneAlarm Firewall - probably the most popular free firewall program

Article last updated May 27, 2011.

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