This site is aimed at people who are looking to protect their PCs for free rather than buying expensive firewall or security packages.
There are a lot of people vying for your money out there and many of the products are unnecessary or, to put it bluntly, do a very poor job. What I want to do is tell you how you can simply, without fuss, protect yourself for absolutely no charge whatsoever. You may think that there must be a catch and that surely free applications cannot provide better on-line protection? I am not going to say that there are not good paid products out there, but why pay when you can get very good free protection? All of the information I will provide is verifiable, although you will find it a time-consuming and confusing exercise if you have little PC or on-line experience. Where do you start?
Windows XP – Microsoft provide a free firewall which is turned on by default. It is actually a very good firewall, but the problem is it does not monitor out going programs. You may think, so what? Isn’t that all I need? The answer, I am afraid, is no. The reason for that being our on-line activities. The firewall stops us being detected by all sorts of probing that goes on 24/7, but once we start downloading programs and scripts on our browsers, and opening emails, we open up the possibility of unauthorised traffic from our PC. We can inadvertently give access to our PC to other people.
So a replacement firewall is a must, but you are presented with a multitude of choices, free and paid, but why pay when the free does the job you require of it? You will notice that the companies providing the freeware also have commercial products. It is in their interests for their free products to work well. The freeware sells their commercial products, especially to businesses.
When I first started using a home PC I, like all new owners, was apprehensive and worried about all the hackers and malware I had read about, so I purchased a firewall from a well-known company. I am sure the protection it gave me was fine, but the problem with it was that it slowed my PC down terribly. I moved on and tried a number of free alternatives, with varying degrees of success.
At this point I originally went on to wax lyrical about PC Tools free firewall, but it has been discontinued following a take over by Symantec. Apparently they have a history of removing freeware on purchasing a new company, so I had to look around for a replacement provider myself. I do not use any company’s “anti this, anti that, with firewall combined” product, because personal experience has shown that they are resource hogs. It is undoubtedly true that sometimes mixing and matching different company products will cause compatibility problems, but the choices I am suggesting you use have not caused any performance issues for me to-date.
The firewall I am currently using is ZoneAlarmFree . This is the firewall recommended by GRC and this is a link to their explanation of why they currently recommend it as the best firewall available…
You might find the explanation too technical for your taste, so in a nutshell what he is saying is that a firewall should not respond to their leak test, but that nearly every firewall tested, including well-known expensive brand leaders, failed.
He also recommends running it in tandem with a router, which acts as a hardware firewall. Just make sure that if you have a router, that you have set it up as per the manufacturer’s instructions and set the security protocol as they recommend.
Just a quick note about GRC’s ShieldsUP probe; do not worry about failing the stealth test, unless you have open ports. Even then, consider why you might have open ports showing. Maybe you were using the Tor network, or were file sharing?! If so run the test again when you are not connected to Tor etc…
Back to Zone Alarm… the firewall will produce a pop up menu in the bottom right hand corner every time a new, or sometimes updated, program starts up. It will ask you to either grant or deny permission to the program. The rule of thumb is that if you started the program then of course grant permission. You will probably be asked about the same program several times in quick succession. Don’t worry about this, just click yes each time.
If a pop up appears out of the blue then you need to be more cautious. Have a look at the details and decide whether it is a safe application. If in doubt you should deny permission. Don’t worry if it appears you have made a wrong choice, because you can amend it. Have a look at the firewall menu. As you can see you can add and remove programs. If you are at all worried about an application and are not sure what it is, or does, then write down the name of the application and post a question here: -
However, if you have a problem with a specific company’s product, not connected to whether it is a safe or unsafe application, take the matter up with the company.
No company, or any individual, will ever be foolish enough to give categorical assurances about giving 100% protection. We have all heard and read about hackers infiltrating government and big business systems. These organisations can afford to employ the best computer programmers and use the most secure systems around. So if there are people who can break into those systems they will get past us little guys protection; if they are so inclined. They rarely are though, but there are people who like to make malicious code e.g viruses, trojans etc. and spread them around, usually for no other reason than that they can. Sad but true, and because of this we need to be sensible when using the Internet and email, which is why a firewall is not the only protection we require: - Virus Protection