A Basic Introduction to Firewalls
By Alex Polling
Enjoying the beauty of today's Internet landscape requires a greater degree of security and responsibility than a few years ago. It's like driving across an African national park, where you can see different kinds of wildlife. There you are, watching big lions, exquisite flamingoes, beautiful giraffes, all of them as attractive as many web sites are, and most probably you're not thinking about anything else in the world at this moment. And just as animals have eyes and ears to collect information, the web sites you visit or software that you download can collect information about you, and some of them can even run malicious code on your computer without your permission. The information which your hard drive contains can be used in different ways, anything from credit card numbers to real information about your children. Your computer can also be turned into a base for attacking other computers. It's better to take care of potential dangers in advance.
There are many security tools available to make your computer safer while you're surfing the Internet, but we'll talk about the level of protection offered by a firewall.
With time, using the Internet has become cheaper and connections are much faster. This makes many people want to stay online ever longer, thus increasing the exposure of computers to various threats lurking on the Internet. While using anti-virus software protects computers from viruses, it doesn't stop other kinds of intrusions from the Internet. A firewall, your personal guard, will stay between your computer and the Internet, deciding what doors should be open and who can come in.
The firewall stays in the background and monitors ingoing and outgoing traffic. If it detects a potentially dangerous connection, this connection will be blocked. No strangers here. Only if the connection "knows" the password or if it's authorized, can it be opened.? A firewall hides your Internet-connected computer from view, can block and hide ports and prevent port scanning used by online criminals as a first step in their attacks.
Firewalls of different types are available on the Internet. There are simple firewalls capable of blocking only ingoing connections. They can be a good start. For example, you may want to consider the one that comes with Windows XP Service Pack 2. There are more advanced firewalls, coming with pre-set rules, which can be used in the beginning, allowing you to set your own custom rules for traffic filtering. Some firewalls, while having a lot of features, provide a convenient interface to handle specifics of firewall configuration. Typing "firewall" in Google will display a number of firewalls that you may want to consider as a part of your protection toolkit.
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