Everything You Need to Know About Firewalls

Last updated on May 11, 2021

To be fair, most of us spend less time thinking about firewalls than we do deciding what we’re going to have for dinner. But should we be committing a little more brainpower to this essential piece of security or is leaving it in the hands of Windows sufficient?

In the current era of growing cybercrime and increasingly sophisticated criminal syndicates taking to the virtual world to steal and scam, cybersecurity is something that everyone should be concerned about.

What is a Firewall?

Taking its name quite literally, in the physical world, a firewall is a division that helps prevent the spread of fire. In the virtual world, a firewall does much the same thing but, rather than preventing fire, it stops unauthorized access both to and from a private network.

As a security enhancement mechanism, a firewall isolates your computer from the dangerous world of the internet by using a code that examines every packet of data that travels to and from your computer. This process enables the firewall to block any traffic it deems to be potentially dangerous to your device.

In some instances, a firewall may prevent a program from accessing the internet because it perceives it as a threat, in which case you need to manually change the settings to allow access. For example, Windows Defender Firewall, on occasions, prevents Firefox from connecting to the internet. To establish a connection, you need to reconfigure the firewall settings.

Pros and Cons of a Firewall

While a firewall is designed to enhance security, it can sometimes be a little over-zealous, leaving users in the tricky position of choosing between protection and ease of use. The benefits of having a firewall in place include:

  • Defense of resources
  • Validation of access
  • Management and control of network traffic
  • Reporting of potential dangers

Unfortunately, few firewalls are perfect and when they start preventing perfectly valid software from running, many users are tempted to turn them off. In fact, according to a survey of over 500 IT professionals carried out in 2014, over 30% disabled deep packet inspection, 29% disabled the anti-spam function and 27% admitted to disabling URL filtering, simply so employees could work at a reasonable speed without constant lagging and interruptions.

Of course, disabling any function of your firewall leaves you exposed to infection from malicious files and unauthorized access to your network.

How to Allow a Program Through your Firewall

Rather than disabling key features of your firewall, you should first attempt to allow the problem program through the firewall so it can operate as required. If you’re using Windows Defender Firewall, this is a very simple process that can be performed in seconds.

Step 1: Open the Firewall settings in your control panel

Step 2: Click on “Allow an app through Windows Firewall”

Step 3: Select the “Change Settings” option in the top right-hand corner

Step 4: Click on “Allow another app” in the bottom right-hand of the screen

Step 5: In the pop-up window, click on browse

Step 6: Find the application and click “Open”

Step 7: Click on the “Add” button in the pop-up window and your mission is accomplished!

Routers and Their Firewalls

These days, most of us connect to the internet using a wireless router which actually gives you another layer of defense in addition to your firewall. A wireless router allows you connectivity but also protects each of the IP addresses within its local network. This is a highly effective form of protection that you wouldn’t get if you were using a single device connected directly.

Most routers have an inbuilt firewall that utilizes a combination of hardware and software. While many routers are programmed to have the firewall on in its default setting, some may require some manual configuration to set it up.

You can check to see if your router has a firewall by opening a browser window, logging into your router’s administrative console and locating the firewall or SPI firewall option. From there, you can simply enable the wall and save your changes. Once up and running, you can change the firewall’s configuration and then test it using a firewall testing service like  ShieldsUp or SubnetOnline.

Am I Safe Now?

Despite all these wonderful features, in some instances yet another layer of protection is required. If you spend a lot of time surfing using an ‘always on’ broadband connection or connecting via a public Wi-Fi network, you are much more vulnerable to malicious attacks. In these instances, a personal firewall gives you an extra blanket to keep out the bad guys.

Similarly, if your home network needs to remain inaccessible or you’re anxious to see what programs are attempting to access your device, a private firewall can provide you with the answer. While Windows Defender Firewall and similar in-built defenses do a reasonable job, more advanced or next-generation firewalls take it to another level, featuring functions such as dual-layer virus blocking, intrusion prevention, and protection against ransomware and malware attacks.

Admittedly, if you’ve got an effective antivirus and standard firewall in place, you should be pretty well covered, but if you’re still experiencing security threats, a personal firewall can give you the additional protection you need.

How to Install and Setup a Firewall

Although this process may vary from one product to another, most firewall installation processes follow the same basic steps so we’re going to walk you through setting up ZoneAlarm Firewall as an example.

Step 1: Click on the big green download button

Step 2: Select ‘Save File’ in the pop-up window

Step 3: Click on ‘Open File’ in your downloads

Step 4: Allow access and then click on ‘Quick Install’

Step 5: Agree to the licensing terms and conditions

Step 6: Once your download is complete, you’ll be asked to enter an email address to complete the installation process.

Congratulations – you are now protected!

Bottom Line

While an inbuilt firewall like Windows Defender can perform a number of impressive feats, like preventing access to your network and blocking malicious programs, some of us need an extra layer of protection simply because of our online habits. Although installing endless security components can be a bit of a hassle, firewalls are pretty lightweight and easy to install, making them a simple way to improve your personal safety online.

If you want comprehensive security against potential cybercrime, an all-inclusive security suite such as Kaspersky Internet Security 2019, both of which include a range of features, incorporating anti-malware, antivirus, and anti-phishing functions; file encryption, safe online banking, and a VPN; and both a firewall and rescue mode.

On the other hand, if you’re already using a reliable VPN like ExpressVPN or NordVPN, you may not want to replace it, in which case adding on the extra layers of security you need, like a firewall, is a preferable method of boosting your cybersecurity.

Whatever you do this festive season, keep yourself safe from hackers and malware and let’s make cracking down on cybercrime a commitment for the New Year.

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