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Why you need a firewall

Computer security gurus have been saying now for years that a firewall should be part of every computer users life. Unfortunately, it’s not often explained exactly what a firewall is, nor why the average person needs one. Often the terms get so technical that users quickly get lost, and stop paying attention. I guess it’a curse that most technical computer users eventually end up with. You forget that not everybody else understands what you are saying.

Most people have learnt about anti-virus programs, and accpet that they need them. Unfortunately, for most people this becomes a security blanket which they believe will keep everything safe and well on their computers. That was maybe true 10-15 years ago, but in today’s hyper connected world, a whole new stategy is needed. In a sense, you need a security “triangle.”

One side is your anti-virus program, the other is a good anti-spyware program, and the last side is a firewall. On all corporate networks, there are firewalls, often some seriously advanced pieces of equipment. For the home user, it mainly comes down to software based firewalls, and/or the firewalls inside an ADSL router for example.

At home, I am unfortunately still using 56k dial up modem for internet access, which means that the computer has no protection in the path to it, unlike with a router for example. This means that I’m even more exposed to the dangerous side of the internet.

Recently, I swapped over from Sygate Personal Firewall to the free Comodo Personal Firewall Pro, and it’s opened my eyes to the dangers of the net. WIthin a day or so, the firewall started blocking traffic coming in to TCP port 135. This turned out to be the result of old computer worms on other people’s computers trying to infect our computer. The number of attacks grew and grew and it was disturbing to see.

This means that a lot of home users have infected computers, and they may not even know it. The range of computers attacking me seemed to all belong to the dial up network of Telkom (our ISP and South Africa’s biggest telephone company), which does make sense. Being on dial up, you are not likely to keep any security products up to date, especially if it’s a non technical user using the computer. Updates seem to be too big to download, so people ignore it.

In short, every computer user using Windows should have a firewall installed. Using the built in Windows Firewall (under XP) is a small step in the right direction, but for any real protection, a third party product is needed. For Windows Vista, the Windows Firewall is far, far better, but there are still 3rd party ones that are even better.

In this day and age, you should not be without one, it is just good computer security and sense. It can possibly save you from a batch of nasty things.

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