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Understanding Firewalls

Source: US-CERT

When anyone or anything can access your computer at any time, your computer is more susceptible to being attacked. You can restrict outside access to your computer and the information on it with a firewall.

What do firewalls do?

Firewalls provide protection against outside attackers by shielding your
computer  or  network  from malicious or unnecessary Internet traffic.
Firewalls can be configured to block data from certain locations while
allowing  the  relevant  and necessary data through (see Understanding
Denial-of-Service Attacks and Understanding Hidden Threats: Rootkits and
Botnets for more information). They are especially important for users who
rely on “always on” connections such as cable or DSL modems.

What type of firewall is best?

Firewalls  are  offered in two forms: hardware (external) and software
(internal). While both have their advantages and disadvantages, the decision
to use a firewall is far more important than deciding which type you use.
* Hardware – Typically called network firewalls, these external devices
are positioned between your computer or network and your cable or DSL
modem. Many vendors and some Internet service providers (ISPs) offer
devices  called  “routers”  that  also  include firewall features.


Hardware-based firewalls are particularly useful for protecting multiple
computers  but also offer a high degree of protection for a single
computer. If you only have one computer behind the firewall, or if you
are certain that all of the other computers on the network are up to
date on patches and are free from viruses, worms, or other malicious
code, you may not need the extra protection of a software firewall.
Hardware-based firewalls have the advantage of being separate devices
running their own operating systems, so they provide an additional line
of defense against attacks. Their major drawback is cost, but many
products are available for less than $100 (and there are even some for
less than $50).


* Software – Some operating systems include a built-in firewall; if yours
does, consider enabling it to add another layer of protection even if
you have an external firewall. If you don’t have a built-in firewall,
you can obtain a software firewall for relatively little or no cost from
your local computer store, software vendors, or ISP. Because of the
risks associated with downloading software from the Internet onto an
unprotected computer, it is best to install the firewall from a CD or
DVD. If you do download software from the Internet, make sure it is a
reputable, secure website (see Understanding Web Site Certificates for
more information). Although relying on a software firewall alone does
provide some protection, realize that having the firewall on the same
computer as the information you’re trying to protect may hinder the
firewall’s ability to catch malicious traffic before it enters your
system.

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