Q: I am currently running an antivirus program and periodically scan my system for spyware. My computer runs normally but my friend tells me I also need a firewall. Which one would you recommend?
A. A computer firewall is a virtual “fireproof wall” built around your data that shields your computer from some types of Internet nasties. A firewall can take the form of hardware such as a router or software bundled with certain “security suites” such as Norton Internet Security or McAfee Internet Security Suite. Some firewalls are stand-alone applications such as ZoneAlarm.
Without a firewall, an unprotected computer can be compromised by viruses and spyware within seconds of connecting to the Internet. This is because the Internet is filled with little hacking robots that constantly sniffing for Internet-connected computers that are vulnerable. When they find one, they attack by infecting the computer with viruses and spyware.
Chances are very good that you already have all the firewall you need. If you have more than one computer connected to high speed Internet at your home or office, then you likely have something called a NAT (Network Address Translation) firewall built into your router. NAT effectively makes your computer (or your entire network) invisible to the Internet which is what a firewall is designed to do.
If you are running Windows XP, you probably have the built-in firewall that comes with Service Pack 2. This is a rudimentary firewall designed to quell most attacks but doesn’t annoy you with constant questions like other firewall software might do.
Other than the NAT on my router and the Windows firewall, I personally don’t use a firewall. None of my technicians use one and I don't know any experienced technicians that use one. In fact, most technicians I know hate firewalls and find them to be quite annoying. On the other hand, problems with software firewalls are a great revenue generator for my business so I love them.
Despite what you read here, don’t go off and uninstall your firewall just because Jim says so. If your computer is not giving you any headaches then please don’t violate my prime rule of computing which says, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” On the other hand, if you are annoyed by the relentless “Do you want to grant access . . . ?” messages, AND you meet the following conditions, then it is okay to dump your firewall. Those conditions are: You are running Windows XP with all the updates from Microsoft AND you keep your antivirus program up to date AND your run a spyware scan from time to time. If you met those conditions, then a firewall is so far down the list of “things you need for computer security” that it is hardly worth mentioning.
Although a firewall is no substitute for a good antivirus program, it can be your last line of defense if you tend to be lax about updates. If you feel like you just have to have to have one, I recommend ZoneAlarm from www.ZoneLabs.com.