Originally created 02/28/01

Good firewalls to keep your computer safe



Every day I get more letters about how to secure a broadband (cable modem, ISDN or DSL) Internet connection. And nearly every day I hear another horror story about someone who left their whole computer open for the world to see. So it bears repeating - gain: if you have a high-speed Internet connection, you MUST install a firewall program.

Few days go buy without someone making at least a half-hearted attempt to gain access to my home computer; and some nights someone is trying my electronic doorknob all night. (My firewall logs the attempts.)

So let's talk about good, better and best.

First, let's talk turkey. A "firewall" is a product that regulates what traffic is allowed to go in and out of your computer. It's the last line of defense before you open up your whole PC to the world. And that is what you are doing if you have a high-speed Internet connection and you're not running a firewall. This is different than anti-virus software (though that is important, too.)

Most people use software firewall programs. A good, free one is called Zone Alarm and it is available free for non-commercial use from Zone Labs (www.zonelabs.com). The company also sells a more-featured product for business on the same site.

If you have a little dough, you can buy my favorite software product called Norton Internet Security 2001, which includes an anti-virus package, some parental monitoring tools, a privacy filter, ad-blocking and other features for about 50 bucks. (If you have kids, look for the "Family Edition.").

If you are looking for the best protection, or if you have several computers connected to the Internet in your home or office, consider a hardware firewall. Yes, just a few years ago the prices made these out of reach for consumers, but today you can get a full-featured firewall built in to a four-port router for around $150. That's little more than you would pay for a decent router anyway.

I tested SohoWare's "Broadguard Secure CableDSL Router" and found it to be an excellent choice for the home or small-office environment. Installation was a snap; just plug it in and hook in the remote computers using Cat-5 Ethernet cables.

The configuration screen runs in any browser on the network, so setting it up was a no-brainer. It even includes monitoring capability so you can observe what sites your workers (or kids) are visiting, or even block inappropriate ones.

The router will handle up to 253 PCs on one broadband connection, but you'd better have a heck of a home-office to have that many PCs. It autosenses the correct speed of the network (10 or 100 Mbps) and adjusts accordingly.

In short, if you want the best level of protection, consider a hardware firewall, especially if you need a router or hub anyway. Get the details at www.sohoware.com.

Weekly Web Wonder: Test how vulnerable your PC is by heading to the test site at www.symantec.com and selecting "Symantec Security Check" in lower right corner.