Software, Technology

Review: Free Firewall Software for Windows

Windows Firewall Domain ProfileYour Internet connection puts you within reach of every Hacker, Script Kiddie, Bot-net, Nigerian scammer, Albanian Mafioso and Chinese spy operative on the planet. Yes, I am retreading every cliché and pejorative generalisation of the last five years. Sadly, they are all still true. Can you afford to take risks?

The Internet is a marvellous thing, the eight wonder of the world, but just as it opens up the world to you, the world can use this two-way portal to gain unauthorized access to your computer. If you don’t have a firewall, or your firewall isn’t up to it, you risk losing the personal data on your computer, or even the very use of it, if it is hijacked as a resource for someone else. You need a firewall.

The Firewall is intended to prevent unauthorized connections being established with your network address from specific ports; telnet, FTP, POP mailboxes and others. It also prevents a whole class of malicious software – malware – including rootkits, Trojans and computer viruses from accessing the Internet through your computer.

Similar to anti-virus software, the firewall software is specialised tool providing basic Internet security. Firewalls allow or block network traffic between computers based upon rules set up by the Administrator – in domestic cases, that will be you.

Firewall rules define the specific traffic pattern you want to detect and the action to take when happens. Firewall rules apply to both inbound and outbound traffic.

Windows 7 Firewall
As mentioned in a previous post, Windows 7 Firewall is the bundled firewall software provided by Microsoft in Windows 7. It is now quite advanced and allows you to customise the firewall settingsto create inbound and outbound connection rules. Because it comes from Microsoft, many users think it has big target painted on its’ tail for all the hackers and malware writers aiming for a merit badge. It is in use on millions of machines worldwide, doing a fine job; however, if you feel the need for an alternative, there are several established names which offer basic free packages and paid upgrades with more features and additional services:

Comodo Internet Security (Comodo Firewall)
The free version of Comodo Internet Security Suite comes with an anti-virus and a firewall program. You can install either or both programs to protect your computer from threats and viruses. Comodo is an established name with a solid reputation and the free version leads the field in the detailed settings and controls you get, plus there’s an automatic update. Comodo firewall is available for download as a standalone program or bundled with the Comodo Internet Security Suite. Comodo Firewall will cross-references any new software you download with a whitelist of over 15 million trusted files and applications.

ZoneAlarm Free Firewall
The ZoneAlarm Free Firewall is more than adequate for most uses and has full features for defining your own firewall rules. The SmartDefence Advisor reduces the number of pop ups you get and there is automatic Wi-Fi security setting, a Zonealarm toolbar and parental controls. There is a companion security suite for malware protection, anti-phishing protection. Program monitoring protection isn’t as good as the paid version and there’s no High setting for program access in the free version. The ‘automatic update’ option actually needs some manual intervention to apply. The Help file doesn’t work well in the free version.

The grid-based settings for program control used to drive me crazy, especially when it would include all these .exe files you didn’t recognise or know what they belonged to, much less know if it needed Internet access or not! Zonealarm is moving into Cloud security and Cloud storage, offering 2GB of online free storage.

Make sure you get the free version (often called restricted freeware) and not the trial-ware, time limited version of the paid package, otherwise you’ll get unending nag-boxes popping up every five minutes. With the free versions you can try them out an upgrade to the paid copy any time you like. Or uninstall.

Both these have on-line updates in response to new threats and vulnerabilities as they are reported.

I used Zonealarm on XP and Vista for years, whilst a friend swore by Comodo. Our preferences were based on the level of nag-ware built in to the free package and how usable were the individual user interfaces. We each found we preferred the rules and setting engines on our own choice better than the other. Functionally, there was never that much between them. Installation was similar and completely anonymous.

Other contenders
PCTools free firewall: Small foot-print, so low on resources, with simple installation and a user friendly interface, an ideal firewall for those who have their own anti-virus and only need a good alternative to Windows firewall. It has an advanced mode with rules customization for expert users (I haven’t used this for years, it used to be very very simple back then).

Outpost Security Suite FREE 7.1 from Agnitum builds on their anti-virus, firewall and ‘proactive protection’ technologies. Good lightweight, all round security suite including anti-virus, anti-spyware and anti-spam features. The default settings are enough for most users.

Online Armor free is from Online Armor.
It prevents and removes spyware, very easy to use without too many annoying pop-ups, Online Armor guards itself and other software from tampering by third party applications and it detects key-loggers. It doesn’t have automatic updates or a built-in help. It’s mandatory to enter an email during installation, and it has a pre-checked option to send it anonymous information. Download the free version

Add-ons
Windows Firewall Control
You could go for the add-on option and keep Windows Firewall going. Windows Firewall Control is a small application which provides quick access to the most frequent options used from Windows Firewall in a simple interface to define your own simple rules and configure them.

Windows Firewall Control is a small and easy to use application that runs in your system tray and provides quick access to the most frequently-used options used from Windows Firewall. AJS

About Allan J. Smithie

Allan J. Smithie is a journalist and commentator based in Dubai.

Discussion

3 thoughts on “Review: Free Firewall Software for Windows

  1. hey, great blog! love it :)

    Posted by Vilma Dasilua | November 7, 2011, 6:47 pm
  2. Many people are hunting round for this info, you can aid them greatly.

    Posted by Alfrey Talmage | May 4, 2012, 7:37 pm
  3. I never looked beyond Windows firewall – it works, it’s uninstrusive, it’s free and it doesn’t try to upsell you anything.

    Posted by Reding | May 29, 2012, 3:04 am

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