There are hardware firewalls that protect your network from certain kinds of attacks, but the one that does the most for you is a software firewall that runs on your computer. The two main jobs of your firewall is to block any type of incoming attack by hackers or hacking scripts, but the second and more visible function is to bring up alerts whenever a program on your computer tries to get to the Internet.
All it's telling you is that one of your programs is trying to get to the Internet and it wants you to tell it what to do. To decide, ask the following questions:
- What program is trying to contact the Internet? This should be pretty easy since the altert tells you the name of the program. If you don't recognize it, try going to your search engine and typing the name to see what comes up.
- When did this program make the attempt? Did you just now click the icon to start the program or were you doing something completely unrelated like reading an e-mail? Most programs shouldn't be contacting the Internet on their own without interaction. If they do, that's generally a bad sign.
- Why is this program trying to get out? Unless it's a program like an online game, your Internet browser, or something that's trying to auto-update from the Internet (like your virus scanner often will), most programs have no legitimate business getting on the Internet.
- If you still don't know what the software is, deny it and see if it affects anything you're working on. Sometimes these programs are just auxiliary to your main programs and are necessary. If denying it doesn't seem to make any trouble, just click to "Always use this action" and deny it again so you won't see the alert again.
- If you know what the software is, but not why it's trying to get to the Internet, deny it once and see if it runs normally. If so, there's no problem in denying it. Otherwise decide if you're willing to let the program access the Internet or not and either allow it or uninstall the program.
- If you know what the software is, but don't think it has any real reason to be online, click the check box that says "Always use this action" and then click deny.
- If you know what the software is, and it should be able to connect to the Internet, click the check box that says "Always use this action" and then click allow.
Currently, we recommend Zonealarm free firewall for home use:
As free firewalls go, Zonealarm works well. Go to their website and look for the nearly hidden link titled 'I only want basic Zonealarm protection' (avoid anything that says "Trial"). Run the installation and follow the directions making sure to uncheck any boxes for optional software like the Yahoo! toolbar or such.
Once installed, it will run a minimal setup procedure. Take the default settings, but one tip is to not let it set up your programs for you. What this means is that for a little while, you'll be constantly harassed by programs asking for permission to access the Internet, but that's what you want.
Look at each program that's trying to get online and decide if it should. Even otherwise legitimate software like Windows Media Player will try to connect to the Internet for part of it's functionality that no one I know uses or wants. Use your new firewall to be able to use software while also preventing it from getting online when it shouldn't.