Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Use A Firewall

Our blog tips have been covering setting up a blog, including looking at several platforms.

But there's one thing that we need to cover before we cover other blogging tips.

This tip is for bloggers. And for people who just read blogs. And for folks that use the Internet.

Have a firewall on your computer.

Operating system considerations

Most folks use Windows. And most Windows users use Windows XP. Around 75%, by some reports, with all Windows operating systems (98, NT, XP, 2000, 2003, etc) making up nearly 90%.

The remaining 10% are mostly Mac or Linux.

Mac OSX has a built-in firewall that can't easily be turned off.

Most Linux distributions come with a firewall, too.

Windows XP also comes with a firewall that's enabled by default. At least, XP Service Pack 2 does.

Whatever operating system you have (and for most folks, that's a version of Windows), you should use a firewall.

What if you don't have a firewall?

Not every operating system comes with a firewall. Most do, but not all.

And not all supplied firewalls are the best. Still, the firewalls that come with the operating systems are adequate in most circumstances.

But what if you don't have a firewall? Or if you want a better firewall than the one that comes with your OS?

Simple. Get another one. Like the ZoneAlarm free firewall (also available in the ZoneAlarm Internet Security Suite). There are other free ones available, but I haven't used them.

Or you can buy a firewall. There are good ones (at least, they worked well for me) from Symantec, McAfee, ZoneLabs, Computer Associates, and others.

Do you need a firewall?

Let's take a moment and think about why you'd need a firewall.

People are trying to get into your computer.

No, really. They are.

Let me share a little story with you.

Back when I was only able to connect by dial-up (through BellSouth), I ran the ZoneAlarm firewall. (I still run it -- or the latest Pro version -- on one computer today.) I looked at the log, and saw that I was getting between 50 and 70 intrusion attempts blocked ... each minute. That's an average of 60 per minute. That's one per second!

Now, was I experiencing an unusually large number of hits? Maybe. Maybe not. But if it could happen to me, it could happen to you.

Here's another story. When the Wife got her current computer a few years ago, we had dial-up. And the computer came with Windows XP ... and not Service Pack 2, but the earlier version that didn't enable the firewall by default.

When I turned it on and told it to connect to get the latest downloads and updates, it acted funny.

After much aggravation and multiple wipes and re-installations, I found out what happend.

I had connected to the Internet (via BellSouth dial-up) without the firewall turned on (didn't know it was off by default), and before I knew it, we had a virus.

I was shocked. But, after wiping, re-installing, and trying again, we were virused again. Shocked, I was more careful, verified that the firewall was off, changed it to on, then connected. This time, no virus.

Yeah, you need a firewall.

When to turn off your firewall

Are there any circumstances that you don't need a firewall?


When you're not on the Internet.

And that's it.

If you're on the Internet, you should have your firewall running before you connect.

If you turn your firewall off, you're inviting trouble.

And you deserve every bit of it.

You have been warned.

What if the firewall stops my program from working?

Recently, a family member, using AOL dial-up, had trouble connecting to the Internet. And got a pop-up mentioning the firewall might be interfering.

Turns out that there was an issue with the AOL program automatically dialing, because manually forcing a dial resolved the problem.

But other programs might experience issues and present a message saying the firewall is interfering with things.

So, what do you do when that happens?


But here's what you don't do: DO NOT TURN OFF THE FIREWALL.

No ifs, ands, buts ... do not ever turn off the firewall.

It might be the easy way to solve the problem. But it's the wrong way. You might have to do some hard work and research to find the way to fix the firewall/application issue. But life's hard. And turning off the firewall is wrong. I hope we're clear on that.

Check your firewall

If you have a firewall running, you can check it out. And it's really easy. Or fairly easy. You just need to set aside some time to do this.

Head to Gibson Research. Click on Shields Up. Or wait a few seconds for it to automatically direct you there.

Then scroll down to Hot Spots and click on the ShieldsUP! link.

Read all the silly stuff there, then click "Proceed."

There's more stuff you can read. But when you get down to it, you'll want to run the tests. There's File Sharing, Common Ports, and All Service Ports.

Run them one at a time. Some take longer than others.

For File Sharing, you should get "Your Internet port 139 does not appear to exist" and "Unable to connect with NetBIOS to your computer."

For Common Ports, you should get "Passed" and "Stealth" all the way down the list.

For All Service Ports, you should get all green and "Passed."

Anything else, and you got yourself a problem.

If I pass, am I okay?

So, if you run the tests, and everything is fine, is everything truly fine?


But, if you want to go the extra mile, try GRC's LeakTest program.

What about anti-virus, anti-spyware, and other stuff?

Firewalls aren't the only "extra" you need to safely access the Internet. But it's important.

And so are these other security apps. We'll talk about those others later.

Today, I want to emphasize just how important it is to be running a firewall.

So, tell me again, what's this got to do with blogging?

While this isn't exactly a blogging tip, it's a tip that's useful to bloggers.

Since you must connect to the Internet to blog, it's best to be safe. Otherwise you can run into problems using your computer.

And, no computer, no blog.


  1. basil, I had never seen that GRC site--it's great! Nice to know Zone Alarm Pro is working--although I could see it was, I always kinda wanted to see something like this. THANKS!

    Now, if I could just get my mother to agree to me installing ZAP on her blasted computer...:sigh:...the "pop-ups" (as she calls every window that appears) asking for permission get her all flustered. Damn n00b. ;-)

  2. Firewalls for Dummies...

    Dummies that don’t use a firewall, that is. (And no, the Windows XP built-in firewall is not enough, although I suppose it’s better than nothing.)
    Not using a firewall? Here’s why you need to–IN PLAIN ENGLISH, not geek-speak. ...

  3. Know what's funny? My mother actually came to my site today and left a comment (a smartassed one, naturally) on another post. I HOPE she clicked over from my link to this! :-D

  4. A note on ZoneAlarm: There are times when it will cause a PC to take anywhere from 5 to 10 minutes to logoff/shutdown. The ZA forums are full of complaints. I ran into this on a laptop and nothing fixed it. I've stopped using it in favor of Comodo on my Windows PCs.


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