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Software Firewall (Free)

You may be aware of the layered approach to computer security, I personally wouldn't rely on just your routers firewall if you've got one, as you may be unfortunate to still get infected via your web browser or an eMail attachment you open. Having a software firewall on your computer should limit what applications can access the Internet should you get infected and also limit who can see your computer even if your on a LAN.

You still require Virus and Spyware scanners, Windows security and critical updates regularly checked. And not forgetting login in as a User all the time, except when installing and most of the time updating applications.

I've tried a few software firewalls, and over the years ZoneAlarm Free has been my favourite until recently. The latest version 7 is a much larger download, it's now 40Mb 3 times the size of the previous version. Probably because it includes the Pro version, which while your installing and once you have installed it, will prompt you occasionally to try the full version, which has an annual cost?

The free version is just a firewall, but it is also less complex and fewer pop-ups. I like it mainly because it allows you to restrict what applications can access the internet, this is useful if you do manage to inadvertently download some trojans or spyware from an infected or dodgy website, ZoneAlarm will pop-up asking you if you want to Allow or Deny the applications access to the Internet/Network. You then have the option to tick the box and then click on Allow or Deny.

A slight problem here is that all the main programs Outlook Express, Internet Explorer, Virus & Spam checkers and anything else that access's the Internet gets updated fairly regularly (well I hope yours do), and other applications that you update manually like Skype and Internet Messenger, etc. So you'll get a pop-up for these applications every time after they've been updated, It will notify you that the programme has changed since you last used it. This means you really must read the pop up properly and then decide if you need to tick the box and then click Allow. A lot of my clients click deny to everything and then call to say the Internet or Email isn't working?.

It also keeps a log of what it blocks on outgoing as well as incoming requests. If you're on a small network ZoneAlarm by default blocks access to all the other computers (this is great for people on the road using Wifi), but not so good if you want to share files or printers locally

. You can allow individual computers or a whole range in the Firewall, Zones section, preferably use the range , this makes life a lot easier ( the majority of routers/modems use this range). Unfortunately some home routers/modems use the which gives you over 16 million possible addresses instead of just 254, but most low end routers restrict you to one 256 byte block anyway, ie,, where 0 and 255 are used by the system. Also most users who are novices are using DHCP where your modem/router will assign an address to your computer, so you would have to learn how to set a fixed IP address and find out the what DHCP range your system is using and add an IP address .

The Pro version of ZoneAlarm also monitors spyware and email, helps reduce the junk, it links into Outlook and Outlook Express and generates a ZoneAlarm Junk mail and Phishing folder, also has a challenge feature that I haven't explored yet, I use another system for spam checking.
I know this is quite difficult ( a foreign language) for the majority of people. Whilst you do need to make some effort, you probably need to find a local friendly mentor to assist you in the initial set-up.

If you had a USB modem attached to your computer and your ISP didn't have a firewall protecting you, it used to be very interesting watching the pop-ups showing who was probing your system, I'm not sure if the latest version still shows that as most of my clients have Ethernet modems (ADSL or Cable) with built in firewall which also helps to reduce attacks/hacks on your computer. Some of my clients also have a hardware firewall as well as the modem, which I have written about on another page.

To download the free version got to you may have to hunt around for it. Currently (6th June 2008) if you select "Download & Buy", "Free Downloads" Note: No longer runs on Windows 98 or ME, and I'm currently not sure about XP64 or Vista 64 bit systems, check Zone Alarm Forums for more information..

Although I've said I like ZoneAlarm, it doesn't fare well in leak tests, the free version only stops four and the Pro version around 14 last time I saw any reviews, I believe there are over 20 leak tests now. Also the Vista version was giving a very slow first ping test and the rest were a couple of milli seconds on the local network, not very helpful when you have other problems.

So I'm currently using COMODO Firewall Pro on a Vista 32 computer. As I noted there are more pop up's, a lot of them are because it monitors applications that write to the registry, applications that want to open other applications, etc.

It's also requires more time to find you way around, I found it much more complicated to set individual or block IP address access.

Also very recently (June 2008) installed on an XP 32 computer, on letting Comodo carry out a scan of the computer, it came up with threats?, Alexa toolbar DLL's (AVG 8 also doesn't like Alexa), a Windows (winlogon.exe) update file and some ancient, around 1995 apps that are still stored on the computer.

It also has some log information as to what applications have tried to carry out writing to data, files, applications, etc. Comodo website says version 3.0 runs on XP and Vista 64 also (Need version 2.4 for W2K).

It's not a firewall that I would be happy putting on the average clients computer. But looks pretty good for an experienced knowledgeable user.

Having said that I installed it with the advanced features, it would probably be easier for the average user if it wasn't installed with the advanced features, especially if they are logged in with User rights and not Admin rights. And have a router in their system with a firewall built in for Internet access.

Ultimately it's your decision on how you set up the security on your computer and network system. So I hope you found this useful. But would suggest you carry out more research yourself before making a decision.

Other good firewalls:

Online Armor Personal Firewall 2.1 (free) only runs on 2000 and XP 32 bit (June, 2008), Outpost Firewall Pro 2008 6.0 (commercial), ProSecurity (commercial) and Kaspersky Internet Security (commercial).

More info at

Page last updated June 2008