What is a firewall and what does it do to protect your computer?
A firewall is a software or a hardware barrier that is designed to keep your computer safe from hackers, viruses, and other unwanted intruders. More than a billion people use the internet each day from a variety of home, public, and work sites. This means there is a lot of personal information floating around on the web. When this information falls into the wrong hands, it can have very real ramifications outside of the virtual world.
You might think that there aren’t any ways for others to compromise your personal information, but the truth is that there are many ways for people to invade your privacy and obtain sensitive information from your computer. A simple way is to install some kind of malicious program, such as malware, spyware, a trojan, or a virus onto your computer. Such software can then compromise the integrity of your computer by searching for useful information and sending it out through your internet connection to the people who created the software. Your computer can also be used by the software as a tool to attack and compromise other computers, to target internet sites, or to send messages containing spam all over the internet.
The surest way of preventing the aforementioned scenarios from taking place is to use good surfing habits such as discretion and avoidance of unfamiliar links and programs. However, while common sense is your best defense against viruses and other malicious software, the next best thing is a good firewall. A firewall protects your computer by restricting connections that come in to your computer over the internet and potentially restricting connections that leave your computer. A firewall can inspect the information that comes from outbound sources and restrict it if it does not look like normal or approved internet traffic. Similarly, a good firewall will also inspect outbound traffic and the programs on your computer from which it is originating; this is a good way to keep dangerous or malicious programs from “phoning home” with your private information.
What are the pros and cons of using either a hardware firewall or a software firewall?
The pros of using a hardware firewall are that they require little to no configuration and that they allow you to protect all of the computers connected to your local internet network. The cons of hardware firewalls are that they can be compromised if someone gains physical access to the firewall.
The pros of using a software firewall are that they are more readily customizable and designed for individual users. The primary downside is that they are only designed to protect the individual computers they are installed on; if you are on a network with other computers that lack a software firewall, they will not be protected unless you install the software firewall individually on each computer.
While both hardware and software firewalls have their advantages and disadvantages, you will be safest if you use both.