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Windows Vista Firewall Part 2: Advanced features

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3

At first sight, Windows Firewall in Vista looks like a fairly straightforward program. It can be accessed through the Control Panel and a simple status display enables you to turn it on and off. In the previous section we saw how to access the advanced facilities on the other tabs, such as the ability to prevent or allow programs to access the internet by clicking simple tick boxes, and how to add ports to allow programs like games and instant messenger software to communicate over the internet.

You might assume that this is the full extent of Windows Firewall and that once the basic features are mastered, that's it. However, there is much more to the firewall and what you have seen so far is really just intended for novices. More advanced users can access a utility called Windows Firewall with Advanced Security and this has features that enable you to increase the security of your computer when it is connected to the internet or to a network.

Partial protection

Windows Firewall in Vista is able to monitor and block both incoming and outgoing connections (Windows XP could manage only incoming connections). An incoming connection occurs when another computer on the internet or the local area network tries to connect to your computer. This could be a legitimate connection and a program you are using, such as an instant messaging and chat utility might watch for incoming connections from people that want to chat to you. However, an unsolicited attempt to connect to your computer might be made by a malicious person or a program such as a virus, Trojan, worm or other malware. Windows Firewall will automatically block these unauthorised incoming connections when they are detected, thus protecting your computer.

Another function of Windows Firewall is to prevent programs on your computer from making connections to other computers on the internet or your local area network. This is an outgoing connection. A program might do this for legitimate reasons and a common function of modern software is the ability to automatically access the internet to see if there are any updates or to see if there is a newer version of the program that you can download. This is OK, but if some spyware, a virus, Trojan or other form of malware got onto your computer it could find personal information about you, such as bank or credit card details and so on, and then send out that information to its owner on the internet. This is obviously a serious security risk and you don't want software to be able to make connections and send out information without your knowledge. Unless you specifically allow it, a program should be prevented from accessing the internet or the network.

Windows Firewall in its default state (the way it is set up when Vista is installed) prevents unauthorised incoming connections, but it allows all outgoing connections. Even though Windows Firewall in the Control Panel says that the firewall is turned on and is protecting your computer, it is actually only half on. A malicious person or computer on the internet would find it very difficult to access your computer (hack into it), but if you had some malware on your computer, Windows Firewall would not prevent it from making a connection to unknown persons or computers on the internet and sending out personal information about you. This is obviously a serious security risk.

It is important to realise that you are only partially protected when you are connected to the internet and in order to be fully protected you need to access Windows Firewall with Advanced Security and configure the settings.

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