Firewalls: A Brief Discussion

Dennis Faas's picture

As I was sitting here at my desk, a few things came to mind that I feel should be passed on to you.

I have spent the past few months reading about firewalls on web sites and industry publications. Taken together, the subject is complex and confusing. Yet, only one point is clear in all the noise: you need a firewall if you ever decide to connect to the Internet.


The arguments start when the topic of what kind of firewall is best. Therefore, I figured the thing to do is try and clear away the confusion as best I can.

First off, there are three different camps when it comes down to which is best.

Folks are quickly deserting the "first camp" because they are saying, "I don't need a firewall!" And yet, it has become plainly clear that in today's World Wide Web, a firewall is essential to the operation of your computer. We will not discuss that any further for obvious reasons. ;-)

Commercial versus Open Source Firewalls

The remaining "two camps" are evenly split over the issue of single or dual barrier firewalls. There are smaller areas of debate in the camps regarding whether you need to pay substantial amounts of cash for a firewall or if a free Open Source solution is appropriate.

While it's true that you can chose from a wide array of good commercial solutions, the costs range from $200 on up to several thousand dollars US. These solutions include or require expensive hardware to implement the firewall. Most of us do not have the resources to put together a full firewall solution of this sort. However, there are several software solutions available from the Open Source arena that are more than capable of protecting your computer.

Single and Dual Barrier Firewalls

Another issue is single or dual barrier. Simply stated, a single barrier firewall is one that blocks incoming attacks. Outsiders try to gain control of your computer for their own purposes or try to extract as much information about you as they can for identity theft and other forms of computer fraud. Blocking those folks is a good thing! Microsoft's XP SP2 firewall falls into this category.

The dual barrier camp takes it a step further. We (yes, I am in this camp) feel that the attacks from outside are not the only dangers we face. Adware and Spyware get into your system as cookies and start collecting information about where you have been on the web, what you looked at, what kind of system you use, the operating system, even the type of browser you use.

They then transmit that info somewhere where the cyber-gnomes read it and make decisions based on what you like to see and what kinds of products you investigate. You do not have to download anything to get these things; they jump on board when you just look at a web site that uses them.

Sometimes, the cookie is just a one-shot thing that reports a little information to the Web Page Developers for statistical purposes. However, adware and Spyware are continuous monitors of your web activity.

In addition, software producers sometimes install a method of monitoring that reports the usage of the application. Microsoft does this with Windows (WGA is one of these) to keep track of who is running it and how it is performing. Dual barrier firewalls can control the outbound traffic when setup right.

There are other, more complex events we could go into, but for now, this will suffice. If you have a question or a comment you would like to make on the subject, please do.

The decision is, of course, yours. I tend to go for the more complete coverage on this issue since I want to be certain my system stays as safe as possible. You may decide to take the position that you do not need the additional protection. It is up to you to decide.

Computing is fun and educational. So, as always, HAVE FUN!

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