What Is a Firewall and Do You Need One?

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There is a lot of information in the news today about hackers, viruses and email spam that must confuse the normal computer user. Now that broadband access to the internet is readily available to many home and home business users, hackers have now found a new set of resources for their exploits. This article will try to explain what a firewall does and does not do, and whether you need one for your business.

A firewall is

A firewall, in computer terms, is a piece of hardware or software that blocks unwanted users from your computer or your network. A firewall will stop hackers from planting viruses on your machines, using your machines as a resource for attacking other machines, and reading the computer files on your machine. There are several different types of firewalls that range from software you can install on your machine to the industrial grade firewall for a large business.

A firewall does not stop you from getting spam or viruses from your email. If this is a problem there are several software packages that can block spam emails and check any incoming emails for viruses. Symantec, www.symatec.com, and McAfee, www.mcafee.com, are the two leading manufacturers of this type of software. You can go to the links provided to get the software you need for your computer. The cost is usually less the $70 per computer.

Who needs a firewall

Anyone who is using a broadband Internet connection with their computer needs to have a firewall setup for their machine/network. Hackers will look to use any computer with a broadband connection to the Internet because of the speed, or bandwidth, of access to the computer.

Dial-up users, for the most part, are not as vulnerable to hackers because of the slower speeds used during dial-up access. This does not mean that if you use dial-up that hackers will never target your computer, it’s just less likely they will try based on the slow speed of the connection.

What type of firewall is right for your business

If you are a home user or business user with only one computer using the broadband connection you can install a software firewall to protect your machine. Symantec’s Internet Security(IS) is one of the better choices. Internet Security will be packaged with Norton Anti-Virus and Norton AntiSpam for a complete solution. IS will allow you to filter out most known hacker ports on your machine and also comes with a web site blocker to allow you to filter out unwanted web content if your children use your machine. The cost of Internet Security is about $99 per compute

If you have multiple computers running from a broadband connection that is either a DSL, Digital Subscriber Line, or Comcast Cable you will need to purchase a hardware firewall solution. Some of the leading manufacturer’s of these types of firewalls are Netgear and Linksys. You can either purchase these at CompUSA or on-line through the manufacturers’ web site. The companies will also refer to this hardware as a router, but it acts as a firewall as well. The cost of the firewall will be based on your needs as a business, but here is a guideline to help you choose:

1. If you have a hard-wire network, network lines running in your office, you will need to purchase a firewall with a hub attached. Make sure that the number of ports is 50% greater than what you currently need so you have room to grow.
2. If you cannot run network wire, or are looking to go wireless, you will need to purchase a wireless router/firewall. Make sure you purchase a wireless device that handles both 802.11b and 802.11g wireless protocols.

The cost of a firewall should be less than $150. Please note that if you are using Comcast cable you are limited to five machines on the network if you have the basic home internet package. There are no limits on DSL.

If you are using a T1 line or an ISDN line for your broadband connection you will need to purchase a larger scale solution. Sonicwall and 3Com both manufacture these types of firewalls. The Sonicwall SOHO3 is a very good choice for this type of broadband setup. The SOHO3 costs about $700. Whichever firewall you choose, make sure that the device will work with the type of internet connection you are using. Check the specifications from the manufacturer before making any purchases.

Who should install your firewall

This really depends on your comfort level with computers and networking. For the single user, unless you really do not feel comfortable installing software, you will not need anyone to help you. The installation of Symantec’s Internet Security is very simple.

If you are working in a multi-computer environment then there more issues. Here is a little, five question test you can take to determine if you want to try to install the firewall yourself. If you answer yes to all five questions you should be okay.

1. Did you network the computers you currently have at your home or business?
2. Do you know what an IP address is?
3. Do you know what NAT means?
4. Do you know what DHCP means?
5. Do you what the default gateway setting means?

If you answered no to any of the questions above then you probably will need professional help to install your firewall. The cost to install the firewall should be between $200 and $250 depending on whether you have network cards installed at the same time.

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