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Keys to Effective Firewall Protection

written by: Sylvia Cochran•edited by: Tricia Goss•updated: 8/5/2011

How do I adjust my firewall settings? For the Mac user, this may seem like a superfluous exercise (although it really is not). For the Windows user, it is an absolute must. Learn how to change firewall settings on both platforms.

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    Firewall For Data Policing

    Before asking ‘how do I adjust my firewall settings,’ it pays to know what is a firewall, how it operates and why should it be adjusted very carefully.

    In simplest terms, a PC firewall is software that has the power to block or permit incoming and outgoing data traffic. Firewall settings determine how much data is blocked, how much is permitted to come through and who is allowed to make any changes to the computer configurations. This makes it a first responder to various forms of malware attacks.

    Within the firewall, there are several preset openings or ports. They are sometimes left open by the manufacturer for instant downloads or remote helpdesk functions. It is important to note that these openings remain open even if the remote desk goes out of business or a service contract expires.

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    The Windows Firewall: Is It On?

    Firewall: Is it On? It is a good idea to check if the computer is protected in the first place. Windows XP users click on:

    • Start
    • Control Panel
    • Security Center

    (Slight variations exist for checking network firewall settings for Windows Vista or Windows 7 users.)

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    Are Firewall Ports Protected?

    As previously outlined, a firewall port is much like a door that may be shut or wide open. Use an outside utility to test the computer and identify any problems in the setup. There are a number of free firewall testing utilities out there, but a personal favorite is HackerWhacker, which conducts an easy to use quick scan while the user continues operations.

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    Determine Existing Exceptions

    Firewall Exceptions 

    After exploring potential firewall, server or network vulnerabilities it is time to adjust the settings. Click on the Windows Firewall option and explore the Exceptions tab. Uncheck any exceptions that need to be adjusted.

    Permitting exceptions is risky business as it renders the firewall more like a Swiss cheese than a solid barrier against data attacks. Even if the individual exceptions are perfectly legit, the number of them weakens the computer’s security overall. Savvy computer users choose to allow exceptions on an ‘as needed’ basis and close up the port once again when the need is over.

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    Turn Off Firewall Protection or Allow an Exception?

    Refrain from completely turning off the firewall in response to a frustrating attempt to connect with a gamer during a multiplayer online game. This is usually the case when using an instant messaging program. Add this messenger program to the list of allowed exceptions by clicking on the Exceptions tab and then selecting Add Program.

    Browse through available programs and add the desired messenger utility. Remember to withdraw permission to circumnavigate the firewall protection when the gaming session is over!

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    If All Else Fails: Open a Port

    While learning how to adjust firewall settings it is possible to open a port, especially if merely adding a program to the recognized exceptions is not possible. Click on Add Port from the Exceptions tab to allow communication to pass through the firewall unhindered. Switch over to the Advanced tab to configure port access. Close the port as soon as possible!

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    Adjusting Settings For a Mac

    MacWorld suggests that Mac users face fewer open ports than Windows users. Even so, it is wise to verify that a personal or business firewall is in place and that the computer is fully protected. Bright Hub’s own Steve Mallard offers a succinct answer to the question ‘how do I adjust my firewall settings’ when the asker runs a Mac OS X firewall.