Consumer, Family Safety, Identity Protection

What is a Firewall?

By on Oct 30, 2013

Most of us may have heard the term, and know it’s related to security in some way, but do you really know what a firewall is? Traditionally, firewalls were built to keep danger at bay—they were doors (or walls) to block fire from coming into another area—hence the name firewall. When you’re thinking in terms of your online security, modern-day hardware and software firewalls are similar. They act as barriers to prevent unauthorized access to your personal information.

Firewalls are software programs or hardware devices that filter the information coming through your Internet connection to your computer (and all the devices that are connected to that connection). A firewall protects you and your devices by examining each piece of information that flows between your devices and the Internet.

Hardware firewalls, such as those included with some routers, are usually a good first line of defense against outside attacks, and they require little to no configuration. The one down sides of using only a hardware firewall is that it only protects you if you are at home. So if you take your computer to a cafe or on a trip, your device is no longer protected by the home-based firewall.

Fortunately, software firewalls can catch these kinds of threats because they are running on your computer and can take a closer look at the network traffic. This allows them to intercept a malicious program before it leaves your computer.

Now that you know the purpose of firewalls, follow these tips for greater security online:

  • Make sure you are using a router that includes a firewall as a first layer of protection
  • Use comprehensive security, like McAfee LiveSafe™ service, that includes a two-way firewall that filters both incoming and outgoing traffic, as well as protection for all your devices, your identity and your data
  • Turn off file-sharing and printer-sharing features if you don’t need them
  • Use common sense, don’t click on links or open attachments from people you don’t know—you could unknowingly be giving them access to your device

While the bad guys may always be looking to do harm, just remember that we all need to be vigilant about protecting ourselves and our devices, which in turn helps protect everyone else. This is a good reminder for us all as we celebrate National Cyber Security Awareness Month.


RobertSicilianoRobert Siciliano is an Online Security Expert to McAfee. He is the author of 99 Things You Wish You Knew Before Your Mobile was Hacked!  Disclosures.

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