Improve your FIREWALL protection

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Is your firewall giving your non system the strongest security possible? Petra Jones suggests 10 smart ways to make the most of firewall software



Get a free firewall
Firewall software is essential for keeping your PC safe from hackers, viruses and other malware, but you don’t necessarily have to pay for the protection. Several powerful firewalls are available for free, including Outpost Firewall Free (http://free.agnitum.com) and Online Armor Firewall (www.tallemu.com). If you’re not sure which is the best firewall for you, visit the Security Focus site (www.securityfocus.com) for an in-depth article about what to look for when choosing a firewall. You can also read our reviews of free and paid-for firewall software at http://bit.ly/fire233.



Turn on your built-in firewall
Most operating systems now come with a built-in firewall. If you use Windows XP, go to http://bit.ly/ xpfire233 and click the Fix It logo to activate the Windows Firewall using Microsoft’s wizard. Similar pages are available for Vista (http://bit.ly/vistafire233) and Windows 7 (http://bit.ly/win7fire233). However, we only recommend using the Windows Firewall as a temporary solution because it doesn’t offer the same level of security as third-party software and there are much better alternatives available for free. Mac OS X users also have a built-in firewall they can take advantage of. Download the free tool NoobProof (www.hanynet.com/noobproof) to set up and configure your Mac’s firewall.



Search for rootkits
Firewalls protect your PC from the moment you install them, but it’s worth checking whether any rootkits are already lurking on your system. These are hidden programs designed to provide someone with root (administrator) level access to your PC, usually for malicious purposes. Sophos Anti-Rootkit (http://bit.ly/sophos233) is a free tool that will detect and remove these nasties. Download the software to scan your Windows Registry, local hard disks and system processes.



Test your firewall
If you’re not sure whether your existing firewall is protecting you adequately, why not test it online for free? GRC Shields Up (http://bit.ly/grc233) checks whether your ports are adequately protected by scanning your PC for vulnerabilities. The website also offers some general firewall security advice. Another online firewall checker is SecurityMetrics (http://bit.ly/secure233). This also offers a port test and sends you recommendations for improving your firewall configuration via email. Finally, AuditMyPC (www.auditmypc.com/firewalltest.asp) offers a thorough test of either one or a range of ports to check your firewall’s effectiveness.



Optimise your firewall Configuration
Rather than testing your firewall’s ability to protect your PC, Firewall Auditor (www.fwauditor.com) checks that the software meets the 15 firewall-specific requirements of the PCI Security Standards Council (https://www.pcisecuritystandards.org). Firewall Auditor is free to download but is limited to Cisco, Check Point and Juniper firewalls. Alternatively, there’s Athena Firewall (www.athenasecurity.net), which has support for Netscreen firewalls. There are also commercial tools, such as Nipper (www.titania.co.uk), which audits network switches and routers as well as a wide range of firewalls.



Get a firewall for your mobile phone
Firewalls aren’t just for computers – they can now protect your phone and other mobile devices. MCleaner (www.mcleaner.com) offers a free trial of a firewall that filters incoming calls and text messages according to phone numbers and keywords. Designed to block junk texts and annoying callers, this compact 200KB firewall works on a wide range of mobiles, including the iPhone (see www.mcleaner.com/support .shtml). The full version costs $11.99 (around £7.37). Another option is ProtectStar Mobile Firewall (www.protectstar.com), which is aimed at Windows Pocket PCs and smartphones. Visit http://bit.ly/protect233 to get a 10-day free trial.



Get a USB firewall
If you frequently use PCs while away from home, why not get a firewall you can take with you wherever you go? Yoggie Firewall Pico (www.yoggie.com/Firewall-Pico) is a hardware firewall in the form of a small USB device that is capable of isolating a PC from public hotspots and internet connections. The Firewall Pico costs £60 but is limited to Windows Vista and XP. The same manufacturer also sells an all-in-one USB firewall, anti-virus and spyware stick for Mac users. This is called Gatekeeper Pico and is priced at £100.



Set up a VPN
To create a secure connection to an office PC or other network, you need a virtual private network (VPN) that protects your information from being intercepted while it’s in transit between firewall-protected PCs. It’s worth spending time evaluating VPN tools to get software that offers you the right level of encryption. In the meantime, you can download the free VPN client Ultra (https://www.ultravpn.fr). As with firewalls, VPNs are also available as USB sticks, such as the flash drive from SurfBouncer (www.surfbouncer.com). Remember to check that your firewall doesn’t already come with a VPN included.



Get wireless firewall protection
Mi-Fi (intelligent mobile) hotspots provide up to five wireless mobile devices with both an internet connection and firewall protection, whether they’re laptops, netbooks or mobile phones. To use them, ,buy a Mi-Fi router such as the Novatel 2532 (www.novatelwireless.com). Only slightly larger than a credit card, this comes with both a firewall and VPN installed. The 2532 is priced around £209.99 including VAT and is available on T-Mobile (www.t-mobile.co.uk). A cheaper option is 3’s Huawei E5830 Mi-Fi wireless modem (http://bit.ly/mifi233), which is available for £69.99 on pay-as-you-go with a 3GB data allowance and includes VPN and firewall support.



Monitor your traffic
Firewalls are great at protecting PCs but they’re often less effective at revealing the patterns of incoming and outgoing traffic between your PC and the internet. To find out which trusted programs are getting online through your firewall, download the free tool NetLimiter 2 Monitor (www.netlimiter.com). This analyses the web traffic on your PC and provides a list of all applications communicating with the internet, along with their connection and transfer rates, and any hidden apps.

Source of Information : WebUser February 11 2010

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