Computer firewalls take their name from the fireproof barriers, called firewalls, which stop fire from spreading through buildings, airplanes and vehicles. There are hardware-based and software-based types of firewalls for computers. Our review compares personal firewall software. Firewall software builds an intelligent barrier to protect you from bad things on the internet that want to reach your computer. Just as physical fire-control barriers must allow safe openings for pipes and cables, firewall software maintains safe openings for legitimate traffic.
To describe how firewall protection really works, we must wax slightly technical. Firewall technology stems from the 1980s, when the first firewalls filtered the packets that comprise the traffic that flows over computer networks, including the internet. Packet-filtering firewalls check the communication packets to see if they match certain rules. Packet filtering assumes that computers are using standard port numbers for functions such as web browsing and email transmission. If any computer is using non-standard ports, packet filtering is no longer effective.
The first improvement to packet filtering introduced awareness of the state of the packet; for example, whether the packet is in a stream of packets associated with an existing connection, a new connection, or if it is not part of any connection. A third generation of firewalls brought intelligence to the application layer of the OSI (Open Systems Interconnection) model. (The OSI model provides communications engineers with a system for describing and standardizing communications systems.) Contemporary firewall products employ many technologies to shield your computer from the poisonous code that flows through the internet. According to our research and the results from a respected third-party test lab, we've determined that the best firewall software for Windows is Comodo Internet Security Plus, Agnitum Outpost Pro Firewall and Kaspersky Internet Security. If you want to learn more about firewall software, please read our articles on home firewall products and topics.
In short, firewalls are necessary. Without a firewall, your internet-connected PC would not last for many minutes before succumbing to an attack. Ever since Vista, Windows operating systems have included an excellent two-way firewall, which means it can protect against things trying to attack from the outside and things trying to connect with their senders once they make it inside the firewall to your computer. Many people are content to run the Windows firewall, and there is nothing wrong with that. However, some people prefer a firewall from the same publisher who sells their security software, which is why we built this review site.
If you are in search of the best firewall software, you should concentrate first on its performance as determined by independent test labs. Additional security is a secondary consideration, although it is convenient to have a firewall and additional security bundled into one product. The third thing to look for is whether the software publisher provides support in the ways and at the times that you prefer.
The best firewall for Windows will protect against incoming threats and be able to block outgoing threats from malware that has successfully infiltrated your system. A good firewall will know when it is under attack because it will constantly scan the computer's ports to detect threats. A firewall applies rules to the packets it sees in order to enforce polices. It knows when to allow or reject traffic. When it detects illegal traffic, it applies filters so that only traffic that it defines as legal makes it through.
Some firewalls are just firewalls. However, most personal firewall software is one module inside of a larger security software bundle. Neither approach is better. If you prefer the idea of security software that does more than simply provide a firewall, then look at the products in our review that also block and remove malware and spyware. You might also consider whether you want protection against phishing attacks, and you might even extend your interest to those products in our review that provide parental controls, password managers, file shredders and virtual keyboards. However, with such additional security features, you are well beyond the purview of a firewall.
Help & Support
What a range there is regarding how software publishers provide help and support. There are firewall software publishers that support you by email only, and there is nothing wrong with that if you are comfortable with such a limit. However, some companies make themselves available 24/7 by telephone or online chat.
Firewalls apply rules to network traffic to block outside threats and to cut off threats that make it inside your computer system so that they cannot communicate with their senders. Software firewalls have been growing in complexity and capability since the 1980s. Contemporary firewalls use excellent technologies. Many firewalls are part of comprehensive security packages that contain many more security features than a firewall entails. Your computer would not last long without a firewall, which is why we offer this review.
At TopTenREVIEWS We Do the Research So You Don't Have To.™