NWA-PCUG Newsletter Article
January 2002 Meeting Recap
by Dale Oliver, President, February 2002
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Despite the fact that Alan Lantz was not able to attend and present at the January meeting, we managed to have an informative presentation that covered firewall basics, as well as what they do (and don't do). This article will recap what we learned from our interactive forum on firewalls.

Firewalls are appropriately named. Just like a real firewall in a building or vehicle, a firewall separates you from dangerous conditions on the other side of the wall. For home and small office use, firewalls can be categorized into two main types:

1) Hardware
2) Software

Hardware firewalls are often combined within a gateway or router used with DSL or cable modem connections. These types of firewalls tend to be small, unobtrusive and relatively inexpensive. One advantage to a hardware firewall is that it protects your computer automatically without your intervention. You connect it, do some very basic configuration, and then it helps to keep hackers and miscreants out of your computer. If you want to intentionally let someone into your computer from the outside, you can configure the firewall to allow them access via specific port numbers. Another advantage to hardware firewalls is the fact that they work independently and don't require any processing power from your computer to work. A couple of manufacturers that make quality products with affordable prices include LinkSys (http://www.linksys.com) and NetGear (http://www.netgear.com).

Software firewalls are a good solution if you don't have a broadband Internet connection, but still want to be protected from hackers and the like. Software firewalls also add an extra measure of safety to your system even if you employ a hardware firewall. Hardware firewalls generally block access coming from the outside, and let you do pretty much whatever you want to if your computer wants to get things from (or send things to) the Internet. But what happens if your computer is infected and is doing things like participating in "denial of service" attacks without your knowledge? A hardware firewall will likely not catch such things, but a software firewall will if it's configured correctly. Once you install a software firewall, you will need to do some basic configuration to get it up and running, which usually amounts to answering a series of questions. Then, from time to time, the software firewall will pop up and inform you that program is attempting to access the Internet, act as a server, etc. You can then decide if you want to allow the particular action to proceed or not. Software firewalls take a little bit more knowledge to use effectively than hardware firewalls do, but they are usually easier to customize the settings to allow more flexible use. Two popular firewalls include ZoneAlarm (http://www.zonelabs.com) and Black Ice Defender (http://www.black-ice- firewall.com).

If you would like to learn more about why firewalls are an important part of your online safety, especially if you have a broadband connection, I highly recommend that you read the information under the Denial of Service link located at http://www.grc.com. If you want to test how safe your computer is (or isn't) against hackers and attacks, also check out the LeakTest and ShieldsUP links while you are there.

Be sure to attend the February meeting, and bring your computer questions. David Hinds will be moderating the general Q&A session. See you there!

In addition, following are some side notes I'd like to share with you:

  • The Internet help column has been updated to include a couple of informative sites were you can go and find out if a virus alert is factual or bogus, as well as find out about many other hoaxes, urban legends, etc. Be sure to check the Internet help column online or in this newsletter.

  • I have contacted the folks who make Cookie Pal software and let them know that there was a huge demand for their coupons at the January meeting. If you didn't get a coupon and would like to request a free copy of the Cookie Pal software, go to http://www.kburra.com/swug.html. You will be asked for a coupon number. The coupon numbers we were given were in the format NWA100X, where "X" indicates a sequential single digit (e.g. NWA1001, NWA1002, etc.). If you have any questions, there is a place to type in your comments and questions at the URL listed above.

  • Grant Wales offered to moderate a round table discussion group that focuses on graphical images and particularly on the IrfanView software (http://www.irfanview.com) after the regular meeting presentations. Feel free to informally get together with Grant after the meetings if you are interested, and if there is sufficient interest, we will list the round table discussion group in the meeting agenda section of subsequent newsletters.

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