Be smart; be secure

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, August 14, 2007

In the past I have written about protecting yourself from malicious software, but how about the other part of the security equation?

Of course I’m referring to firewalls, you know, the devices that protect you and your network from hackers, or as they are known in the techie world – crackers.  The basic method a hacker uses to access your data is by

scanning for an open port on your system and exploiting it in some way. Ports are opened on your computer when running certain services, such as hosting a website or sharing files or printers with other machines on your network. Many home and even business networks still don’t utilize a basic hardware firewall, which can protect you from these digital evildoers.

Notice the word &uot;hardware&uot; in the previous sentence.  I’m pointing that out because many people have installed software firewalls, which provide the same type of protection as their hardware brothers, but run on your computer

and therefore suffer some serious drawbacks.  Here are a few issues to consider when deciding which type of firewall to purchase:

* The first is the performance hit your computer will take due to the software running on it rather than a dedicated hardware device.  Depending on the software firewall you use, the decrease in performance may be minor or quite severe.

* The second reason to purchase a hardware firewall is because they are generally considered more secure than software firewalls.  As long as you have a good password set on your hardware firewall and keep up

with the latest firmware (more on that later), you are going to have a relatively high level of security.  However, a software firewall is always vulnerable to anything that attacks your computer, such as a virus or malware.  Who wants a security system that has a built in Achilles heel?

* The third issue with software firewalls are pop-ups.  Every time something tries to access your computer, legitimate though it may be, the software firewall will display a warning.  I think everyone can agree that there are already enough pop-ups in our daily computing.  While some may argue that this makes the software firewall more easily configurable, I think they are just annoying.  Most people simply become accustom to clicking &uot;OK&uot; to the warning and stop reading what it says – negating their functionality all together.

* The final drawback to a software firewall is the price.  While one hardware firewall can protect hundreds or even thousands of devices at a time, a software firewall is often only going to protect the single computer it is installed on.  If you have more than one computer, the cost of adding additional software licenses can quickly grow beyond the price of a hardware firewall.  Not to mention that other devices on your network, such as Tivo’s and game consoles, are not protected by firewall software installed on your computer.

Do yourself a favor and purchase a hardware firewall for your home or business.  They are easier to setup than ever before and can be found anywhere computer equipment is sold.  The top three name brands on the consumer level are Linksys, Netgear and D-Link.  A new wired or wireless device from any of these companies should be adequate for most home and small business situations.  It’s important to purchase one yourself rather than accepting a combination unit from your service provider. Many of those devices are restricted in functionality or outdated in features.  Set yourself up properly, and you won’t regret it!

Scott Carter is CEO of United Networks, a computer sales and consultation company located in Franklin.