Free Firewall Protection
Everyone says that if you have an Internet connection, you should have a firewall. But can I use a free firewall, or should I pay for one of the commercially available firewall packages?
Free Firewall Software
Firewalls can be used to block unwanted access to your computer, or to keep rogue software from sending your personal info back to Hacker HQ. Firewalls are a critical component of a computer security system and a necessity if your computer is connected to a network or the Internet. Free firewall software can be downloaded from the Internet, and may also come with your computer's operating system.
You should be aware that some firewalls are hardware-based, and are built into the network routers that enable high-speed broadband Internet connections such as DSL, cable, satellite and fiber. My contention in the article Do I Need a Firewall? is that most people don't need a software-based firewall, but if you feel that you want the extra protection offered by a software-based firewall, continue reading for my list of the best free firewall tools.
By detecting and preventing intrusions, these free firewall software packages can help to keep your computer free from viruses and spyware that may slow down your computer, steal your personal information, and make you more vulnerable to identity theft.
Windows and Mac Free Firewall Protection
If you use Windows XP or a later version, then your computer already is loaded with a firewall program called Windows Firewall, which was previously called Internet Connection Firewall or ICF. To use this firewall you don't have to do anything, it is automatically turned on when you install Windows on your computer. To modify the settings of this free firewall or to simply access the program options, click on Start -> Control Panel -> Security Center -> Windows Firewall.
Got a Mac? Leopard users, go to the Security pane to manage the built-in OS X firewall. For earlier versions of Mac OS X, you can access the firewall settings via the Sharing Pane in System Preferences.
The built-in free firewall protection provided by your operating system will help to protect from network attacks, and it will also alert you when an unauthorized request for access to your computer is received. However, you should keep in mind that a firewall is not meant to replace or eliminate the need for a good anti-virus, anti-spyware, or anti-spam tool. They do a good job of protecting you from inbound attacks, but other tools specialize in locking down the outbound network traffic that can be generated by malware.
ZoneAlarm Free Firewall
One of the most popular packages for firewall protection is ZoneAlarm Free Firewall. This product is a basic firewall system that is designed to be easy to use and to block access to your system from hackers and malware applications. ZoneAlarm effectively hides your computer from network scanners that constantly probe the Internet for targets to attack. It will also alert you when a program already on your computer is trying to access the Internet, giving you the choice to block or allow the outbound network traffic. Paid versions of ZoneAlarm offers many additional features such as anti-virus, anti-spyware, anti-phishing and protection for wireless connections.
Comodo Personal Firewall
Comodo is yet another free firewall product that you can use to protect your system. This program offers free firewall protection, proactive security applications is part of a free suite that includes antivirus protection without slowing down your system. Like any good firewall, Comodo monitors inbound traffic and and defends against attacks. It also allows you to control which programs are allowed to access the Internet, the Host Intrusion Prevention System can proactively guard against the installation of malware, such as viruses, spyware and trojan horse attacks. The free version doesn't come with technical support or WiFi protection. To get these features you have to buy the PRO version.
Selecting a Free Firewall Software Program
There are many options for free firewall software, and if you know of a good firewall product that's not in the list above, feel free to mention it in the comments below. The key to selecting a firewall product that will meet your needs is to read through the description of each program and decide which features you really need. If you've already got a good anti-virus, anti-spyware, or anti-spam package, it's probably not a good idea to run more than one of those. They can actually interfere with each other.
And remember what I mentioned at the beginning of this article. You may be just fine without ANY software-based firewall. Read my article Do I Need a Firewall? for some background information on what firewalls do, and which kind you need.
Got something to say about firewalls? Post your comments below...
This article was posted by Bob Rankin on 9 Feb 2012
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Article information: AskBobRankin -- Free Firewall Protection (Posted: 9 Feb 2012)
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Most recent comments on "Free Firewall Protection"
09 Feb 2009
Useful article. I've had Zonealarm in the past, but currently use Comodo, which I find quite satisfyingly simple and, apparently, effective.
I don't need anti-spam as I always use web-based email, and wifi protection is equally unnecessary because of where I live. Comod's lack of technical support could be a bother, but personally I haven't found it a problem.
10 Feb 2009
The COMODO firewall never worked and then crashed my PC. I would never ever consider using it again. it's called C*R*A*P*W*A*R*E
EDITOR'S NOTE: Lots of people use it and love it. Apparently you have something else on your system that it conflicted with. Were you trying to run two anti-virus programs at once?
10 Feb 2009
I recently upgraded from cutting edge windows 98 to windows vista basic. My firewall was the latest free version of zone alarm. I could surf for about 1 hour before I needed to reboot. I switched to the free version of comodo and I can surf all day long without any reboot.
It might be worth posting this to avoid other geeks from having this frustrating experience.
10 Feb 2009
I have XP SP2 and Norton 360 2008. Is that enough or should I add another layer? If you don't realize already I'm really paranoid. I do an awful lot of confidential research from my home. Being disabled I developed my own work at home biz. Some of the people I work with/for require a lot of security.
I don't have a router due to not want to have any chance of someone picking up any signals. Perhaps I really don't have a good understanding of using a router but I am always willing to be educated.
EDITOR'S NOTE: No router? Does that mean you're on a dialup connection? In any event, I think your concerns about having a router are misguided. If Norton 360 has a firewall, then you should not add another one.
10 Feb 2009
Good article. I have used most of the Firewalls mentioned, but, now I use my DSL modem's hardware Firewall, with my own settings and it works great.
I would like to mention the Shield's Up program by Steve Gibson (www.grc.com). Gibson is the one who originally coined the phrase we all know today, Spyware. His Shield's Up program will check the first 1056 Ports, used in your Internet connection. The purpose of setting up a Firewall is to be Stealth, in other words, not seen by any other computer source. Shield's Up will check your Firewall settings by telling you if, you are Stealth or Closed or Open. Stealth is the ideal and Closed is fairly safe, other computers can 'see' you, but can't use any of your Ports. However, Open means real trouble. Open means most of your vital Ports are available for installing Spyware, Malware, Trojan Horses, Worms, so on and so forth, from the Internet.
Even doing ALL of this, you still can get Spyware, Malware, Trojan Horses and Worms from the Internet, these days. Phishing websites are a whole new ballgame, too! But the bottom line is, if you don't have a solid Firewall to begin with, you have lost the battle, right from the get go.
10 Feb 2009
Although Zone Alarm is very good & I used it for years (full version), I find the fire wall from WEB ROOT (free) is much easier to use & more adjustable, and basically easier to use. I run two computers one w/Vista 32 bit & other Vista 64 bit, works great!
11 Feb 2009
Great information for the 32-bit community. But if you live in a 64-bit world you might want to look at 'GhostWall' to fill the void. Free, very configurable and it has saved my butt a few time already.
Disappointing how so many 'major' vendors and information guru's ignore this sector of the computer community. Present guru excluded - ;-)
(Thanks Paul for the WEB ROOT tip. Will check it out. Don't you just love 64-bit!)
EDITOR'S NOTE: Is it true that no 32-bit software will run on a 64-bit machine? That doesn't sound right, since 16-bit code runs on a 32-bit machine.
11 Feb 2009
The latest update of Zone Alarm has caused problems for many users. In my case it took over the CPU pushing it up to 100% on a regular basis thus making the machine disfunctionally slooooooooow. Checkpoint (producers on Zone Alarm) are aware of the issue but have not yet offered a solution. I uninstalled ZA and installed Comodo and life went back to normal.
11 Feb 2009
I use COMODO Internet Security Suite which includes a basic Firewall and Antivirus program.
I also use ThreatFire, SpywareBlaster, Malwarebytes' Anti-Malware and I run Spybot - Search & Destroy once a week. Other programs I use are CCleaner (Crap Cleaner) and MRU Blaster, usually every day.
All are free and can be downloaded from these web sites:
14 Feb 2009
Hiyas, Bob. I'm using Zonealarm firewall which is a free and very protective firewall. Thought the downside is. It will consume your CPU to 100% and makes your PC laggy and randomly freezes :(
15 Feb 2009
I also have had similar problems with Comodo, and in fact uninstalled it this morning, replacing it with the Sunbelt firewall. The problem I had with Comodo had to do with how cmdagent.exe would fire up at random times, consuming the CPU. Rebooting would solve it, but I finally got sick of it. Plus, I've got to say, Comodo's UI was not the most user-friendly I'd ever experienced.
17 Feb 2009
i use threatfire from PC tools free covers alot more than connections it keeps tabs on virus/ad ware making sure there up and running.
17 Mar 2009
After having to restore my system, I'm trying a fresh reinstall of Norton. Windows Firewall was on beforehand, but Norton has its own "Smart Firewall." Do you recommend using the Smart Firewall, or Windows Firewall?
EDITOR'S NOTE: As a rule, I don't recommend anything from Norton. See http://askbobrankin.com/do_i_need_a_firewall.html
Larry J Frum
03 Apr 2009
I have Windows xp and service pack 3,also Norton 360 2009. Do I need Norton 360??? Thank You
EDITOR'S NOTE: You need SOME anti-virus program. I recommend some good free ones here: http://askbobrankin.com/should_i_buy_antispyware_or_antivirus_software.html
13 Sep 2010
I uninstalled zone alarm. My computer goes as far as the icons then shuts down only to restart. I can not start in safe mode because my key board and mouse will not work so I can not select safe mode. They are plugged in and new batteries. I tried putting in my recovery disk and start up disk but they will not run either. I appreciate any help. Thank you.
11 Mar 2011
Actually, i think that free software firtewall can't be useful. It only can be not bad.
I'm using paid soft ProteMac NetMine. As for me it's good.
07 Apr 2011
I recently started using a firewall called "Private Firewall", it's free and so far I am pleased with it. I use vista home premium, I believe this is only available for vista and windows 7.
21 Mar 2015
I also use PrivateFirewall and I'm quite happy with it. Over the years I've used others that initially worked fine but eventually disappointed:
ZoneAlarm - It started to randomly block the router ports for our computers, required rebooting.
Comodo - It would hang my computer during startup and after running for a while. I also tried their sandbox which was very flaky. Sandboxie works much better.
20 Jan 2016
I use Comodo on win7 and Private firewall on win10. I find Private Firewall has less interruptions when dnlding new apps or updating older ones. I would switch from Comodo but the last time I tried uninstalling it I lost Internet connection and spent hours trying to remove all traces of it so I could reconnect and install something else. it's a good firewall except for those two issues.
03 Jul 2017
As to having "no router," I have a separate wifi router and a separate modem. My desktop is hardwired
through the modem. But I can connect the router to the modem through an A/B switch in order to use my laptop throughout the house. I do not have 56K dial up. I have 10 Meg/sec. broadband from the phone company.