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Firewalls are software programs or combination software and hardware packages that help prevent unauthorized access to and from computers.

Criminals are constantly developing new viruses, spyware and online fraud schemes: that’s not going to change. The good news is that most damage can be avoided with a combination of antivirus and anti-spyware software, firewalls and education. (“2007 Identity Fraud Survey Report,” Javelin Strategy & Research, February 2007)

About firewalls

Firewalls help protect against attacks across any network—the Internet, a home network and even wireless networks, like at the airport, library or work.

There are two types of firewalls:

  • Software firewalls are popular for home use. In fact, operating systems like Microsoft Windows and the Mac OS come with built-in software firewalls. If a software firewall is not already “built in” to a computer, one can easily be installed.
  • Hardware firewalls provide a strong degree of protection and are often used by businesses or with networked computers. These devices require a power source and connect directly to a network.

How do I know if I already have a firewall?

Operating systems often come with built-in software firewalls.

  • Microsoft Windows users can verify if the firewall is turned on by accessing the Control Panel and selecting Windows Firewall.
  • Mac OS users can verify if the firewall is turned on by going to System Preferences, then opening Sharing and selecting Firewall.

Where do I get a firewall?

Microsoft Windows and the Mac OS include built-in firewalls, and antivirus packages often include the software. Firewall software and hardware can also be purchased at most electronics stores. You can obtain free firewalls online, although they offer minimal or nonexistent technical support and documentation.

Do I need to maintain or update my firewall once it’s installed?

Check your system to ensure that the firewall is not only installed but also turned on.

What will happen if I don’t have a firewall?

Without a firewall, your computer system or network may be vulnerable to unauthorized access and attack.

Do I need a software firewall or a hardware firewall?

Software firewalls that are typically included with computer operating systems are well-suited for most home users. Hardware firewalls are typically designed for businesses and networked computers.

How to protect your computer

  • Check your operating system to verify that your firewall is turned on.
  • If you don’t have a firewall, install one.
  • Use a firewall in conjunction with antivirus and anti-spyware software.