A firewall is a type of computer software or hardware that helps block unsolicited communications between your computer and other computers while you are using a network. Firewall software can be installed on your PC directly, while hardware firewalls are physical devices such as routers that you use as an intermediary between your Internet connection and your PC.
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A software firewall is able to monitor the communications a computer receives from the Internet and selectively block connections that the user did not intend to make, thus filtering out bad data. Software firewalls can be used in conjunction with hardware firewalls for an additional level of protection. For instance, you could connect to the Internet through a router that has a built-in firewall and install firewall software on your PC.
The primary benefit of firewall software is that it can help protect the user from computer hackers and malware such as viruses and worms. Viruses, worms and other malware may attempt to gain access to your computer without your consent, but a firewall can block them before they install on your computer. According to the U.S. Computer Emergency Readiness Team, firewalls are especially important for protecting users who rely on "always on" connections such as cable or DSL (digital subscriber line) modems.
While firewall software can protect your computer for harm, it can also potentially interfere with the operation of programs that access the Internet. For instance, if you attempt to play a computer game over the Internet, your firewall may block some communications required by the game. Many firewalls have the ability to create exceptions for certain programs to ensure that such desired communications are not blocked.
Firewall software can help block viruses and malware, but it will not help remove malware that has been loaded onto your computer. Anti-virus programs, on the other hand, can scan the files on your computer, identify viruses and attempt to remove them. In other words, a firewall program is not an alternative to using an antivirus program but an additional level of protection that should be used with an antivirus program.
You should only run one firewall program at any given time. According to Microsoft, "running multiple software firewalls is unnecessary for typical home computers, home networking, and small-business networking scenarios." The company goes on to state that using multiple firewalls can cause the programs to interfere with one another and may lead to connectivity issues. Many Windows PCs have Windows Firewall built in; if you use Windows Firewall, you do not need to run an additional firewall program.
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