Firewalls have long been considered an integral component of any security setup. Firewalls come in a number of different types but in this article, we’re going to concentrate solely on free firewalls for home PC users. Firstly, a layman’s explanation of how a firewall works.
A firewall is akin to a guarded gateway, protecting the system from unauthorized access. Firewalls operate per medium of a set of “rules” which allow access only to trusted/known connections. Firewalls generally operate at two levels: incoming connections and outgoing connections. In Windows Firewall for example, certain required and known safe incoming connections are allowed by default while all other incoming connections are blocked. However, although it requires a bit of know-how and is more suited to experienced users, new rules can be added to allow other traffic through.
Many users believe that Windows Firewall does not include the ability to manage outgoing connections, but that is not true. While Windows Firewall does allow all outgoing connections by default, users can manually add rules to block certain outgoing connections/traffic. However, once again, this requires a bit of know-how.
Outgoing connections can be problematic; it’s not an easy assignment to find out what software is transmitting what data to where. However, in the vast majority of cases, outgoing connections are created by software merely phoning home to check for updates. In fewer cases, the software might be transmitting anonymous user data to help developers refine their software. In any case, as long as you stick with reputable software from trusted sources, outgoing connections should not present a problem.
Some years back, third-party firewalls were very popular; there were several very good free third-party firewalls available and discussions across forums as to which was the best were frequent and lively. However, when modern routers began including a hardware firewall, interest in third-party firewalls started to wane, to the extent that two of the most popular – Agnitum Outpost and Privatefirewall – were discontinued, with up-to-date versions no longer available.
Third-party firewalls are fine for more advanced users who possess the experience and know-how to manually configure them out of the box, but far more problematic for less experienced users. For those users who do not possess the experience or know-how to manually configure a third-party firewall, the firewall needs to go through a period of “learning”. This involves a lot of popup questions where the user needs to make a choice, and therein lies the problem. Incorrect choices by inexperienced users can quite easily break critical connections and, if those users simply ignore the questions, then the firewall won’t be configured properly and they haven’t really improved over and above simply using Windows Firewall.
Is Windows Firewall Enough?
In my opinion, for the average home user with a modern router, yes. Using a modern router with its built-in hardware firewall in conjunction with Windows Firewall, which is pretty much configured optimally out of the box, provides strong protection against unauthorized access. There are quite a few free third-party firewalls still available but each comes with its own issues and, as I mentioned earlier, can be problematic for inexperienced users to configure properly. For obvious reasons, businesses and large organizations still utilize third-party firewalls but these are generally advanced/premium firewalls that are most definitely not free.
Do you use a third-party firewall? Let us know via the comments.
5 thoughts on “Is Windows Firewall Good Enough?”
Yes for me, the Windows Firewall is fine. I am a home user and my use has dropped off markedly in the last couple of years.
My ability to configure has also dropped off and TBH I now rely on the version to be complete and fully functioning ‘out of the box’.
But I don’t know what will happen in the coming months when I have to buy a new laptop. I guess it will be W11 or whatever comes after W10.
That, I am not looking forward to, as with every updated version previously. I really don’t think there has been sufficient improvement to warrant all the versions and uproar or hoohaa since W6 or 7. Other than the main system now capable of running more of the software and even some of the hardware by itself. Whereas I used to have to modify or prompt or whatever, now I don’t. It does it automatically.
But that’s my personal opinion.
I have been using Vipre Advanced Security for all of my family’s PCs for years. It’s a Firewall with Anti-spam/malware functionality. Of course, I also have a SonicWall TZ570 firewall router managing my home’s internet connection, so we are not dependent on the Windows and Mac firewalls alone. I can’t really say if Vipre is really any better than today’s Windows built-in firewall, but they were the only ones who had a family subscription back in the day when everyone else wanted a ridiculously expensive license for each machine at home. The annual household subscription for up to 10 PCs is very reasonable so I have never had a reason to stop using it.
For well over a decade, all of my Windows boxes, as well as those I service, have the Windows Firewall Control installed. The developer, Binisoft, was acquired by Malwarebytes several years ago, but they continue to offer it as a free utility (for the present, at least…), with updates maintained by its creator, Alexandru Dicu.
A front end to the Windows Firewall that allows granular fine-tuning employing a well-thought-out GUI, it allows even those without extensive technical knowledge to easily set and adjust precise firewall rules (Windows 7 – 11). Highly recommended.
Please see: https://www.binisoft.org/wfc and https://www.techspot.com/downloads/5412-windows-firewall-control.html
An additional reference: https://www.makeuseof.com/windows-firewall-control-guide/
This is a nice suggestion. As you say, WFC allows for more granular control over the Windows Firewall settings. However, in my opinion, it still requires some degree of advanced knowledge to utilize it to its full extent.