Written by Louis Malcmacher, DDS, FAGD Friday, 31 May 2002 19:00
So, you just got a broadband (cable or DSL) Internet connection. I bet you love it; no more waiting for your dial-up modem to connect to your ISP (Internet Service Provider), or wasting time for downloads. Of course, this is assuming you don’t get disconnected in the process. Yes, the joys of dial-up are over for some, but broadband users have other problems associated with having a constant 24/7 connection to the unforgiving Internet. An unprotected computer connected to the Internet via broadband is like leaving your car running with the doors unlocked and the keys in it. A broadband Internet connection is easier to hack because it is “always on” and often has a static IP (Internet protocol) address. This means that once a hacker finds your computer, it is easier to find it again. Most 56k dial-up Internet connections use a new IP address each time you connect, which makes it much harder to find your computer again unless a Trojan horse program has invaded your system, which can phone its home each time you connect. Yet, there are many daily attempts by outside programs and websites to access your computer, no matter what type of Internet connection you use.
|Table. Websites for Information on Personal Firewall Programs|
You can make your computer less vulnerable to attack by installing firewall software onto your machine. Firewalls are designed to protect computers from log-ins from the outside world, that is, the rest of cyberspace. A firewall will help prevent hackers from getting into your system, or, if it fails to do that, it may at least alert you to the presence of an intruder.
IP addresses. Each machine on the Internet is assigned a unique address called an IP address. IP addresses are 32-bit numbers, normally expressed as four “octets” in a “dotted decimal number.” A typical IP address looks like this: 126.96.36.199. For example, if a certain IP address outside the company is reading too many files from a server, the firewall can block all traffic to or from that IP address.
Domain names. Because it is hard to remember the string of numbers that comprises an IP address, and because IP addresses sometimes need to change, all servers on the Internet also have human-readable names, called domain names. A company might block all access to certain domain names, or allow access only to specific domain names.
Protocols. The protocol is the predefined way that someone who wants to use a service talks with that service. The “someone” could be a person, but more often it is a computer program like a Web browser. Protocols are often text and simply describe how the client and server will have their conversation.
- Specific words and phrases. This can be anything. The firewall will search through each packet of information for an exact match of the text listed in the filter. For example, you could instruct the firewall to block any packet with the word “X-rated” in it. The key here is that it has to be an exact match. The “X-rated” filter would not catch “X rated” (no hyphen). But you can include as many words, phrases, and variations of them as you need.
Many of the most popular firewall programs are free, with paid upgrades to higher levels of protection if you are running a network. Most home and office users will get adequate protection from the free versions of firewall programs, but if you desire more protection, the upgrades are very reasonable in price.
I have been using a firewall for a few years. It is incredible the number of times in a day that the firewall protection is activated. Numerous attempts are made by a variety of programs and websites to access your computer every minute via the Internet. Keep your personal information and data safe from outside influences by using a firewall. It is just another type of insurance to have to protect your beloved computer.
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