... the best freeware firewall solutions ...
Question: Why should I use a firewall?
Answer: When your computer is connected to the internet, you're constantly being attacked. Chances are high that your PC will be compromised within minutes or just seconds. A firewall prevents this from happening.
Question: Why and how do I get attacked when I am connected to the internet?
Answer: A computer connected to the internet automatically gets assigned an IP address. Those IPs all look like alike: "a.b.c.d", with "a", "b", "c" and "d" being a number smaller then 256. A lot of software is available that constantly tries to connect to every possible IP address. Programs like that can test thousands of connections per minute, and a lot of people with bad intentions use them to scan IP ranges. When they one of these messages receives a reply (for example from your computer if it is not protected by a firewall), they found a potential victim (that would be your computer / you). Then they automatically run some tests to find out more about your computer, for example what version of Windows you are using and so on. As soon as they know what software you are using, which usually only takes a second, they know how to exploit that and compromise your computer - because almost every software has known and un-fixed security holes. Then they can easily hack and take control of your computer to do with it, whatever they want. Often they publish your information (your IP and your password or vulnerability details) to their friends and even total strangers, who will then use this information to attack and take over your computer, too.
Question: Why should I prevent my computer from getting compromised?
Answer: Even if you say "I have nothing to hide" and do not feat spyware, you are still likely to experience big problems if your computer gets hacked. First, there is the risk of losing all your data, because intruders can delete any file they want. You will have to find out what got deleted and restore it somehow, if you can. Which is often difficult, and the loss of - for example - all emails and email addresses of friends and business contacts can be a huge blow. Let's say you backup all your files and keep your backups in a completely safe place. Then there are still the problems resulting from other people getting your private data, for example all your passwords or just access to your email account. They can then run you into all kinds of really bad trouble. Let's assume you keep absolutely no private data on your computer, don't use it for any business or financial transactions and you even don't have an email account that a hijacker could use to steal your identity and do bad things pretending to be you. So you would have nothing to fear from hackers, fraudsters and hijackers? Wrong. Everybody who has gained control to your computer can (and often: will) use it for illegal activities. This use it to commit crimes, for example buying things with stolen credit cards or attacking computers and websites of other people or companies. For that they use your equipment and your IP address, your identity. You may have a difficult time explaining and proving to the police, that it wasn't you who did it. Even if you can manage that plus give sufficient proof that you did not make it too easy for criminals to use your computer equipment and IP address for their illegal activities, there would still be another problem: Do you like to be used by criminals, being a victim and a tool for their illegal and selfish activities? All those reasons show: It's important to protect yourself and your computer. The necessary protection has no down-sides, it is free and easy. That's why everybody can and should use it.
Question: What is a software firewall? How does it protect me?
Answer: A firewall stands between your computer and all networks that your computer is connected to, most importantly: the internet. It usually works in both directions, outgoing and incoming: All connections from and to your computer are controlled and filtered by the firewall. Unwanted connections get blocked. Some firewalls provide additional protection features to that. Firewall software (or "software firewalls") are programs that start with Windows and constantly run in the background, monitoring your network connections. They only need a very small amount of your computer's resources and don't make it slower. Even if you already use a piece of computer equipment that protects you from the net ("hardware firewall"), it is still important to use a "software firewall" to be protected from unwanted outgoing connections. You can consider the protection of outgoing connection as your second line of defense: Even if something bad managed to get around your firewall's protection of incoming connections, it usually needs to communicate back to it's master, the intruder, to accomplish anything. That's why firewalls monitor outgoing connections, too. If a program on your computer tries to connect to the internet, the firewall will step in and find out if this is a legitimate connection attempt.
Question: How difficult is it to install and use a firewall?
Answer: It's really easy. You can download and install a good, free firewall software within seconds with a few simple clicks. Usage is easy, too: Many firewalls come with pre-defined rules for almost all popular programs that may request network access. In "easy mode" they use these rules to filter connections without bothering you with unneccesary questions. Known threats are blocked automatically and silently. When uncertain or set to "expert mode", the firewall will ask you for permission for every new program on your computer, that tries to access the internet. It says something like "Program 'whatever', located at 'whereever' on your computer, requests to connect to a computer with the address 'whatever' using port 'whatever'. Do you want to allow this?'" It may sound complicated at first, but it's really easy: If you just do something that needs internet access, like checking your emails, you probably expect and confirm the request. But if you don't know what that program and the computer it connects to is, simply click "No" to forbid it's internet access. If you then experience problems doing something you want to do, for example viewing a website, you have two options: In case it's not something important you can simply ignore it and move on. Only if it's something important you want to do, you simply do it again and when the firewall's request window pops up again, you answer "Yes" to allow the connection. If you're really unsure, whether it's a legitimate network access, simply google the program's name to find out what it does. You only have to do this once for every new program trying to access the internet. To prevent further requests from your firewall for the same program, before clicking "Yes" or "No" you chose the option to "Create a rule". By that the firewall learns how to automatically handle internet connections of that program. Usually it takes only some seconds or a few minutes in total to set up your firewall software so that it only pops up in those rare circumstances, when something really special happens.
Question: How much does it cost to get and use a good firewall?
Answer: Nothing. Some firewalls do cost money, but there are several real good ones available completely for free.
Question: Which one is the best firewall software?
Answer: This depends on what you prefer, for example regarding the user interface. Most of them are really easy to use, but there are subtle differences. One that's famous for it's extreme ease of use and can be a good fit for those who are completely new to computers, is ZoneAlarm. Another one that's very popular and has won several awards as best firewall is Comodo Firewall Pro. The programs by Online Armor and PC Tools are good choices, too. Further information about these programs is linked at the top of this page. My suggestion: Take a look at one of them or all four. You may want to view some of the screenshots and find out more, then give your favorite a try! And if you don't like it, click the "uninstall" button and test another one of these four firewalls. They are all for free and able to protect your computer - the choice is up to you!