I’ve been taking some time over the past couple of months to try and get everyone accustomed to managing their firewalls. This can be confusing to the newcomer, as I have said before, and can easily overwhelm casual users.
One of the hardest things about managing firewalls is, what processes to let online? The first time you get online with a new firewall, the pop-up window comes up every 5 seconds asking if this program or that program can get online. Most people can make out what process are trying to get online when that window comes up. There’s always those little processes that you have no idea about, and these are the programs you should probably worry about the most.
How do you find out the names of these programs, and better yet, how do you know if you should allow them access or not? There’s a trillion process out there (OK, maybe not a trillion, but it can seem like it), and let’s face it, some of them are less then descriptive in their abbreviations. I know that I’ve suggested going to Google  and looking up each process to see if you want to allow it or even stop it and see where an error message comes from if one comes at all.
AnswersThatWork.com  is more than a website, it’s a library of processes, and an invaluable tool for learning about what is going on inside your PC, at a processor level.
If you’re getting online and a firewall window pops-up and asks, for example, if the MXTASK.EXE can have Internet access to do its thing, instead of scratching your head and doing a general search online you simply minimize the firewall pop-up open your browser, and go to “favorites” (where this site should be) select the AnswersThatWork  link. In seconds you’ll be looking at their basic interface (basically a alphabetized index) and choose the letter that the process in question begins with, scroll down until you find your process, read the description and the recommendation. This will help you to make educated decisions about what programs should have permissions to access the web, thus making your network or PC a much safer and productive place.
AnswersThatWork.com  doesn’t stop there, and actually the website really advertises it’s services as more of a startup tool. You can easily research your startup items and determine if it is starting the processes that are necessary (which can really speed your PC up) or not with a simple lookup. It also works great for processes that may be locking your PC up from time to time. You can go to Task Manager (in XP) look to see what process is taking up all your CPU time. Once you have the process name, simply go out to the site, lookup the process, and then take appropriate action. This is a good technique for finding potentially corrupt programs in your system as well.
It’s a great tool and I recommend that everyone who reads this article at least go to their startup settings, and firewall internet access list. See if the processes set to run are important or just bogging your system down, and either check or uncheck the programs for startup, and internet access status accordingly.
For information on your Firewalls’ Internet access list, check out the June 23,2004 newsletter . Look under “Security Alert: Allowing Programs to Access the Internet”.
Stay safe out there,