Allowing Programs to Access the Internet
WorldStart has offered some firewalls over the years, and with the increasing popularity and availability of broadband, it’s become an important component in securing your PC. There are a number of different firewalls out there—hardware, software suites, and stand alone titles—but I’ve noticed a lot of frustration when it comes to controlling internet access. Back on May 19, 2004 I wrote an article on the concepts and purpose of firewalls and today I wanted to describe how to take control of your firewall and manage applications that need access to the web.
For my demonstration I’m using two stand alone firewalls: Zone Alarm Pro and Hacker Smacker . These are two firewalls that we’ve featured this year and although the details of the procedures may be a little different, the basic settings of all software firewalls are very similar. Usually the first thing that people notice when they install their firewall is all these pop-ups warning you of programs trying to access the internet. This is normal with firewalls. Most of them have pretty much the same default settings out of the box, and this is a security setting that basically monitors access to the internet and asks you before it allows any programs access. Usually, if you read the programs name, you can recognize what it is and if it should have access. This can confuse people because a lot of programs want to speak with the mothership when they boot up, and especially when you activate them. Some of the programs don’t have easy to recognize names, because they are just a component of a larger program (i.e. an updater). When a pop-up window comes up and asks you to allow or disallow a program and you are not familiar with what the program is exactly, there’s a couple of things you can do:
A: You can deny access to the program and see what happens (this will not hurt your system or program, but you may get an error message back from the program being blocked saying that it could not connect to the server). This should shed some light on what actual application is trying to access the web. Now after this error message you can go into your firewall main “Control Panel” then navigate to your “Program Control” portion of the firewall. In there you should see a list of all the applications that have tried to access the web and what their current access permissions are. In this area you can usually highlight the program and get a little more information about it, and change the status of it’s internet access permissions.
B: You can go online and do a Google search for the process name and see if you can get some good articles explaining what the process does exactly, and if it should have access to the web.
In most firewall control panels you’ll also have a security section where you can set the basic security of you internet access. These settings are usually under the “Control” or “Internet” section of your interface, and are responsible for how the firewall interacts with programs. For example, in Hacker Smacker and Zone Alarm Pro there are three levels of security: low, medium, and high. Low means everything has access to the web (little security), medium will ask you before allowing applications on the web, and high means no access except those programs with explicit permission to do so. It’s a good idea to keep this setting on medium, which in my experience is always the default setting.
Another cool feature in firewalls is the ability to shut down all internet activity at the click of a button. This is really a good idea for people with broadband who can’t disconnect from the internet. This option goes by different names but does the same thing—stops all internet access, nothing in or out making the PC appear as though it is “off line”. On Zone Alarm Pro this is the “Stop sign” at the top of the main interface, and in Hacker Smacker it’s the “NetStatus” button on the main interface. If you just got done being online and you don’t want to have the connection open just find this option on your firewall and select it.
So today we went over allowing and not allowing web access to programs and how to set your security levels. I have included links to four of the more popular firewalls manuals so you can reference it until you’re feeling confident…
Norton (Symantec) https://www-secure.symantec.com/techsupp/npf/npf_2004_info_man.html
Hacker Smacker http://www.farstone.com/home/en/shtml/guide.shtml
Zone Alarm http://catsearch.zonelabs.com/search/catsearch?sp-q=manuals&sp-a=sp10030ad9
Hope I shed some light on the shadowy world of firewalls.
Stay safe out there,