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[Keeping Off The Enemy!][Keeping Off The Enemy!]

   Aaron Mathias

With the convenience that the Internet brings comes stuff a lot less desirable: viruses, malicious worms and hackers.

The advent of broadband services brings with it many security threats. After all, what can stop a sophisticated hacker from planting a Trojan that lets him sneak into your computer at will? Once a hacker has access through Back Orifice or popular Trojans like netbus, your computer can be configured to suit all purposes.

And if your computer is used for some illegal purposes, you may also be called a cyber criminal.

Rather than live in fear, then, why not take precautions? A couple of simple tweaks - like disabling file and printer sharing -- should help. Better still: install a firewall on your machine.

In a nutshell, a network firewall is a software program that creates a secure barrier between your machine and the Internet. The firewall you choose should always offer 'stateful packet inspection', which is the strongest form of security for small networks. After installing one of these programs, you may be shocked to find how many troublemakers online take the time to probe your computer.

The firewall software you invest in should reflect your needs thoroughly. It should have the ability to auto-configure itself according to the kind of Internet territory you move in, and update itself dynamically. It should also be the first program to execute when your computer boots because if a Trojan boots first, the firewall could consider this to be normal activity and ignore it. This is why an auto-update feature is sacrosanct, enabling your firewall to update itself whenever the parent software company introduces new features.

Personal firewalls ought to be considered by any user who connects directly to hostile networks such as the Internet. They have a role to play not only in the corporate and SOHO (Small Office/Home Office) markets, but also on an individual user level. This software monitors your computer for suspicious activity while you're online. Intruders are stopped before they can get in, and a record of repelled attackers, including their IP addresses, is stored. This allows you to pass on the information to your ISP or that of the attacker, to help crack down on illegal behaviour.

Here are some important pointers on firewalls to keep in mind:

1. Personal firewalls cannot be simply installed and forgotten. Users have to understand and learn how to use them in order to make them most effective.

2. They cannot offer 100 per cent protection. For instance, a firewall may be badly configured or switched off, can start too late, may not recognise all hostile traffic, can have bugs, may crash, etc. It is, therefore, a good idea to have several barriers, like anti-virus tools, file encryption, good passwords and a well-configured operating system.

3. Some of the most popular professional firewalls are norton, zone alarm, mcafee, black ice and tiny firewall. Of these, the latter is easiest to configure. It also has the ability to identify server ports being used by particular programmes, after which it seals the port, and gives users the option of retaining or terminating the connection. The file is less than 3 MB, making it possible for even average dial-up surfers to download the shareware program.

Precautions like these make the whole surfing experience sound like one big war, and firewall users a bunch of paranoid geeks. But, trust me: this is one war only the paranoid can win.

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