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Windows Vista

Windows Firewall

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3/13/2011 4:11:01 PM
A firewall is a service on a computer or a device that isolates your computer from unsolicited network traffic and can be used to control the type and destination of outbound traffic sent from your computer.

Included with Windows Vista is your very own personal firewall called Windows Firewall. Windows Firewall acts as a boundary between your computer and the networks that your computer connects to.

By default, the Windows Firewall restricts almost all inbound traffic and notifies you of almost all your outbound traffic. Because you may have several different network interfaces on your computer, like a wired connection, a wireless connection and even a modem, you may be connected to different networks on these different network interfaces. Windows Firewall can be configured differently on each of your network interfaces.

You may also connect your computer to different locations, like your network at home, to the Internet at a hotspot in a café, or to the network at your job. Windows Firewall provides different profiles for these three different types of networks that you may connect to. This allows for a great deal of flexibility and control as to how your computer will interact with different networks, using different network interfaces.

Tip

Firewalls typically default to deny all traffic, both inbound and outbound, and then you must configure exceptions, or allow rules, to permit traffic through the firewall. These would be manually configured exceptions through your firewall.


In addition to the manually configured exceptions that allow traffic to flow to and from your computer, as you enable services on the computer, the Windows Firewall automatically adjusts itself to accommodate the desired services. As you enable Remote Administration on the computer, for example, Windows Firewall typically opens the correct ports (in this case, port 3389) to allow the enabled service to function properly.

Exam Alert

If you have a service enabled and it is not functioning properly, always remember to double-check that the proper exceptions/ports have been opened on the firewall.


You can customize Windows Firewall by creating exceptions to the default “Blocked” configuration. This “Allowed” traffic can be configured based on standard network services provided by Windows Vista. Manually configured exceptions can also be created based on the program, on the port number, or on the protocol you want to allow.

Caution

A Word About Firewall Exceptions Creating exceptions on a firewall is a potentially risky thing to do. These exceptions must be carefully considered before implementation. Every exception is a doorway for a bad guy to break into and compromise your computer system. Generally speaking, the fewer openings in a firewall, the stronger the security of the system. Implement exceptions only when you really need to and after you’ve considered the potential exposure.


You can access these settings by opening the Network and Sharing Center from the Control Panel. In the left pane you should see a hyperlink to Windows Firewall. Once there, you can select the Change Settings hyperlink.

Tip

You also can access the Windows Firewall through the Windows Security Center or through the Control Panel > Security > Windows Firewall.


Alert

The General tab allows you to turn the firewall on, off, or to block all incoming connections, as shown in Figure 1.

Figure 1. To secure your computer in a potentially hostile environment, you might decide to select the Block All Incoming Connections setting. This setting does not allow any computers to connect to shares or services that may be configured on your computer.



Caution

It is not recommended to turn off the Windows Firewall unless you are running another firewall application on the computer. This individual system firewall is typically used in addition to enterprise network infrastructure firewalls.


As stated earlier, an exception is an opening in the firewall that allows a specified type of network traffic through the firewall. On the Exceptions tab of the firewall’s properties, you can select a program to be allowed through the firewall, as shown in Figure 2.

Figure 2. You can easily build exceptions or rules in Windows Firewall based on the program, on the port number, or on the protocol of the traffic you want to allow.


On the Advanced tab of the firewall’s properties, you can enable or disable the firewall for each network interface on the computer. This is also the place where you can also reset the firewall’s settings back to their original default configuration if you have lost track of the configuration changes you’ve made to the firewall.

Caution

It is not recommended to disable the firewall on any network interface. This would only be done under rare circumstances, and only after careful consideration of the security risks involved with such a configuration setting.


Windows Firewall with Advanced Security

For a more granular level of control over the firewall, you can launch the Windows Firewall with Advanced Security. You can locate this by clicking Start > All Programs > Administrative Tools > Windows Firewall with Advanced Security.

The Windows Firewall with Advanced Security provides notably more detail in the configuration of the Windows Firewall. In this tool, Windows Firewall with Advanced Security, you can fine-tune the firewall based on the three different network profiles—Domain, Private, and Public—as well as individually configure inbound rules and outbound rules, again based on program, port number, or protocol.

You would configure the Domain network profile to be active when your computer is connected to the corporate network. The Private network profile should be used when you are connected to your home network, and you should use the Public network profile, the most restrictive profile, everyplace else.

Alert

The Public network profile is the most restrictive profile. You want this heightened security setting when you connect to networks that you don’t know or don’t trust, like at a Starbucks or at an airport.


By selecting the Properties link in the right pane, you can select to enable or disable the firewall in each of these network profiles. For each of these network connections, you can also configure Inbound Rules and Outbound Rules based on program, port number, or windows services, or you can build your own custom firewall rule, as shown in Figure 3.

Figure 3. Windows Firewall with Advanced Security allows you to enable or disable specific inbound and outbound rules for each network profile: Domain, Private, and Public.

These more sophisticated firewall rules and configuration available in the Windows Firewall with Advanced Security are usually planned, designed, and implemented by computer-savvy individuals with specialized needs and skills, or by network administrators on the corporate network. For the typical home user, the default firewall settings are usually acceptable, and the Windows Firewall with Advanced Security is rarely used.

Alert

You generally want the firewall enabled on each network interface, unless you are connected to a well-trusted network, like a well-secured corporate network.

You can also configure the Windows Firewall with Advanced Security to establish secured, encrypted connections using an Internet Protocol Security Virtual Private Network (IPSec VPN) on the properties tab labeled IPSec Settings. A VPN is used to provide security for data in transit between two computers or network end points.
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