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  • Firewall 101
    Do you really need one?
    Here at EarthLink, your security is our number one priority. To that end, we're constantly coming up with new tools designed to help protect you while you're online. And with EarthLink Firewall, we've come up with one of our best. Quite honestly, there may not be a more important tool in your security arsenal.

    What is a firewall?
    In the most technical of terms, a firewall is a hardware or software solution to enforce security policies.

    Think of your computer as a big building. There are lots of doors into and out of your building. Your email client uses one door. Your browser uses another door. Instant message software uses yet another door. There are a lot of doors. And in general, all these doors are left wide open. This allows nasty hackers easy access into your building—they can just walk through an open door.

    A firewall is like a constantly manned security checkpoint at each door, only letting people in if they have the right key card. Not only does a firewall protect you from unauthorized or potentially dangerous material, it also keeps a log of every time anyone tries to gain entry, whether or not they succeeded.
    Why do I need a firewall?
    Put simply, you need a firewall, even if you already have antivirus and spyware-blocking software on your computer. Why? While antivirus and spyware protection are great to have and go a long way toward keeping your PC safe, they work by attempting to stop malware (the general technical term for bad programs on your computer) once it's already on your system or as it tries to install itself. A firewall helps prevent malware from ever getting onto your system in the first place. With a firewall in place, to go back to our earlier metaphor, the bad guys are turned away by the big, burly security guard at the door.

    Also, it's important to note that viruses and spyware generally require you to visit a site or open a file in order to install themselves onto your computer. Hackers, meanwhile, can attempt to directly connect to your machine through your Internet connection without you, having to do anything at all. Antivirus and spyware blocking software can't protect you from those kinds of attacks—you need a firewall.

    Another thing a firewall can do is to make your computer invisible. Hackers prowling the Internet won't even see your computer, it's as if they drive by the building and never even know it's there.

    Worst case scenario without a firewall? Hackers can invade your computer through your Internet connection without you ever knowing. Once inside, they can install spyware or viruses directly onto your machine, they can steal your personal information, they can destroy your data, they can use your computer to launch attacks on other computers—and you would never know.

    The EarthLink Firewall is free for members as part of our Protection Control Center. EarthLink Firewall protects you by allowing authorized communication to pass into and out of your computer, while protecting you from the bad guys who may want to get in. It is designed to stop some of the sneakiest hacker tricks, like "port scanning" and "fingerprinting," by making all of your ports "stealthed" which means they are invisible to the outside world.

    EarthLink Firewall is very easy to use. There are four Firewall settings to choose from: Off, Standard, High, and Customized. In general, your best bet is to use the Standard setting, which allows the most common Internet programs access to the Internet, while blocking unauthorized attempts to communicate with those applications. Any program not on our EarthLink whitelist (a list of common applications) has to be given permission by you to go in and out of the computer. For more information on configuring your EarthLink Firewall settings, check out the EarthLink Knowledge Base.

    Learn more about the EarthLink Protection Control Center or download the software today!