Iím not generally led to paranoia. Iím not someone who thinks that Members of Congress all belong to the Trilateral Commission or the Council on Foreign Relations and who are all secretly plotting to take over the world. I donít think that the United Nations is evil Ė I just donít care for them at all. I donít think that the government is conspiring to hide the bodies of people from another world from the general population. I certainly donít buy into anything that I would consider to be derivatives of Black Helicopter Theories.
But for some reason, I am a bit paranoid when it comes to my computer and activities associated with the computer Ė such as surfing the Internet. Iím convinced that if I donít have my computer check for new virus definitions daily for my anti-viral software, that Iíll catch some nasty virus. In all actuality, my computerís anti-viral software has stopped several viruses Ė mostly from e-mail attachments Ė before theyíve been able to infect my computer.
Iím very careful when I set up my computers as well. When you set up a Windows-based computer, youíre asked to name the computer and the workstation. Iíve always named mine something general, like Windows ME or something else pretty harmless that wouldnít give out anything vital.
I donít store credit card information in any on-line wallets. I donít care how secure the site says it is, Iíd rather take the extra minute to haul out my credit card number and input it in the field when Iím making a purchase. Sure, I know that the credit card company will back me up in a dispute, but Iíve been down that road a few too many times and frankly, itís a pain in the butt.
For the last two years, Iíve kept my computer hooked up to the Internet 24 hours a day, seven days a week. I really donít store anything on my computer that is of major consequence. Iíve got backups of all my writing, and Iíve got a few nifty programs and some .mp3 files. Any corporate secrets are on my companyís laptop and thatís never hooked up to the ĎNet.
But still, security is a concern, and perhaps it is a little bit of healthy paranoia that keeps my computer running in tip-top shape most of the time. Iíve read about several people whose computers have been hacked into and data was either stolen or destroyed.
I do know that there are various individuals out there with too much time on their hands and for some reason get off on destroying someone elseís property. This kind of action is no different from the common vandal who spray-paints the side of your home, keys the paintjob on your car, or drives down the street smashing mailboxes. They just do their damage from the safety of their own computer instead of having to actually visit their victims.
My local computer store was having one of those nasty four-letter word things that they tell me about every Sunday when I open up my newspaper. They were having a sale. One of the things on sale was Norton Personal Firewall 2001.
I was aware of several companies that produced firewall software. Thereís McAfee Firewall, McAfee Guard Dog, Network ICE BlackICE Defender, ZoneAlarm and ConSeal. Iím sure thereís dozens of others, but these are the brands that Iíve heard of.
My first instinct was to not even consider the McAfee product line. I despise anything and everything McAfee, and I especially hate their customer service policies. I tried ZoneAlarm because itís a free download off the ĎNet if youíre a single user. You only have to pay if youíre doing the corporate situation (although how they enforce that Iíll never know). I didnít care much for the interface and found it rather vague to do setup. ConSeal is another downloadable program that I had tried a few years ago. I found that in more cases than not, Iíd have to disable ConSeal to get many of my Internet-based programs to function properly.
Iíve been a huge fan of Symantec products for a couple of years. While they all usually involve some tweaking to get them to work properly and not interfere with system resources, they typically have a great user interface and they do exactly what they advertise. The biggest exception to the rule was a program called Norton Crash Guard which, like other active crash-protection programs, is nice in theory but normally causes more problems than they solve. Symantec got smart and they eventually dropped the Norton Crash Guard from their product line.
Norton Personal Firewall normally sells for $49.99 at most computer stores. However, my computer store was having a sale (thereís that nasty word again) and it was marked down to $29.99. There was a $20.00 rebate from Symantec if you purchase the product between April 8, 2001 and September 1, 2001. That brings down the price to $9.99. On top of that, there is a $10 upgrade rebate if you qualify, and that could make a $49.99 program free.
Norton Personal Firewall is probably the easiest program to install that Iíve come across from Symantec. I loaded it up, the wizard asked me a couple of questions, and the program set itself up properly. It scanned my computer for any programs that would ever access the Internet, and asked me which ones I wanted Norton Personal Firewall to allow to access the ĎNet. There were some programs Ė mostly registration programs for various software packages Ė that I didnít think needed the access, so I disallowed them.
Norton Personal Firewall then recognized I was running Norton Systemworks 2001 on my system and asked if I wanted it to integrate itself into Systemworks. I allowed it. Iím not so sure that was the smartest move.
The best thing about the integration option is that you can integrate and segregate at will. If you werenít changing any settings, I would let the two programs integrate and leave it alone. The biggest reason for this is that when you run LiveUpdate!, the program will recognize all the Symantec programs at once instead of there being two different suites.
But when you integrate the two programs, you lose some of the ability to manipulate how Norton Personal Firewall works. To gain full control over the program, you need to segregate the programs (all you do is uncheck a box in Options). After you make the changes, you can then reintegrate the two programs again by checking the box under Options.
Some people are going to initially look at Norton Personal Firewall and think that, like many Symantec products, it duplicates what functions Windows already has. Unless you dig deeper into the program, youíll think the same thing.
First of all, unless you ask it to do otherwise, Norton Personal Firewall will not change your Internet Security settings. It will still let your computer accept cookies in the normal fashion and will still handle Active X controls in the same manner. You can, of course, manipulate these settings. You can do this in either Windows or within the interface of Norton Personal Firewall itself.
What Norton Personal Firewall does that Windows cannot is protect you against hacker attacks and Trojans. The Intrusion Protection is what makes this firewall program valuable. The program monitors any on-line activity and communications, searching for anything that it considers ďtypicalĒ of a hacker attack. This includes scanning the various ports on your computer, or following activity that Trojan Horse programs utilize.
The AutoBlock feature will notify you of a possible hacker attack and then disable all incoming communications from the possible attack for thirty minutes. You can continue to send information to that computer, but they are unable to send information back to you.
Some people also complain about how Symantec products take up too many valuable resources. Again, there is a bit of tweaking that needs to be done, but this is very simple and any user of any level can accomplish this. To prevent the program from being a resource hog, simply go to the Options Menu and uncheck Show the AlertTracker. All the AlertTracker does is give you a real-time status of what Norton Personal Firewall is doing.
If the program itself determines that something out of the ordinary is happening, the user is prompted to decide on what action to take. You simply choose the option thatís best for you and go on your merry way. If it is a program that I recognize and use on a regular basis, I simply check off to allow the program access whenever itís needed. You may find a setting thatís more suited to your liking and needs.
The program has Home Network Control and Internet Zone Control. In both of these cases, you can determine what computers, if any, you want to have full-access to your own computer. As an example, if you have three computers in your house, and youíve set up some sort of LAN (Local Area Network) so that all three computers can communicate with each other, youíd probably not want to restrict access to either of the three computers from all the computers in the network.
At the same time, if for some reason you donít want certain computers in your network or from the Internet to have full access to your own computer, you can block those computers permanently.
You can also play multiplayer games while still running the firewall. All you have to do is give Norton Personal Firewall permission to let the game access the ĎNet.
One of the benefits of the firewall program is to prevent you from accidentally sending confidential information over the ĎNet on an unsecured site. Norton Privacy Control checks to make sure that your browser is connected to a secured encrypted site before sending out any confidential information. You can determine what is classified as confidential information Ė including your name, address, phone number, credit card information, etc.
You can also let Norton Personal Firewall manage your cookies. The default setting is to allow any and all cookies into the system regardless of what they do. However, you can also choose to block all cookies or choose which cookies you want to accept or reject. Of course, this is a functionality that also exists for free in Internet Explorer.
But Norton Personal Firewall does block your surfing habits automatically. Some websites want to know from which URL you reached their page. The firewall blocks that and prevents that kind of information from being sent. That way, your surfing habits remain anonymous.
Keeping Norton Personal Firewall up to date is easy. You simply go into the Main Menu (the Systemworks menu if youíve integrated the program) and click on the LiveUpdate! button. If there is an update, it is automatically downloaded and this update is seamless. Usually a reboot of the system is required after anything is updated via LiveUpdate!
Iím pretty happy with Norton Personal Firewall 2001. Theyíve made a lot of improvements from the 2000 version and the program finally does what it advertises it will do. If you tweak the settings, it barely bothers your available resources and doesnít slow your system down.
I still keep my computer on-line 24/7, but now I do it with fewer worries. Iím sure that, like with anything else, no system is perfect and a determined hacker can probably find the weakness of a firewall and compromise it. However, I also know that Symantec does a great job of keeping up with the activities of Internet vandals and will update the software accordingly Ė all of which can be done through their LiveUpdate! feature.
If you are interested in making your computer bullet-proof from hackers, Iíd recommend you do everything you can and install a firewall program on your system. I like Norton Personal Firewall 2001 and Iíll recommend it for you, too.
Now Iím back to looking out for Black HelicoptersÖ
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