Which free firewall software is the best on the net? Find out with our free personal firewall comparison
Quick links for free personal firewall comparison:-
Decisions decisions, our free personal firewall comparison will help you decide which firewall is right for you. Like most Windows security products, there are dozens of different firewall packages available, each with their own strengths and weaknesses. Before diving into our firewall comparison, you may wish to read What is firewall internet security software? to familiarise yourself with firewall software and what benefits it offers to you.
After evaluating several products, we chose three firewalls to cover in depth on this site. The firewalls we chose are:-
This personal firewall was introduced with Windows XP service pack 2. Before then, Windows did include a basic firewall called the “Internet Connection Firewall” but it was not well supported and it was disabled by default. Every Windows XP, Vista and Windows 7 user should now have a basic firewall available to them. (Windows XP users, if you do not have service pack 3 installed, your machine is highly vulnerable to security threats. Download and install service pack 3 from Windows update NOW).
The Windows Firewall should be enabled by default in Windows 7, Windows Vista and Windows XP. XP users can check that their firewall is enabled by following this tutorial.
Here’s a picture of the Windows XP Firewall configuration window:-
Compared to the third party firewalls in our free personal firewall comparison, there are very few configuration options for the Windows Firewall. The default options will be right for the vast majority of users, check out our Firewall tutorials for more information on configuring the Windows Firewall.
The biggest disadvantage of the Windows Firewall in Windows XP is that it does not monitor or filter outgoing connections in any way. For example, while the Windows Firewall in XP can block attempts by hackers or malicious software to connect into your computer from elsewhere on the internet, it cannot block a malicious spyware program connecting OUT through your computer to transmit data to another computer. For this reason, many Windows XP users prefer to use one of the free third party firewalls covered later in our free personal firewall comparison.
The Windows Firewall in Windows Vista deserves it’s own special mention in this article. In Windows Vista, the Windows Firewall is greatly improved, so much so that its security features rival the other firewalls we investigated in our free personal firewall comparison. The biggest difference is that the Windows Firewall in Windows Vista can filter both incoming and outgoing traffic. To check the status of the firewall in Windows Vista, follow this tutoral.
Here’s a picture of the Windows Vista Firewall configuration window:-
As you can see, the window is very similar to the XP Firewall. Whilst it is true that the Vista Firewall supports filtering of outgoing and incoming traffic, unlike the third party firewalls we cover later in the comparison, filtering of outgoing traffic is disabled by default. Furthermore, you cannot enable it without accessing the advanced settings for Windows Firewall. Where are these advanced settings? Unfortunately you cannot access them via the control panel. Microsoft decided that they didn’t want average users poking around with these settings, so they are buried in a custom “MMC” or “Microsoft Management Console”. A Microsoft what? This is an advanced feature that regular users should never have to deal with. Explaining how to configure the advanced options of the Windows Firewall in Vista is way beyond the scope of a free personal firewall comparison page.
Microsoft have improved the Windows Firewall even further with the release of Windows 7, though the improvements probably don’t go as far as many users would have hoped. You can check on the status of the Windows Firewall when running Windows 7 by following this short tutorial.
Here’s a picture of the Windows 7 Firewall configuration window, this time things do look a little different:-
With the Windows 7 Firewall, it’s possible to configure different settings for different networks. This means you can be connected to a trusted home or office virtual private network and also an untrusted public Wi-Fi hotspot and manage your firewall settings for each connection individually. It’s also much easier to access the advanced firewall settings, which can be used to set up outgoing traffic filtering. However, while it’s easier to access these settings than it was on Windows Vista, actually configuring them is still rather difficult compared to most third party firewalls.
To surmise, here are the pros and cons of the Windows Firewall:-
Pros: Integrated into the operating system, starts monitoring network connections immediately, minimal configuration needed.
Cons: Does not monitor outbound traffic by default (or cannot monitor outbound traffic in the case of Windows XP), advanced settings for Vista and Windows 7 are difficult to configure.
Don’t forget, you can learn more about the Windows Firewall in XP, Vista or Windows 7 by viewing our Firewall tutorials.
Next up in our free personal firewall comparison is the ZoneAlarm firewall from Check Point. ZoneAlarm firewalls have been protecting PC’s since the turn of the millennium and the latest version remains a popular alternative to the Windows Firewall. The basic version of ZoneAlarm is free for non commercial use and offers excellent basic protection from hackers.
ZoneAlarm filters both incoming and outgoing traffic, popping up a helpful dialogue whenever a program tries to connect to the internet. At first these prompts can be confusing and a little overwhelming but if you remember to select “remember this setting” then the number of alerts quickly decreases to a minimum.
Newer versions of the firewall have also streamlined updating, making the process completely automatic. Previously every time an update was required, a new executable had to be downloaded and run.
Above – The control panel for ZoneAlarm, the free firewall from Check Point
Tutorials for configuring and working with ZoneAlarm are now available from our firewall tutorials section. They cover everything from installation to recognising and dealing with alerts.
Users looking for even greater security can move up to ZoneAlarm Pro or choose from a wide range of products which include integrated anti-spyware and anti-virus options as well as enhanced firewall software.
Lets take a look at the pros and cons of ZoneAlarm free now:-
Pros: Free for non commercial use, frequently updated, protects incoming and outgoing connections without additional configuration, fully covered by tutorials on Top-Windows-Tutorials.com.
Cons: Did not automatically configure as many applications as Outpost Firewall 2009.
Outpost Firewall 2009
Finally, our free personal firewall comparison takes a look at the super-powerful Outpost Firewall. Outpost is produced by the Russian firm Agnitum. Agnitum have completely revamped their free firewall product for 2009. Outpost Firewall 2009 Free now includes full Windows Vista (32 and 64bit) support and a completely revamped user interface. The free version of Outpost Firewall 2009 can be downloaded here.You can also obtain a 30 day free trial of Outpost Firewall Pro.
Above – Configuring programs in Outpost Firewall 2009
As with previous versions, Outpost Firewall 2009 is a full featured firewall that will please computer experts with its extensive configuration options. For regular users, Outpost 2009 sports a brand new, easier interface and includes automatic program configuration for many popular programs. In our tests, we found that Outpost recognised and automatically configured more programs than ZoneAlarm, which means in most cases you can sit back and let the software take care of all the technical stuff. There’s even an “Entertainment Mode” that helps make configuring full-screen applications, such as games, much easier.
We’re happy to report that the instant nagging prompts pushing users to upgrade to the paid version, which plagued the previous version of Outpost Firewall are gone. Gone too are the concerns about lack of support for the software. Agnitum seem fully committed to supporting this new free firewall and we had no concerns about the software being out of date this time.
Configuring and working with Outpost may initially seem a bit daunting, although with the new interface it is much easier. Our firewall tutorial section now includes several tutorials to allow you to start working quickly with this powerful firewall. Our tutorials are geared towards Outpost Firewall Pro, but most of what you learn can be used for the free version too.
Let’s sum up the pros and cons of Outpost Firewall 2009 Free now:-
Pros: Very powerful firewall, extensive configuration options, protects incoming and outgoing connections without additional configuration, automatic configuration for lots of popular software, full 64 bit operating system support, fully covered by tutorials on Top-Windows-Tutorials.com.
Cons: Some users find ZoneAlarm easier to use, although thanks to the revamped interface Outpost Firewall is no longer as daunting to beginners.
Now you’ve read our free personal firewall comparison, hopefully you will have a better idea which firewall is right for you. Check out our firewall tutorials for more information on both ZoneAlarm and Outpost Firewall.
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