Between your computer and the Internet (or any other external network) stands a firewall. Designed to allow legitimate traffic into your computer and keep unauthorized traffic out, a properly configured firewall protects you from the thousands of attackers and malicious programs trying to gain access to your PC. Both Windows Vista and Windows 7 include a firewall called Windows Firewall, which is turned on by default; you should turn it off only if you are using another (third-party) firewall. In this article, I explain the basics of configuring Windows Firewall in Windows Vista and Windows 7. Understanding these basics will reduce your vulnerability and allow you to tweak Windows Firewall to suit your needs.
In both Vista and Windows 7, you can access Windows Firewall settings by clicking Start and opening the Control Panel. Click System and Security in Windows 7 or Security in Vista, and then click Windows Firewall.
Step by Step: Configuring Windows Firewall in Windows 7
Step 1 You can configure two types of networks: private (home and workplace networks) and public (airport, library, or other networks open to the public). You will see status and settings reports displayed for both types of networks here. Begin by clicking Change notification settings in the left pane so that you can turn Windows Firewall on or off for each network type.
Step 2 To change how the firewall alerts you when it blocks a program, check or uncheck Notify me when Windows Firewall blocks a new program. Finally, you can stay really safe by checking Block all incoming connections, including those in the list of allowed programs. I'll talk more about allowed programs below.
Step by Step: Configuring Windows Firewall in Windows Vista
Step 1 After enabling the Windows Firewall control panel, you will see a window with Windows Firewall status and settings. Begin by clicking Change settings on the right.
Step 2 In the next window, you will see three tabs. Within the General tab, you can turn the firewall on or off, as well as check the Block all incoming connections box. Checking this box instructs Windows Firewall to ignore your list of exceptions (more on exceptions below).
Step 3 Within the Advanced tab, you will see a list of the networks to which you connect. To enable Windows Firewall protection, ensure that the box next to each network is checked.
Step by Step: Setting Up Allowed Programs in Windows 7
In Windows 7, Windows Firewall protects you by blocking your programs from accepting connections from the Internet (or your network). Allowed programs are applications that you tell Windows Firewall not to block. For example, you may want to allow an instant messaging program or a multiplayer video game to accept incoming connections in order for those applications to work properly.
Step 1 To allow a program in Windows 7, click Allow a program or feature through Windows Firewall on the left pane.
Step 2 On the new screen, click the Change settings button that appears at the top. Find the program you wish to allow in the list, and check the box next to the name of the program, as well as the box under the type(s) of network(s) through which you want to allow the program to communicate. If the program you want to allow is not listed, click Allow another program and find it in the list that appears; you may have to click Browse and navigate to the program.
Step by Step: Setting Up Exceptions (Allowed Programs) in Vista
Step 1 Select the Exceptions tab and choose the program you wish to allow by checking its box on the list.
Step 2 If you cannot locate the program on the list, click the Add program... button and select it from the list that appears. If you still cannot locate the program, click Browse to navigate to the program.