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windows 7 firewallThe Windows 7 Firewall is software that controls your network traffic. Its default behavior is to allow outbound traffic and deny inbound traffic. Most programs that require a change from the default settings however, can add custom rules to the Windows 7 Firewall, requiring only minimal user input. This makes the Windows 7 Firewall a very convenient tool because it doesn’t require a lot of attention or knowledge to set it up and use.

There are a few things however, you should be aware of when you are using the Windows 7 Firewall. While outlining a few important points, this article will introduce you to the basic features of the Windows 7 Firewall, and you will learn how to easily customize its behavior.

1. Choosing A Network Location Determines Firewall Settings

When you connect to a new network, Windows asks you whether this is a Home, Work, or Public Network. The selection has an impact not only on the network settings, but also on how your Windows 7 Firewall treats network traffic.

windows 7 firewall

Once you have assigned a network to a certain profile, i.e. home, work, or public, the firewall rules for that profile apply to this network connection. You can customize the settings for each profile, i.e. network type and thus create multiple active firewall profiles.

If you are unsure which profile you assigned your network to, you can go to the Windows Firewall Control Panel application through > Start > Control Panel > System and Security > Windows Firewall or simply search for > Windows Firewall in the > Start search box. Here you will find which network you are connected to and which settings apply to it. If your computer is connected to a domain, you may also see a profile called > Domain networks.

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windows 7 firewall review

You should know that in terms of firewall settings, there is no difference between a home or a work network. Both are considered private and are thus thrown into the same pot. If you are using a WiFi connection at work, however, you might consider designating it as a public network and thus assign it a more restrictive network profile.

2. You Can Allow Or Deny Programs To Communicate Through the Windows Firewall Based on the Network Group

As mentioned above, a firewall controls network traffic and can deny programs to communicate through your connection. By default, the Windows 7 Firewall blocks inbound connections and allows outbound connections. However, you can customize this behavior.

The simple way to do this is to go to > Start and type > allow program in the search field. Click the first link that says > Allow a program through Windows Firewall. This will open the list of > Allowed Programs, which really is a list of allowed and denied programs, though.

It’s a list of both because you can set a checkmark to allow or deny programs to communicate through the Windows Firewall or you can click the > Allow another program… button to add a program not yet on the list. To make changes, you may first have to click the > Change settings button.

windows 7 firewall review

As you can see in the screenshot above, you can choose a different behavior based on the type of network you are connected to. Dropbox, for example, has added itself to the list and is set to communicate only when connected to a private or home network, while traffic via a public network is disabled. That’s why it’s important to choose a network type as outlined in point one.

3. Allowing Programs to Add Custom Rules to the Firewall

As seen with the Dropbox example above, some programs add themselves to the list of allowed or denied programs. Typically, this requires user input as it changes the default behavior of the Windows 7 Firewall, for example by allowing inbound traffic for the respective program. When you install a new program and are asked to confirm an exception, you should carefully review this request before you click > Allow access, as you are potentially opening the gates for malicious software.

windows 7 firewall review

You can also check the status of notifications in the Windows Firewall Control Panel application. Click > Change notifications settings in the left-hand sidebar, and be sure that your Windows Firewall is turned on. If you wish to be notified of changes, check > Notify me when Windows Firewall blocks a new program.

windows 7 firewall

If you ever find that you have issues with inbound traffic because a program didn’t add itself to the list of allowed programs, don’t make the mistake of opening an entire port. It is much safer to just add this program to the list of allowed programs manually, than to open a port.

Summary

The Windows 7 Firewall very much operates on a ‘set and forget’ basis. The type of communication is easily customized based on individual programs and network profile. For the average user, however, adding custom rules manually via the advanced settings view can be a daunting task. This is where I recommend to look into Windows 7 Firewall Control, a program we have previously reviewed Manage The Windows Firewall Better With Windows 7 Firewall Control Manage The Windows Firewall Better With Windows 7 Firewall Control Read More on MakeUseOf.

Do you use the default Windows Firewall or do you prefer a third party application? Did you ever consider setting up a router firewall or an intermediate computer that acts as a firewall for your private network? Are firewalls overrated?

Image credits: beboy

  1. Tina
    August 13, 2011 at 4:26 am

    You make an excellent point, Mike.

    The thing is, security without a bit of effort and common sense doesn't work. This is why the user will always be the biggest security risk.

  2. John Smith
    August 13, 2011 at 12:49 am

    That is HP's printer software

    • Tina
      August 13, 2011 at 4:16 am

      Thanks John!

  3. Heyoka1
    August 12, 2011 at 7:54 pm

    I am a long-time user of ESET Smart Security (I now use its version 5) antivirus+firewall-in-one, because it is unobtrusive yet very reliable software. I also have a satisfying experience with COMODO Internet Security (antivirus+firewall), which is for free. 

    • Tina
      August 13, 2011 at 4:28 am

      Thanks for the tip!

      • Heyoka1
        August 13, 2011 at 9:28 pm

        ESET Smart Security is a shareware, not a freeware. If I were to use firewall for free, I would definitely opt for COMODO Internet Security.

  4. Ari
    August 12, 2011 at 6:14 pm

    Comodo firewall is free and powerful tool.

  5. Cell Travis
    August 12, 2011 at 2:37 pm

    I like PC Tools Firewall for its ease-of-use and combination of function vs flexibility. However, firewalls are just one part of the equation. I prefer to have the security arsenal stocked with antivirus, real-time anti-malware, anti-keylogger, keystroke scrambler, browser protector and a sandbox for untested programs (like in Avast or Sandboxie).

    • Aibek
      August 12, 2011 at 9:39 pm

      I would also add a VPN client to the set to protect your browsing.

      • Cell Travis
        August 13, 2011 at 6:28 am

        I use OpenDNS and have configured my internet connection to use that DNS. Do I need a VPN client?

    • Tina
      August 13, 2011 at 4:28 am

      Agreed! A safe system requires multiple layers of protection. And don't forget strong passwords!

  6. Sonny Bass
    August 12, 2011 at 10:32 am

    ZoneAlarm Free

    • Tina
      August 13, 2011 at 4:28 am

      Definitely a good choice.

      • Sonny Bass
        August 14, 2011 at 12:17 pm

        Lately I have been trying to figure out what to do with an old Dell GX270 I had Frankensteined back together. After reading your article and thinking about it, I have decided to set it up as a firewall / router using Untangle. http://www.untangle.com/ 

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