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When it comes to computer security, we place a lot of emphasis on antivirus solutions The 10 Best Free Anti-Virus Programs The 10 Best Free Anti-Virus Programs You must know by now: you need antivirus protection. Macs, Windows and Linux PCs all need it. You really have no excuse. So grab one of these ten and start protecting your computer! Read More and malware removal The Complete Malware Removal Guide The Complete Malware Removal Guide This malware removal guide outlines not only how to remove malware from your computer but also how to clean up the mess that viruses and malware leave behind. Read More , but there’s one more piece of the pie that we can’t ignore: firewalls.

While you don’t need to know how firewalls work How Does A Firewall Work? [MakeUseOf Explains] How Does A Firewall Work? [MakeUseOf Explains] There are three pieces of software that, in my opinion, make the backbone of a decent security setup on your home PC. These are the anti-virus, the firewall, and the password manager. Of these, the... Read More in order to use them, that knowledge can help you to better understand how to keep yourself secure. Long story short, firewalls are like gatekeepers that control which programs are allowed to receive and send out over the network.

Let’s take a look at the best free firewalls that are available on Windows, comparing them for ease of setup, ease of use, and availability of features.

Windows Firewall

Like Windows Defender Windows Defender: 7 Things You Must Know About Microsoft's Antivirus Solution Windows Defender: 7 Things You Must Know About Microsoft's Antivirus Solution Is Microsoft's built-in security good enough? Microsoft continuously improves its security tools. We'll show you the upsides and downsides of Windows Defender in Windows 8, Read More , Windows Firewall is a built-in security component that Microsoft so generously included in all Windows versions starting with XP. You’ve probably seen the firewall popup from time to time, asking if you want to allow a particular program to run on public and/or private networks.

But is Windows Firewall good enough to suffice as a primary firewall? For most users, the answer is Yes.

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The great thing about Windows Firewall is that you rarely have to interact with it. When a program launches and wants to receive incoming data from the network, the firewall detects it, blocks it, and prompts you to allow access if you want. Windows Firewall remembers this and won’t ask you again for that program.

There’s no need to manually set up firewall settings, which makes it extremely convenient to operate. However, if you ever want to revoke or edit permissions for a program, you can open up Windows Firewall through the Control Panel and fiddle with it there. Again, completely optional.

The downside is that Windows Firewall is a one-way firewall — it only detects programs that want to accept network data. Programs that want to send out network data are free to do so, and the only way to block them is to manually set up outbound rules as shown in our Windows Firewall overview Windows 7 Firewall: How It Compares Against Other Firewalls Windows 7 Firewall: How It Compares Against Other Firewalls Windows 7 contains an unobtrusive, easy-to-use firewall that protects your computer from inbound traffic. If you're looking for more advanced options, such as the ability to control outbound traffic or view the applications using your... Read More .

TinyWall

Like Windows Firewall, TinyWall is a lightweight solution with a single purpose, but the similarities end there. It’s compatible with versions of Windows ranging from Vista to 10, which covers pretty much every Windows computer as Windows XP users continue to dwindle Windows XP: What's Happening To It Now? Windows XP: What's Happening To It Now? Windows XP may be dead, but it's not yet gone. Over 27% of computers connected to the Internet still run Windows XP. Here's exactly what "end of support" means for Windows XP systems. Read More .

Even though you have to install TinyWall like any other program, it’s more of a background process that sits quietly in your system tray. Right click on the icon and you’ll have access to all of TinyWall’s features, include its main feature: the whitelist.

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By default, TinyWall blocks all but the most basic of network communications. If there’s a program that you want to exempt, you’ll need to manually add it to the whitelist. Whitelist additions can be done on a per-executable, per-process, or per-window basis. Fortunately, there’s a detection tool that looks for well-known applications and auto-exempts them in the whitelist.

Overall, TinyWall requires a bit more work and setup on the front end, but once it’s ready to go, you can forget all about it. It’s non-intrusive, doesn’t use many system resources, but keeps you protected all the same.

Comodo Firewall

In terms of sheer strength, there are few firewalls that can match the tenacity and reliability of Comodo Firewall. Comodo is well-known for their security products — up to and including their secure web browser, IceDragon Comodo IceDragon Combines Comodo Internet Security With Firefox Browsing Comodo IceDragon Combines Comodo Internet Security With Firefox Browsing Over the years, I've tried a few modified builds of the Firefox client. Pale Moon is one of my favorites. It's an alternative that really slims down on resources and pulls some weight off the... Read More — and the firewall is one of their better offerings.

Once installed, Comodo will generate several popups as it detects various applications running on your computer. You’ll need to allow each one, which adds that application to Comodo’s list of trusted programs. Fortunately, there’s a cloud-based option that auto-allows applications from trusted sources.

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If you’re a gamer, there’s a useful feature called Game Mode that temporarily disables blocking so that you aren’t inundated with alerts or networking issues while immersed in play.

This firewall comes with a few advanced features — like zero-day malware detection What Is a Zero Day Vulnerability? [MakeUseOf Explains] What Is a Zero Day Vulnerability? [MakeUseOf Explains] Read More and a virtual sandbox environment Testing A New Operating System? Stay Secure With A Virtual Machine Testing A New Operating System? Stay Secure With A Virtual Machine Read More — so it’s not quite as lightweight as some of the aforementioned alternatives. This may not be a dealbreaker, but it’s worth keeping in mind.

ZoneAlarm Free Firewall

Like Online Armor and Comodo, ZoneAlarm Free Firewall has a central dashboard that makes it easy to manage your firewall settings. One click is all it takes to turn on or shut off the entire firewall, in case you ever need to.

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ZoneAlarm comes with a scanning option that looks over your system and automatically sets itself up according to the programs it finds. You get the usual popups when a program requests permission, and you can fiddle with rules from right inside the dashboard.

The problem with ZoneAlarm is that there isn’t much to differentiate it from Windows Firewall. For most people, the few extra bells and whistles won’t be enough to justify the hassle of installing a third-party solution when the default firewall one already does most of the same.

Which One Is For You?

I’m quite happy with Windows Firewall. When combined with smart security habits Change Your Bad Habits & Your Data Will Be More Secure Change Your Bad Habits & Your Data Will Be More Secure Read More , it’s protective enough for most of the circumstances a home user might encounter. Automated permission popups plus the ability to manually edit rules is certainly sufficient.

For more control while staying lightweight, you can’t beat TinyWall. If you want as many security features in your firewall as possible, go with Comodo. Otherwise, stick with what Windows already provides.

So, which one do you like the best? Are you sticking with Windows Firewall or switching to a third-party alternative? Did I miss any good free firewalls? Share your thoughts with us in the comments!

Image Credits: shield protection via Shutterstock

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