Windows 7 Firewall: How It Compares Against Other Firewalls

shutterstock firewall logo   Windows 7 Firewall: How It Compares Against Other FirewallsWindows 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 Internet connection, you’ll want a third-party firewall instead.

The Windows 7 firewall has many of the powerful options you’ll find in other firewalls, but its advanced settings interface is much more complicated to use than other firewalls. The Windows firewall’s advanced interface is designed for system administrators, while other firewalls are designed for users.

What Firewalls Do

There are multiple types of firewalls, as we’ve discussed in the past. The Windows 7 firewall, like other third-party firewall programs, is a software firewall that controls how applications on your system access the Internet. Firewalls can block both incoming and outgoing traffic.

Inbound Traffic

Windows 7’s default firewall is designed to run with little user input. Aside from specifying whether a network is a home, work or public network when you connect – a feature common in third-party firewalls – it only prompts you when a program is acting as a server. If a program wants to receive incoming connections from the Internet, the Windows firewall will block incoming connections and ask you whether you want to allow them.

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You can control the firewall from the Windows Firewall control panel, located under System and Security in the Control Panel. To control the programs that are allowed to access the Internet, click the “Allow a program or feature through Windows Firewall” link at the left side of the window.

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Click the “Change Settings” button and use the check boxes to control which programs can receive connections on private or public networks. You can also use the “Allow another program” button to allow a specific program, although Windows should prompt you if one tries to access the Internet.

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Outbound Traffic

The Windows 7 firewall allows all programs to establish outgoing connections to the Internet with no user confirmation. Third-party firewalls, such as Comodo, can also prompt you when a program wants to access the Internet. Some firewalls even have databases of known safe applications, which they can automatically allow. By default, Comodo and some other firewalls only ask you if an unknown application wants to access the Internet.

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You can actually control outbound traffic in the Windows 7 firewall, although you can’t have it prompt you when a program wants to access the Internet. First, click the “Advanced Settings” link at the left side of the firewall control panel window.

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In the Advanced Settings window, select “Outbound Rules” and click the “New Rule” link.

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Use the wizard to specify a specific program’s .exe file and select the “Block this connection” option.

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This is much more difficult and involved than the way you’d block a program in a third-party firewall. You could block a program from the prompt that appears when it tries to access the Internet, or by clicking the Block Application option in your firewall.

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Advanced Settings

Go beyond the basic settings by clicking the “Advanced Settings” link and you’ll find a surprisingly powerful interface for configuring the Windows 7 firewall.

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You can create rules that can filter traffic based on ports, IP addresses and associated programs.

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While system administrators will no doubt appreciate the options here, this is an unnecessarily confusing interface for most users. If you want to dig deep into your firewall’s options, you’ll find that third-party firewalls offer an easier-to-use interface.

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Viewing Network Activity

Third-party firewalls also have features that show you what applications are accessing the Internet and how much traffic they’re using. The Windows 7 firewall doesn’t provide this information.

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The Verdict

If you’re looking for a firewall that keeps your computer safe from inbound traffic and lets you control which applications function as servers with little fuss, the Windows 7 firewall is an easy-to-use option that’s already on your computer.

If you want to control which applications can access the Internet and use other advanced options, you’ll be better off with a third-party firewall. Third-party firewalls present advanced options in easy-to-understand interfaces.

Do you use a third-party firewall, or is the Windows 7 firewall good enough? If you use a third-party firewall, which one do you use? Leave a comment and let us know.

Image Credit: Firewall Graphic via Shutterstock

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63 Comments -

Mb155uk

My bank provides  Kaspersky Internet Security FREE every year, which includes a very effective & efficient firewall.

Chris Hoffman

Kaspersky makes a decent antivirus, so I’d expect their firewall is decent too. I wouldn’t pay for Kaspersky, myself, but it’s great that you can get it for free!

Schvenn

Is there a home left in North America that DOESN’T use a router?

Chris Hoffman

Hopefully not! But firewalls can protect you on the local network (particularly public ones) and control outgoing traffic.

Digig40

Windows 7 firewall and router is all I need never any problems.

Chris Hoffman

Me too! I try to keep things simple.

-.-

Is there a router in North America that DOESN’T block Trojans?

Chris Hoffman

But what if you’re using your laptop on a public Wi-Fi network?

Eddie Bridgett Jr

Comodo Internet Security Premium

Chris Hoffman

I’ve heard lots of great things about Comodo. Did you try other firewalls before Comodo?

Dhruv Sangvikar

Win7 firewall is strong. No need for 3rd party firewalls. it increases the confusion and is irritating as it asks every single time whether or not to let access. 

Chris Hoffman

I agree. I don’t think outbound control is necessary for most users. If you don’t trust a program to phone home, you probably shouldn’t be running it in the first place. (just my opinion)

Mike Green

What if it is phoning home secretly? I recently discovered that a Broderbund (trusted?) program was calling in every 10 minutes, 24/7.

Chris Hoffman

Hm. Good point — there’s no way to see if a program is phoning home without the notification.

Lots of programs check for updates and such, but every 10 minutes seems really excessive.

Avastyu

I use Comodo Firewall, I think Comodo Firewall is more easy to use and safe but sometimes it slow down my netbook….

Chris Hoffman

Comodo seems nice, but the Windows 7 firewall will probably be more lightweight. It may be worth ditching if it’s causing you problems.

Chris Christodoulou

Windows firewall is more than enough, provided that you use your brain while surfing.

Chris Hoffman

Definitely. You shouldn’t need to control outbound access in most cases if you trust what’s on your computer.

Muhammad Ahmad

I really like windows 7 because it provides best security and performance. It has windows defender by default and you can also use Microsoft security essentials for free and additionally the best firewall. It provides maximum security. 

Chris Hoffman

Yup, I use the Windows firewall and MSE too. Simple and free.

mavourneen

I also use windows 7 firewall (but mine apparently isn’t fully stealthed on some ports, so I have to change that) and MSE :) I also run malwarebytes pro and never worry about a thing.

I tried Comodo firewall, but it ended up slowing my computer which is a quad core w/ 6bm of ram. I’m not sure how it ended up using so much resources (unless it’s not optimized for dual or quad), but as soon as I uninstalled and restarted the computer, it was back to speed. Won’t be using Comodo anymore.

Chris Hoffman

Yeah, I tend to feel like Windows firewall is the lightest option — but I’m surprised Comodo was so slow for you. Probably a bug.

Peter

Unfortunately I had lots of trouble with Comodo. On my WinXP system it caused BSoD (system crash) intermittently. On a friend’s computer it broke video drivers and blocked reinstall, I had to take Comodo off to get his monitor working again in better than vga mode. Frustrating. I’d still like to have a firewall again that does notify me of outgoing connects that aren’t rule defined. But so far I haven’t found one. The Avast! firewall broke my connectivity on Win7 so that was a non-starter as well.

LinuxGuru4ensics

Win7 firewall behind router using OpenDNS for additional security and DNS services.  Comcast IP also has e-mail scanning.

Chris Hoffman

Ah, OpenDNS, that’s another good tool. Thanks for sharing!

sergieyes

Windows XP SP2 firewall.  However, the entire contact with the Internet is virtualized.  I use Toolwiz Time Freeze.  No malware enters, and if something enters, rebooting removes it.  No malware can remain on the Operating System.

Chris Hoffman

Very interesting. Reminds me of Deep Freeze.

Probably a bit overkill for most people, though.

iJ0nas

False. I use Bullguard Firewall and does protect perfectly.

Chris Hoffman

Sorry, what’s false? Third-party firewalls will certainly get the job done, too.

Mike

Ironically, Bullguard is a third party firewall.

Framton

I use Comodo Internet Security Premium – certainly works for me!

Chris Hoffman

Comodo seems like one of the best third-party firewalls, from what I’ve heard. Did you try other ones before choosing Comodo?

James

I am using the Comodo Firewall .It is really good.

Chris Hoffman

I’ve heard so many good things about Comodo. What’s the reason you chose it over other firewalls?

James

 Firewall with Optimum Proactive Defense” does, plus protecting against
“leaks”, information about things such as open ports on your PC being
sent out over the Internet. The higher the level of protection, the
greater the intrusiveness of the firewall, so you’ll have to balance
protection against annoyance when making your choice.

Chris Hoffman

Yup, it’ll have to be intrusive to give you such fine-grained control, if that’s what you want!

Mike

I also use Comodo Firewall. I chose it over other firewalls, just because it seems to be really awesome at being a firewall. Passed all tests thrown at it. One feature that I also enjoy(probably on other firewalls) is the ability to block all traffic with a click.

James

Firewall with Optimum Proactive Defense” does, plus protecting against “leaks”, information about things such as open ports on your PC being sent out over the Internet. The higher the level of protection, the greater the intrusiveness of the firewall, so you’ll have to balance protection against annoyance when making your choice.

mike

Anyone heard of FREE FIREWALL, Really one of the best and free

Chris Hoffman

Nope, never heard of it. What makes it good? And does it have another name? I just see other free firewalls when I plug “free firewall” into Google.

Mike

Comodo has yet to fail me. MSE has failed many times for me on Xp machines. I only use the best freeware.

Chris Hoffman

Interesting. MSE has yet to fail me — I’d definitely look at switching if I had an experience like yours.

Shehan Nirmal

Windows 7 is the best…!!!

Josh Navarro

i use comodo firewall and defense + with kingsoft AV 2012

Chris Hoffman

Why’d you choose those two? Did you try others first?

tarzan2001

Hi Chris! This is a very nicely written article! I’ve been using computers since I was a kid, and consider myself to be an advanced user, though not quite an “IT Pro.” ;) For many years I used ZoneAlarm Firewall, back when it was the best of the best. It stayed that way for a long time, up until about 6-7 years ago when it became a bit too “bloated” and started slowing down my machine a lot. I had the privilege of using BidDefender Internet Security one year and I must say that it was the best internet suite I’ve ever used! It was fast, efficient, reliable, and had extra features such as Game Mode (which was a relatively new concept at that time). Unfortunately my subscription expired, and I’m just a poor student, so I haven’t been able to buy it again. That’s when I discovered Comodo Firewall. Man, that is the best free 3rd-party firewall out there! It has served me well for many years now.

The reason I’m commenting on your article is because I actually just reformatted my laptop a couple of days ago. It had been almost 1.5 years since my last reformat (I know, that’s soooo long especially considering that I usually reformat every 3-6 months depending on how much I’ve been tinkering around with my system; however, I was just too busy with my studies). Anyway, I’m trying to go the minimalistic (and open source) route this time to keep my machine speedy and nimble. I’ve only installed Avast Free Antivirus 7 and am–for the first time ever–relying solely on Windows Firewall. Hopefully it’ll serve me decently, though I certainly don’t expect the level of performance of Comodo Firewall. The thing is that Comodo Firewall really does slow the boot time for Windows a lot! I’ll let you know if I encounter any major issues with Windows Firewall, though I must admit (and everyone should know this already) that a HUGE part of online security is user behavior!! I’m not planning on visiting any shady sites, so hopefully things should be alright. :)

Chris Hoffman

I remember using ZoneAlarm back in the day, too — it’s been years since I used a dedicated firewall, though. The Windows Firewall is great as long as you don’t want to block certain programs from connecting to the internet.

Trev

Whats wrong with zonealarm? I use the pro version from 2009 still, works like a champ on xp and windows 7. Doesn’t bog system down, no leaks. I don’t get why everyone acts like you need to update software or its no longer of use. The later versions did get bloated thus why I haven’t updated. Just my 2cents but windows firewall is a pain to configure rules on blocking outgoing apps, it lets everything out by default and every single app you want blocked you have to put on a blacklist…I mean now that’s some old school thinking there, back in windows 3.1 era. The point I am trying to make is nothing that is “Old” is out of use by engineers of software they use code from 1980 on windows 7 for crispy creams sake.
Oldapps has free versions of older software, some has yet to be beat for simplicity and system resource footprint.

If anyone is foolish enough to think the latest software is the best, enjoy being beta testers….. I will stick with the tried and true software that has years…and yes decades of user stability.

tarzan2001

Modern machines most probably can run even “bloated” software at a decent speed, however, I was speaking from the experience I had replacing ZoneAlarm with Comodo on my Core 2 Duo desktop that I built back in 2007. I noticed a huge decrease in Windows startup time after making the change. I’m sure ZoneAlarm is still a great program from a security standpoint, but at that time I was more interested in having a faster startup, and Comodo did the trick, while also providing great security for free.

With reference to configuring Windows Firewall for outgoing apps–I’m more than happy to take your word for it!! I imagine it’s no fun tinkering around with that stuff, but thankfully it’s not too much of an issue for me at the moment. I don’t really have anything installed on my system that I don’t mind communicating with the internet. As I mentioned in my comment, I’ve installed almost 100% free/open source programs on my system this time (apart from Windows that came with my laptop and some Steam games I’ve purchased). It makes me very happy to know that we are finally in an age where high-quality programs are available to all for free. Some might not be as robust as their premium counterparts, but for my purposes, they are more than adequate. However, back in the day before there were so many open source programs, being a monetarily-challenged student, I had to *cough, cough* “temporarily borrow” certain premium applications, most of which used cracks to operate. In those days, one certainly DID NOT want those programs communicating online both for security reasons, and also just to make sure an update didn’t “fix” them! ;) Thankfully, those days are gone. I can’t wait till I’m done with my education and working…I certainly plan on buying those premium apps I used to “borrow.” After all, programmers have families to feed too! :)

Trev

I use zonealarm on a 1998 pc, pentium 3 with 512mbs ram laptop…runs fine.
That being said I agree opensource is the only way to go for free software, it avoids trojans/virus’s/spyware….and most are bloat free.
I used up till…hmm still use a 2 “Cracked” software as I can’t justify paying the overpriced fees yearly. And no open source alternatives. Yes I bought the apps, and yes its a year license but if it wasn’t for having no $ I would still pay for them.

The lightest system I currently own is a core duo with 1gbs ram running ubuntu, loads faster than heck on a 5400rpm hd. The main reason its not my main pc is I don’t know enough about linux yet to trust it as a main pc.

Hey I am all about trying new things, I just don’t like all the negativity and backwards thinking when it relates to pc’s and software. Most people aren’t aware those expensive laptops/towers they buy in box stores and online are using components from 2003-2012 depending on production date. I saw the “GREATEST” laptops for sell at best buy that were made in 2007 …wtf.

Anyways I love your response, was good hearing another open source convert!
I will try Commodo on the old laptop and see if it speeds it up some.
I use to be on the bandwagon of the latest, enthusiast pc builder was replacing parts monthly …spent 24,083 on pc parts in a year at my worst. I woke up, due to a “Intervention” from a concerned friend….or I would probably still be on that rat wheel. Made me re look at everything I thought I knew and why I was doing what I did. I sold it all to pay of debts and now , am missing the speed but will make due with the 8 year old desktop till I can build a better one…and then I will be using 4 year old tech most likely due to the $ per performance price.
Thanks again for the response, I figured this post was dead due to the date.

Chris Hoffman

Depends! Some applications (not sure about ZoneAlarm, but particularly with system applications like firewall and antivirus) won’t work properly on new versions of Windows without updates. I’d be a bit concerned about using an older firewall or antivirus on the latest versions of Windows.

Trev

I don’t blame you at all on not wanting to use applications that weren’t released with new OS. This version was released to be stable on Vista, I was using xp. When I got windows 7 works flawlessly, and I used it on windows 8..aka wtf were they thinking windows. They should of named it windows mobile or something and not put it even as a option on desktop pcs… its horrible. Just my thoughts, on windows 8.
Worst windows to date was Mellinium, if not for that I would say 8 is.
I have kept all versions of windows that I have purchased starting with 3.1. I got vista on laptop installed 7 on it so no clue if everything I read about vista is true or not. So vista could be as bad as ME, or close I will never know now. I put windows 8 on a Asus tablet …it works but not as well as Donut…so put that back to default.
We shall see how that play out on the tablet market and smart phone if they develop a foot print into that market share.
Thanks for giving me something to think about anyway. Been a long time since I saw posts that weren’t “FAN BOY” hate filled garbage so been a pleasure finding this site by some random google search.

tarzan2001

Using an older program on an older OS might run fine, but I, too, would be a little concerned about potential security holes that could be exploited. I think it would be a good idea to update to the latest version that has any security issues fixed.

I’m also not very intrigued by Windows 8. Though on paper it seems like it might have some neat new features, I think I’ll wait until touchscreens become widely (and cheaply) available on laptops, etc., before I upgrade. One thing that really bugs me is how apps created for a Windows 8 tablet will not be functional on Windows 8 desktop!! Personally I think that’s a huge design blunder on MicroSoft’s part, but I understand that they will be operating on different architecture, thus the dilemma. *sigh* Wouldn’t it be nice if things were a bit more uniform and smooth?

Chris Hoffman

Hey tarzan2001, apps created for a Windows tablet should actually work on a Windows desktop — that’s the whole point of Metro. Of course, the apps will only work in the Metro environment.

I’m not a huge fan of Windows 8 either, but I had to correct that!

tarzan2001

Oh snap! You’re right about the cross-compatibility of apps on Windows 8. I just verified what you said on an official MS blog. I also found that my previous misconception was based on a false statement made by an Intel executive during the early days of the Windows 8 announcement, mixed with confusion about ARM and x86/64 processors. Thanks for the correct info! :)

Chris Hoffman

No problem!

It’s possible developers may have to recompile their apps, not sure — but it’s supposed to be easy.

Pablo

let me let you all in on a little secret… The main reason for the system slow downs when installing comodo is becuase you need to disable windows firewall first and then install comodo firewall. Also i recommend you go to custom install and do not install geek buddy it is annoying..
The resson for the slowdown is because you are running windows firewall and comodo at the same time and they are colliding with each other.. JUST MY TWO SCENTS been using comodo for years with no problem and not a noticeable difference in performance..

Chris Hoffman

Good point. Third-party firewalls should offer to disable the built-in firewall and make sure it’s disabled, though.

Dan

I agree, the Windows Firewall is adequate, especially in conjunction with a router. As for others, such as; MSE, Defender, etc, not so much. I haven’t seen a virus since the 90’s. Each too his own.

Chris Hoffman

Defender is half-baked (spyware only, doesn’t scan for viruses), but MSE is pretty solid stuff, in my experience.

MSE has actually been renamed “Windows Defender” and is included by default in Windows 8.

Dhaval Pandya

I use windows firewall control(WFC) that makes windows firewall act as a third party firewall. I do not know how and will be glad if I can know how it works.
WFC can be found at the link below:
http://www.binisoft.org/wfc.php

Chris Hoffman

Programs like WFC basically hook into the firewall options included with Windows. The Windows Firewall has a lot of options and functionality, including an event log programs can monitor to see when a program tries to connect to the Internet — but it’s hidden and hard to use. These programs give it an easy-to-use interface.

Pablo

REMEMBER to disable windows firewall before installing any third party firewalls to prevent systems slow downs from windows firewall colliding with the third party.