I’ve become increasingly paranoid about my home network security and am wondering what a firewall is and whether I should enable the one on my router?
It’s always good when people are aware that their Internet connection is a two-way street. This means that queries and requests can come from outside your network to specific devices, including your computer. In a lot of ways, that’s the way the ‘net works overall. Visit a Web site and it’s a back and forth dialog between your Web browser, operating system, modem, and a far distant server returning text, photos, animations, even streaming video.
Certainly, an Internet connection would be terribly boring if you could only send, but couldn’t receive!
Once queries can come into your network, however, that means your devices have to differentiate between valid and legit data and malicious requests. You don’t want someone remotely accessing your Ring doorbell or baby cam, not to mention your computer’s hard drive or smartphone text message history!
Before you panic, however, all of the devices I’ve mentioned have built-in safeguards and protocols in place to ensure invalid requests are summarily rejected. That’s why you need to use specific apps on your devices to access those cameras, and why they use encrypted communication (at least, they should!) to ensure that the data’s private.
The Great Wall of China did a good job of making it much more difficult for invaders to enter the country in force. A firewall ( as shown above) similarly allows you to block bad queries before they even get to the device. I like to think of it as analogous to the person with the clipboard at the trendy nightclub, blocking access to anyone that’s not on the VIP list.
Firewalls can exist in various places on your network too, including on your computer itself. Both Windows and MacOS support software firewalls: Just go into system settings and turn ‘em on for level 1 protection.
Better is to also turn on the firewall in your router, the device that physically connects you to the Internet. That might be a cable modem, a fiber optic modem, or similar, but those are the best place for the firewall because they block bad queries for every device on your network, not just your computer.
If you’re unsure, your Internet provider should have a tutorial page on how to enable your firewall. Or you can try one of the most modern solutions: A small box you plug into your network and it acts as a smart and sophisticated firewall with no intervention. Check out Firewalla (I’ve had one running for quite a while: it’s the tiny box shown in the photo above), Fingbox, Meraki, and Trend Micro.
Software, router, or hardware, it’s definitely a good idea to protect your network from malware and malicious systems on the greater Internet. I’d encourage you to enable the firewall on your router.
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