Jul 04

Both XP and Vista protect you with an incoming firewall. And with Vista, you can configure the outbound settings to protect you as well. True, the average user will not be able to truly understand the advanced settings; so, although it’s a great feature, it’s not a user friendly one. Some experts would recommend looking elsewhere then for a firewall solution, and we have to be honest in saying that this might not be a bad idea.

One important thing to remember with Vista is this: Just because the firewall provides a similar level of protection as XP SP2 at the beginning (before configuring outbound security), this does not mean the threat level is the same. Vista has so many other security features such as UAC control, Windows Defender, IE7 Protected Mode, and so forth, that even without outbound filtering, you get a tremendous improvement to your security.

That being said, our primary focus here is whether a third-party solution is necessary for outbound filtering and the types of filtering that are available.

The best third-party solution recommended is ZoneAlarm Pro (www.zonelabs.com). This software is not only useful for its firewall, but also includeidentity theft protection, spy site blocking, privacy protection, and a new feature called Game mode (for when you are playing and do not want to be disturbed during the game). For years, ZoneAlarm has gotten good ratings from Personal Computer World and CNet.com, amongst many others. One of the key compliments, besides its feature set, is that the interface is easy to use (unlike the Vista interface for advanced settings). The main complaint is that ZoneAlarm usually has conflicts with other software on a system and workarounds are necessary to ensure everyone plays nice together.

Some other good possibilities for third-party firewalls include:

■ Outpost Firewall Pro from Agnitum (generally ranked number 2)
■ Kerio Personal Firewall from Sunbelt (considered the best budget solution)
■ Norton Personal Firewall
■ McAfee Personal Firewall Pro

In addition to these products, there are quite a few free firewalls you might consider.

ZoneAlarm offers a free firewall that reviewers like, but for the best free firewall (according to PC Magazine), you need to check out the Comodo Personal Firewall (www.comodogroup.com). Reviewers liked the interface, it passed a number of leak tests, and it resists being terminated (an important firewall feature).

You might also check out Jetico Personal Firewall (www.jetico.com), which outperformed even commercial products in leak tests—although some felt that it was too complicated, which is the same problem with the Vista Firewall.