Protect your PC with Windows Firewall

Windows 10 Security Guide > Protect your PC with Windows Firewall

Computers can connect to wired and wireless networks to communicate with other computers and devices. This can be to exchange files, access resources on another computer like a music library, and so on.

Windows 10 Security guide

The other computer being connected to may be local, in other words close by and on the same network, or it can be remote and accessible over the internet.

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Network connections are everywhere

Everyone is familiar with web browsers and websites. A website is actually just some clever software running on another computer and it could be physically located anywhere in the world.

Your computer connects to the computer running the website initially over your local network to a router, and then over the internet.

Once connected, the two computers exchange information, which results in web pages or files downloading to your PC, music or video streaming, and so on.

You may have a wireless printer and the computer connects to it over your home or work network, so that you can print documents and photographs.

With the right setup, it is possible to access your computer from your mobile phone or tablet, perhaps to play music or movies, upload photos, or to view files.

Is your network connection secure?

Computers connect to other computers and devices easily enough over wired and wireless networks, but what if the other computer is being run by a hacker or there is malicious software on it?

Your computer could then be coerced into revealing files and personal information about yourself, it might give the other computer and operator financial information like bank details or credit card information, usernames and passwords used to log into websites, and so on.

Protect your PC with a firewall

A firewall is designed to control the connections that a computer makes with other computers and devices over the network and internet.

It can monitor incoming connection requests from other computers and devices on the local network or internet, and outgoing connections that software on the computer makes with remote computers and devices on the network or internet.

Firewalls use rules to determine what type of communications are allowed and what are not.

They have a rule that allows a web browser to access a website, but another rule might block an unknown computer or person on the internet from connecting with your computer.

These rules and their settings can be quite complicated and firewalls are sometimes difficult to set up correctly. Fortunately, they are usually, but not always, built with some degree of intelligence and a set of ready-made rules that work for most people.

Experts can dig down into the configuration settings and tweak a firewall to improve the security of the computer or to get around problems that might arise.

A typical problem with a firewall is that it blocks too much and a program you want to use on the computer does not work because it cannot access the local network or the internet. The solution is to instruct the firewall to let it have access.

How easy this is depends on the firewall and they are all different. Once you have seen one though, you know what to look for in another when trying to configure it.

 


Check the state of Windows Firewall

Microsoft has provided a firewall with Windows for many years and Windows 10 is no exception. It is probably turned on and working to protect your computer, but it would be unwise to assume this.

You should check the status of Windows Firewall to make sure that your computer is protected against hackers, malicious computers and malware.

1 Open the Control Panel

Right click the Start button and select Control Panel.
Open the Control Panel from the Start button

2 Find Windows Firewall

Click View by on the right and set it to small icons if it is not already set. Find and click the Windows Firewall icon.
Open Windows Firewall from the Control Panel
Another way to open Windows Firewall is to click in the search box in the taskbar and type in 'Windows Firewall'. Among the search results is Windows Firewall (Control panel). Click it.

3 Check the status

If you see green bars and green shields with ticks, it means everything is OK. When Windows Firewall is turned on your computer is protected against hackers and malware that might try to gain access to your computer.
Check the status of Windows Firewall
Windows Firewall has two modes - Private networks and Guest or public networks. You will be connected to one, not both and selection works automatically.

Private networks: Settings used at home or work. The firewall rules are relaxed a bit to enable you to connect to other computers, printers, and devices, share files, music and videos. The network is probably encrypted and requires a password to connect, so it is a safer environment.

Guest or public networks: Used elsewhere, such as coffee shops, airports, hotels and so on when you are out with a laptop. The rules are tighter to prevent unknown computers and devices from connecting and to prevent your computer from sharing files or information.

Turn Windows Firewall on/off

4 Turn on Windows Firewall

If Windows Firewall is turned off or is incorrectly set then there are vertical red bars and red shields with crosses. There is a button near the top on the right that says Use recommended settings. Clicking that is a quick way to turn on the firewall's protection.

Alternatively, click the link on the left (in the previous screenshot), Turn Windows Firewall on or off. Then select the option to Turn on Windows Firewall for both private and public networks.
Turn on Windows Firewall and protect your PC

Is Windows Firewall turned off?

If Windows Firewall is turned off, don’t panic there may be a good reason. For example, alternative security software may contain its own firewall. Only one firewall should be active, so if there is a firewall elsewhere then Windows Firewall can be turned off.

Some security software, such as internet security suites, turn off Windows Firewall when they are installed and turn it back on when they are uninstalled, but you should still check.

Make sure the two Notify me when... boxes are ticked. This ensures that firewall problems are brought to your attention.

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Allow or block programs

A firewall blocks access to the computer and is designed to keep out hackers and malware. It can accidentally block programs you want to use, too. This section shows how to choose which programs are allowed or blocked.

A firewall is able prevent software on the computer from accessing other devices on the network, from connecting to the internet, or allowing anything outside of the computer from accessing it.

This is to prevent spyware revealing information about you or to prevent hackers from connecting to your computer.

When software is installed or when it is first run, you may see a message on the screen asking if it is OK to allow the program through the firewall.

This gives you the opportunity to block it if you suspect that it might be malware, or allow it if you know the program is OK.

Windows Firewall keeps a list of programs that have been allowed or blocked and you can view this list and modify it.

If a program is blocked that needs network or internet access and you know it is OK, you can lift the block and allow it. If a program is thought to be malware, you can revoke access and block it.

How to change program permissions

1 Open the Control Panel

Right click the Start button and select Control Panel.
Open the Control Panel from the Start button

2 Find Windows Firewall

Click View by on the right and set it to small icons if it is not already set. Find and click the Windows Firewall icon.
Open Windows Firewall from the Control Panel
Another way to open Windows Firewall is to click in the search box in the taskbar and type in 'Windows Firewall'. Among the search results is Windows Firewall (Control panel). Click it.

3 Check the status

At the main Windows Firewall view, click the link on the left, Allow an app or feature through Windows Firewall.
Check the status of Windows Firewall

Allow or block programs

This displays a list of programs and services (background programs). There are tick boxes under Private and Public that enable you to choose whether to allow (tick) or block (clear) the program on private or public networks.
Block or allow programs using Windows Firewall
The list of programs is long and some of the names might not mean anything, so focus on the obvious ones like Groove Music, Mail and Calendar, Microsoft Edge and others that are obvious.

If a program you want to use is not working, find it in the list and make sure that either Private, Public, or both are ticked.

You might want to block a program that shares files, music, videos and photos on your computer in public, but allow it in private at home, for example, and the tick boxes enable you to do this easily.

Advanced settings

On the Windows Firewall home screen is an Advanced settings link and this opens a new window that is designed for experts. Most people do not need to access it or to change any settings.

An expert with detailed knowledge of networking could use it to increase the security of the computer, but it is complicated and is best avoided by most users.

4 View advanced firewall settings

On the Windows Firewall home screen, click Advanced settings on the left.
Windows Firewall advanced settings

5 View program settings

Select Inbound rules on the left and then double click an item on the right, such as a program. Here is iTunes.
Windows Firewall advanced settings
The Properties window enables you to view and change the rules that allow or block a program. Most people do not need to dig this deep into Windows Firewall’s settings and third party firewall software is simpler and easier to use anyway.

 

Windows Firewall Action Points

  • If there is no other firewall, such as third party software, check that Windows Firewall is enabled
  • If a program does not work and you know it it safe, check the permissions in Windows Firewall and enable it

 


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