Explained: Do I need a Third Party Firewall?
Continuing on with last week's article, David L. writes:
" Thanks for your help in identifying the culprit that was causing random Blue Screens of Death (BAD_POOL_CALLER) on both mine and my wife's system. Question: I have been using ZoneAlarm for many years and it has been good to me. If I decide to stick with the Windows Firewall per your recommendation - what happens if hackers find an exploit in the Windows Firewall that allows them into my system? Yes, ZoneAlarm has caused my Blue Screens of Death (BSOD) and it costs money upfront (versus the Windows Firewall which is free) - but why do you suggest using the Windows Firewall over ZoneAlarm? "
Aside from causing your systems to crash (for reasons explained here), I see no point in using or paying for a third party firewall because the Windows Firewall works just fine.
Before I explain why I feel that way, let's take a trip down memory lane to see how the market for third party firewalls developed in the first place.
How and Why Third Party Firewall, Antivirus Exist
When Windows XP was introduced way back in 2001, it was plagued with many security problems: there was no antivirus, no firewall, and no mechanism to deny programs administrative access and taking over (and infecting) the entire system. In other words, every program downloaded from the Internet ran with full administrative rights - which meant that the entire system was at risk.
This was a huge problem, and many software developers responded by introducing their own security packages, including firewalls. Because security was so lax with Windows XP, many of these firewall applications included extra security "addons" that weren't at all related to firewalling. At this time, ZoneAlarm was by far the best firewall program on the market.
Windows Security Dramatically Improves
In 2004, Microsoft released Windows XP Service Pack 2, which finally included the Windows Firewall. This helped block malicious programs from getting into the system and also from communicating with the outside world. In 2006, Windows Vista brought UAC (User Account Control), which permitted the user to allow or deny program installations, which helped block malicious programs from installing with administrative rights. In 2009, Microsoft introduced Security Essentials which included free antivirus.
Flash forward to 2012 with Windows 8 (and Windows 10 released in 2015), Microsoft now includes a free firewall, antivirus, UAC - plus many, many other security improvements by default.
So as you can see: if you are running a modern operating system such as Windows 7, 8 or 10, you likely have plenty of protection as it is. As such, there really isn't any need to pay for "extra protection" - which simply adds processing overhead and slows your computer down to a crawl.
The Purpose of a Firewall: in General
As for the firewall in general, let's discuss that:
The purpose of a firewall is to block or allow communication ports on the LAN (local area network) or WAN (wide area network - known as the Internet). That is it - nothing else, nothing more. By default, the majority of communication ports on the firewall are turned off, unless a particular Windows service requires it to be open, or you change it. Even so, to change a Windows Firewall setting, you require administrative authorization.
With that aside, most programs that infect your system would likely use port 80 or 443 to communicate to the outside world - that's because those ports are always open by default for web browsers, as those ports are reserved for HTTP and HTTPS respectively. Without those ports being open, you would not be able to browse the Internet. So: thinking that you are going to have "extra" protection by locking down "more" (or the same) ports - when they are normally blocked anyway - using a third party firewall program just doesn't make any sense to me. Why pay when you don't need to? Windows Firewall works just fine.
As for your other question: I have not seen or heard of any Windows Firewall exploits to date in the last 13 years - perhaps because it is a very basic service and does not require much updating. The fact is: most security issues are related to the Windows GUI (graphical user interface). Even so, if there was a Windows Firewall exploit, the same could be said about ZoneAlarm suffering from the same fate.
I hope that helps.
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