Why on earth do you need a third-party firewall? Surely Windows – which has shipped with its own built-in firewall since the days of XP – is perfectly covered already? Sadly not – the firewall that ships with Windows XP, Vista and 7 is only set to monitor inbound connections only, which means while it can protect you against traffic originating from the internet, it does nothing to block suspicious or malicious programs already installed on your PC.
When Vista was released, a lot was made of the fact the Windows Firewall was now capable of monitoring outbound as well as in-bound connections. While strictly true, the outbound protection is switched off by default and is so complicated to configure there’s little point in trying to persevere with it.
Which leads us neatly back to the pressing need for a third-party firewall as part of your security. As with anti-virus and anti-spyware tools, there are plenty of freebies out there, and while they’re an improvement on what Windows has to offer, they’re not always the simplest to configure, throwing up confusing prompts whenever a program or process tries to make a network connection for the first time.
Thankfully PC Tools Firewall Plus is a little more sensible than other freebies – known applications and programs with valid digital signatures are automatically allowed an appropriate level of access, helping to keep the number of unwanted popups to a minimum.
Version 7 introduces various improvements and new features: first, the old separation of normal and expert users has been abolished. Basically, the program is configured for normal users, but experts wanting more control can easily find all the tools they need on the Settings menu.
Other new features include enhanced self-protection against malicious software that tries to disable the firewall, more informative popups helping you determine what program or process is trying to gain network or internet access, an updated profiles interface for managing your access to multiple networks and extended network display to provide more information about the network you’re currently connected to.