"The perfect personal firewall would be inexpensive and easy to install and use, would offer clearly explained configuration options, would hide all ports to make your PC invisible to scans, would protect your system from all attacks, would track all potential and actual threats, would immediately alert you to serious attacks, and would ensure nothing unauthorized entered or left your PC." This great definition is quoted from Make Your PC Hacker Proof, Jeff Sengstack, PC World, July 21, 2000.
Important Tips -- Before installing personal firewall software on a Windows XP computer, be sure that the firewall built into Windows XP is turned off. Never use two software firewalls at the same time. Completely uninstall one before installing another. Use the vendor's uninstall utility or if not available, use the Windows XP add/remove software tool in the control panel. After you install a firewall, be sure to check it with a service like the Security Space Desktop Audit to make sure that it is configured correctly. Testing your firewall is the only sure way to tell that your computer is really being protected.
Comparative reviews of personal firewall software:
Top Picks Personal Firewalls
Norton Personal Firewall, Symantec, $50 list, annual renewal required, includes privacy features and cookie manager; Internet Security, $70 list, annual renewal required, adds anti-virus and parental control (formerly in the family edition). Both are based on the former AtGuard firewall program acquired in 1999 by Symantec; now refined and enhanced. Features -- Effective, works on inbound and outbound traffic, provides pre-written rules for novices, allow experts to write custom rules, suite provides other useful security features; 2002 version was ICSA certified.
ZoneAlarm Free/Plus/Pro, See survey/chart at Zone Lab to pick one is free for personal use; the Plus version is $40 list and the Pro version is $50 list. Features -- Effective, easy to install and configure, blocks inbound and outbound traffic, MailSafe scans email. Note -- Zone Labs was purchased by Checkpoint in December 2003.
More Personal Firewall Products To Consider
BlackICE PC Protection, Internet Security Systems (they purchased NetworkICE in 2001), list price is $40 first year, annual renewal required. Features -- Effective for incoming traffic, easy to install and use, good intrusion detection and clear reports, back traces to identify hackers, and now blocks outbound traffic.
eTrust EZ Firewall, Computer Associates, $30, 30 day trial
Kerio Personal Firewall, Kerio Technologies, free for home use, $39 for business.
Look'n'Stop Soft4Ever, $28, free trial available, lite version is free, French, Italian, German & English versions.
McAfee Firewall (vendor's site) $30 list; and Internet Security suite with personal firewall, surf & chat room for kids, anti-virus, private information safeguard and ad blocking, $70 list. The firewall is based on the former Signal 9 ConSeal Private Desktop which was acquired by McAfee in 1999. Features -- Works on inbound and outbound traffic. Cons -- Requires configuration; other products offer more bang for the buck.
Outpost, Agnitum, freeware; Pro version $40 for single user, family license for up to five computers $76, business licenses also available. They also offer a discount if purchased with their Tauscan anti-Trojan product.
Panda Platinum Internet Security, $70 with one year of updates, free trial available, has antivirus, firewall, blocks spam, privacy protection, web content filtering, anti-spyware, PC security diagnosis and repair, and automatic updates. See our Suites page for reviews.
Preventon Personal Firewall (vendor's site), UK, $37 USD
Sygate Personal Firewall (vendor's site), regular version is free for personal use and $20 for business use; the Pro version is $40. Sygate also offers networking software; see our network page for more information. Note: PCWorld Best Buy (July 2002) and PC Magazine Editor's Choice (2-26-02).
TermiNet, Infotecs, multilingual -- English, Swedish, Danish, French, German, Norwegian, Spanish, Dutch, Finnish, Russian, Italian & Portuguese, demo available.
Tiny Personal Firewall (vendor's site). Note: Version 5 is not freeware.
Trustix Personal Firewall with spyware killer and pop-up blocker, $40, free trial available.
Personal Firewall Products Not Reviewed
Product descriptions on software download sites do not qualify as reviews. Nor do end user write ups on sites like Epinions because they seldom include firewall testing.
Armor2net, Armor2net Software Ltd, 30 day free trial, $20.
Bullguard Suite -- Antivirus, firewall and storage; $40 per year with 100 MB storage, 20 day free trial available.
CheckIT Firewall, Smith Micro Software, $50 list.
8Signs (vendor site) Note: Replaces the ConSeal PC Firewall that was acquired by McAfee in 1999.
Firekeys, Software Appliance Company, 10 day free trial, $29.
Firewall X-treme, StompSoft, $40, trial available, from the makers of BackUpMyPC.
HackerSmacker -- $20, $50 for 5 users, free trial available.
InJoy -- Denmark company, $30 for the personal version, 30 day free trial available.
Kaspersky Anti-Hacker $39.
Norman Personal Firewall, Norman, $30.
Omniguad -- there is a freeware version, the pro version is $39.
pcInternet Patrol, Internet Security Alliance, $100 per year.
Primedius -- the lite version is free, the pro version is $30.
SecurePoint Personal Firewall, freeware
Surf Secret Personal Firewall, SurfSecret, 30 day free trial, $40.
TGB::BOB! TheGreenBow, France, French & English versions, $43.
VisNetic Firewall (formerly Ambra), Deerfield, $50 for one work station.
Webroot My Firewall Plus, free trial available, $40.
x-Wall Series, Sphinx Software, just the firewall is free, additional features require payment.
Fading Away or Gone Completely
ConSeal PC Firewall, replaced by 8Signs, conversion tool available.
eSafe Desktop 3.0, Aladdin Knowledge Systems, no longer available or supported.
HackTracer, Sharp Technology, (NeoWatch by Neoworx was a related product)
PC Viper, Source Velocity, $20:
NeoWatch, NeoWorx was purchased by McAfee in Fall 2001, related to HackTracer.
Steganos Online Shield, $25, free trial available
Sphinx, BioData, went out of business.
Personal Firewall Products Not Recommended By Reviewers
Internet Firewall 2000, Digital Robotics, $40.
Mindsoft Firewall (vendor's site), Spanish.
VirusMD Personal Firewall, (vendor's site) $20, 30 day trial available.