The House With Sixty-Five Thousand Doors



ZoneAlarm, Freeware Security For Today's Internet

by Edward Langenback

 09/02/02

Is your computer secure?

How much information could a casual hacker find out about your surfing habits and what's on your hard drive? Did you know that there are over SIXTY FIVE THOUSAND doorways into your computer? These " doorways " are known as " ports ", and they are digital pathways that information going into and out of your computer must take. Each port is represented by a number that ranges from 0 to 65535.

For a demonstration of how vulnerable you are when connected to the internet, visit http://www.grc.com and click on the link to " shields up ". There you can take a " shields up " and a " port scanner " test. The results will shock most users.

When I took the " shields up " test, the software at grc.com was able to identify my machine's name, my name and showed all of the shared resources on the computer . . . including the names of the folders on the root directory of C: drive! The " port scanner " test showed that several ports were open and unprotected, vulnerable to attack by anyone who knows how. Had this been a hacker intending to spread hostile software or read private files, they would have had no problem at all in doing so.

Fortunately there is a solution. A " Firewall " program is software that stands guard over your computer's interaction with the internet. It can grant or deny internet access to programs running on your computer and block intrusion attempts from other systems. It allows YOU to decide which programs are allowed to open those doorways to the internet and keeps them closed to everything else.

I went to http://zonelabs.com/store/content/company/products/znalm/freeDownload.jsp and downloaded a freeware version of a firewall called 'ZoneAlarm'. The install program is a quick, easy one that only requires accepting default values and clicking a few times. Part of the install process automatically grants permission for your default browser to access the Internet. Easy to use. Install, reboot, startup. As ZoneAlarm came up for the first time it launched a brief tutorial that explained the basics of program operation.

After setting it to high security, I connected to the Internet and noticed that every time a program tried to access the net, ZoneAlarm alerted, with a popup window that told what program was trying to do what and allowed me to grant or deny access. It also saves these settings so that program alerts are something that I rarely see now. I went back to www.grc.com and took the " shields up " and " port scanner " tests again. This time the scanners were not even able to detect my computer, and got NO response from any of the ports it tried to use! As far as it was concerned, there wasn't a computer at my I.P. address!

In conclusion, anyone who spends time online should have a firewall program like this running at all times. It only takes a few minutes to install and is more than worth the time.