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Symantec Norton Personal Firewall 2000 2.0

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by Oliver Kaven, PC Magazine

Symantec Norton Personal Firewall 2000 2.0
Only a few hours after you successfully configure your long-awaited DSL or cable-modem Internet connection, you realize there are a lot more people interested in your connection than just you. Although security is a concern when you have a dial-up connection, permanent connections to the Internet invite the curious and malicious to investigate your new online home any time of day. Hackers, viruses, and privacy infringements are the most common security concerns.

Symantec tries to address these threats with Norton Personal Firewall 2000 (US$49.95 list). Now available as a standalone product, Norton Personal Firewall is also a major part of Norton Internet Security, a suite of security tools.

The setup procedure is straightforward and requires two reboots of your machine. You are guided through a series of configuration screens and alerted to any network activity that takes place at the time of the initial setup. The status window in the main configuration screen gives a quick overview of any activity on your system, including network traffic. The number of blocked and permitted addresses shows, assuring you that the firewall is active.

Three security levels-low, medium, and high-are available. If you do not customize the firewall settings or choose to apply any of the advanced features such as port or source IP-based rules, the default security level of medium will be active after installation. The medium setting does not block Java or ActiveX applets, which are important for the average user. The maximum level of protection blocks Java and ActiveX applets, possibly preventing you from accessing certain sites. The minimum setting will open up your system more than you're likely to want and should be used only if you experience problems accessing certain services or wish to troubleshoot connectivity problems.

The privacy section informs you about blocked cookies, browser privacy blocks, and data restrictions you might have set to prevent personal information from being sent out. The same three levels that are configurable for security are configurable for privacy. The low setting allows the most freedom but protects you the least. The medium level strikes a balance between privacy restrictions and free browsing. The high setting gives you the most protection, but will inconvenience you and require you to handle certain activities manually, such as controlling cookies.

The Options tab in the main configuration window gives you access to the advanced features of the product. An event log, detailed statistics, and the option to manipulate firewall settings down to the port level give the savvy user the ability to totally customize the product's functionality. The event log informs you about all activity based on content, connections, privacy, and ports. The log records general system activity such as start-up of your firewall application and also provides a history of sites you've visited.

The statistics window delivers more detail about your network activity. TCP and UDP packets, transferred bytes, blocked referrers, cookies, and Web graphics are displayed in real-time mode, as well as currently applied firewall rules and all present network connections established through your TCP stack.

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The Advanced tab allows you to create your own rules. Inbound and outbound traffic-including fragmented traffic-can be controlled by port, service, or address. An option lets you set the Norton firewall to generate rules automatically, based on user input, as suspicious traffic is being detected.

A Live Advisor option gives you help for problems you cannot resolve yourself. Live Update updates your software automatically. Regular updating helps ensure that the firewall can identify the signature of new types of attacks that attempt to get through open ports. Opening TCP port 80, for example, allows you to browse the Web, but also lets hackers plant applications on your system that pass their information through the same port. If your firewall application does not recognize that this is not harmless browser activity, but caused by a system utility like Netbus, you might not be protected. In this scenario, an application-based firewall might provide some extra security.

Still, Symantec's Personal Firewall 2000 is an extremely capable solution that provides serious protection for your system and data. With a footprint much smaller than the complete Norton Internet Security Suite, Personal Firewall is a great way to start protecting your system.

Price as tested: US$49.95
Price is list
Type of utility: Security
Editors' rating: 4 out of 5
Company: Symantec Corp., Cupertino, CA www.symantec.com