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SECURITY

Windows 7 : Blocking Hackers with Windows Firewall (part 3) - Advanced Firewall Configuration

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4. Advanced Firewall Configuration

It's for more advanced users and network and security administrators who might need to configure Windows Firewall to comply with an organization's security policy. All these options require administrative privileges. I don't go into great detail on what the various options mean because I assume you are working to comply with an existing policy.

If you're not a professional administrator, it's best to stay out of this area altogether. You certainly don't want to guess and hack your way through things just to see what happens. Doing so could lead to a real can of worms that makes it impossible or extremely difficult to access the Internet.


4.1. Open the Windows Firewall with Advanced Security Icon

To get to the advanced configuration options for Windows Firewall, first open Windows Firewall from the System and Security item in the Control Panel. Then click the Advanced Settings link in the left pane. Or press , type fire, and click Windows Firewall with Advanced Security. The Firewall console, shown in Figure 8, opens.

Figure 8. Windows Firewall with Advanced Security console.

As you can see in the figure, you have three independently configurable profiles to work with. The Domain Profile is active when the computer is logged in to a domain. The Private Profile applies to computers within a local, private network. The Public Profile protects your computer from the public Internet.

4.2. Changing Firewall Profile Properties

Clicking the Windows Firewall Properties link near the bottom of the console (or the Properties item in the Actions pane) takes you to the dialog box shown in Figure 9. Notice that you can use tabs at the top of the dialog box to configure the Domain, Private, and Public settings. The fourth option applies to IPsec (IP Security), commonly used with VPNs (Virtual Private Networks), described a little later in this section. By default, Inbound connections are set to Block and Outbound ports are set to Allow. You can change either setting by clicking the appropriate button.

Figure 9. Windows Firewall advanced properties.

4.2.1. Firewall alerts, unicast responses, local administrator control

Each profile tab has a Customize button in its Settings section. Clicking that button provides an option to turn off firewall notifications for that profile. Administrators can also use options on that tab to allow or prevent unicast responses to multicast and broadcast traffic. There's also an option to merge local administrator rules with rules defined through group policy.

4.2.2. Security logging

Each profile tab also offers a Logging section with a Customize button. Click the Customize button to set a name and location for the log file, a maximum size, and to choose whether you want to log dropped packets, successful connections, or both. You can use that log file to review firewall activity and to troubleshoot connection problems caused by the firewall configuration.

7.4.2.3. Customizing IPsec settings

Why Outbound Connections Are Set to Allow

Contrary to some common marketing hype and urban myths, having outbound connections set to Allow by default does not make your computer more susceptible to security threats. Firewalls are really about controlling traffic between trusted and untrusted networks. The Internet is always considered untrusted because it's open to the public and anything goes. It's necessary to block inbound connections by default so that you can control exactly what does, and doesn't, come in from the Internet.

Things that are already inside your computer (or local network) are generally considered "trusted." That's because, unlike the Internet, you do have control over what's inside your own PC or network. Your firewall and antimalware programs also help to keep bad stuff out. Therefore, you shouldn't need to block outbound connections by default.

There are exceptions, of course. In a secure setting in which highly sensitive data is confined to secure workstations in a subnet, it certainly makes sense to block outgoing connections by default. That way, you can limit outbound connections to specific hosts, programs, security groups, and so forth. You can also enforce encryption on outbound connections.


The IPsec Settings tab in the firewall properties provides a way to configure IPsec (IP Security). Clicking the Customize button under IPsec Defaults reveals the options shown in Figure 10. The Default settings in each case cause settings to be inherited from a higher-level GPO (Group Policy Object). To override the GPO, choose whichever options you want to apply to the current Windows Firewall instance. When you override the default, you can choose key exchange and data integrity algorithms. You can also fine-tune Kerberos V5 authentication through those settings.

Figure 10. IPsec Settings dialog box.

Clicking OK or Cancel in the Customize IPsec Settings dialog box takes you back to the IPsec Settings tab. There you can use the IPsec Exemptions section to exempt ICMP from IPsec, which may help with connection problems caused by ICMP rules.

NOTE

IPsec is a set of cryptographic protocols for securing communications across untrusted networks. It is commonly associated with tunneling and virtual private networks (VPNs).

That covers the main firewall properties. You can configure plenty more outside the Properties dialog box. Again, most of these go far beyond anything the average home user needs to be concerned with, so I'm being brief here. Advanced users needing more information can find plenty of information in the Help section for the firewall.

4.3. Inbound and Outbound Rules

In the left column of the main Windows Firewall with Advanced Security window shown back in Figure 7, you see Inbound Rules and Outbound Rules links. These provide very granular control over Windows Firewall rules for incoming and outgoing connections. Figure 11 shows a small portion of the possibilities there. Use scroll bars to see them all.

Figure 11. Advanced outbound exceptions control.

5. Wrap-Up

A firewall is an important component of a larger overall security strategy. Windows 7 comes with a built-in firewall that's turned on and working from the moment you first start your computer. The firewall is automatically configured to prevent unsolicited Internet traffic from getting into your computer, thereby protecting you from worms and other hack attempts. The 7 firewall also provides advanced options for professional network and security administrators who need more granular control over its behavior. In summary:

  • A firewall protects your computer from unsolicited network traffic, which is a major cause of worms and other hack attempts.

  • A firewall will not protect your computer from viruses, pop-up ads, or junk e-mail.

  • You don't need to configure the firewall to use standard Internet services such as the Web and e-mail. Those will work through the firewall automatically.

  • When you start an Internet program that needs access to the Internet through a closed port, you'll be given a security alert with options to Unblock, or Keep Blocking, the port. You must choose Unblock to use that program.

  • Windows Firewall is one of the programs in the Security Center. To open Security Center, click the Start button and choose Control Panel => Security => Security Center.

  • From the Start menu, you can search on the keyword fire to get to Windows Firewall configuration options.

  • Exceptions in Windows Firewall are programs that are allowed to work through the firewall.

  • Professional network and security administrators can configure Windows Firewall through the Windows Firewall with Advanced Security console in Administrative Tools.

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