What is a firewall?

A firewall is either a piece of hardware or software that prevents hackers and other online criminals from breaking into your computer through your Internet connection. Every computer and piece of hardware connected to the Internet (like a network printer) has a unique address called an IP (Internet Protocol) address that enables it to access the Internet. All IP addresses are easily accessible on the web and are written in a format like this: (, for example). Hackers can find your computer’s IP address by “pinging” your computer. Pinging is like calling a telephone number to see if someone has that number. When the hacker pings your computer, your computer responds by telling the hacker that they are there. The hacker then proceeds to try and break into your computer using programming codes and a number of other techniques. A firewall (either hardware or software) will prevent the hacker from getting a response. Whenever a hacker pings an IP address with a firewall connected to it, he/she will get no response. The firewall prevents hackers from receiving a response to pings. Basically, it’s like calling a phone number and getting a “this number has been disconnected message.”

Who needs a firewall?

Anyone with an “always-on” connection like DSL or Cable needs a firewall. If you have a dial-up connection like Compuserve, AOL Dialup or BellSouth Dialup, a firewall is overkill. “Always-on” connections give users semi-permanent IP addresses that will last for 6-8 weeks at a time. Dial-up connections give users a new IP address every time they log on; hackers wouldn’t be able to break into your computer before you logoff again.

Where can I get a firewall?

If you have an Ethernet router, wireless router, phoneline router, or powerline router, you already have a firewall! It’s built into the router. If you have a hub (very different from a router), you do NOT have a firewall. Don’t assume just because you have a network of multiple computers that can access the Internet at the same time that you have a firewall – ask whoever set up your network whether you have a firewall or not. If you only have one computer, chances are you don’t have a router and, therefore, no firewall. If that’s the case, Computer Mechanix can set you up with a hardware or software-based firewall. Just contact us via email ( or give us a phone call at 828-281-4379.

Are software firewalls better or worse than hardware firewalls?

A firewall is a firewall. Regardless of what people may tell you, software firewalls are no less effective than hardware firewalls. The big difference is that a software firewall will use some of your computer’s resources (memory and processing speed) while a hardware firewall (which will be external from your computer) uses no resources from your system.

By Eric Jacobson


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