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Because of the sheer variety and sometimes difficult setup of programs like Firewall software and Network Monitoring software, we cannot give detailed instructions on how to setup Firewall programs. We can however, give hints and suggestions on how to setup such software to help minimize attacks against your computer from people on the Internet. 

Please be aware that since we are not giving detailed instructions on how to setup items such as a Firewall or other methods of security, we also will not be giving technical support for anything supplied here. The reason for this is  Firewalls and other software are simply too complicated to easily troubleshoot and configure. As a result we recommend if you are having problems accessing web pages or email - you should temporarily disable your Firewall and other security programs - then try whatever was not working before calling tech support as some of these programs have a tendency to interfere and interrupt common Internet-related functions. If you are still having the same exact problems without the Firewall or other security program running, then contact our technical support.

Before you purchase a Firewall program realize that unless you are on our Always-On DSL or are online for long periods of time (6-8 hours in a row or more) that simply the act of disconnecting and reconnecting to the Internet every so often (once or twice a day for a couple hours at a time) is a great way to keep people out of your system. 

Every time you connect you are assigned a certain "number" that appears as a 12 digit number separated with a period between every 3 numbers. This number is called an "IP Address" and is used very commonly on the Internet. When you connect to Pacific Online you will probably be assigned a number  that resembles something like 216.229.107.xxx where xxx is a number from 002 and 250. If someone from the Internet knows your IP address they could conceivably "hack" into your personal computer. The IP Address we assign you is not the cause of this problem - it is simply needed for users to connect to the Internet. A nice feature of standard 56k dialup (which is what most of the people reading this article will have) is that every time you connect to the Internet you use a different IP Address. As a result, if someone attempts to "hack" into your computer they will only have record of one or two of the IP Addresses that you have been using. This makes it much more difficult for them to "hack" into your computer. Because you need an IP Address to transfer any data to and from the Internet, you cannot simply "not have an IP Address"; that would be like not having a phone number but still being able to use the phone - the system just doesn't work like that.

If you are curious about how to find out what your current IP Address is at the time you connect and you are using a Windows-type operating system go to:

Start menu -> Run -> (type in) command -> (type at the prompt) ipconfig and on the IP Configuration screen look for PPP Adapter. There should be a number that starts with 216.229 (dialing from most Northern-California areas) or 64.24 or similar (dialing from non Northern-California areas). 

On the Macintosh most versions of the dialing software, Remote Access, show the current IP Address. Access Remote Access from the Control Panel when connected by going to your Apple Menu -> Control Panel -> Remote Access.

If you think people are trying to get into your computer or you would simply like to keep people out of your computer consider using a Firewall program. Please keep in mind that this is not a filter for keeping "sensitive" websites from appearing on your computer (like pornography or illegal information) but it will certainly help keep "hackers" out of your computer. Here is the complicated part. As mentioned above, there is a unique number assigned to your computer every time you connect to the Internet, but there are also "ports" certain data has to go through in order for it to leave your computer and come back through your computer. 

You may have noticed that in your email program, web browser or FTP program that certain settings require ports in order to send and/or receive data. Commonly-used ports are 80 (HTTP), 25 (SMTP), 21 (FTP), 143 (IMAP) and 110 (POP3). If you are unfamiliar with these protocols, HTTP is for web pages (stands for Hyper-Text Transfer Protocol), SMTP is for sending mail (stands for Simple Mail Transfer Protocol), FTP is for file transfers to FTP servers (stands for File Transfer Protocol), IMAP is for an incoming mail protocol that leaves downloaded mail on the server (stands for Internet Message Access Protocol), and POP3 is for incoming mail that moves your email from the server to the machine (stands for Post Office Protocol 3). However, without trying to confuse you even more then you probably are already, these are not the only ports your computer can access. Technically, 65,535 ports can be accessed by your computer either via incoming or outgoing connections, although you will use far less then this during your normal Internet activities.

Aside from the above description of ports a Firewall (at its most basic function) simply closes any ports that your computer is not using. Windows, while trying to be as user-friendly as possible, also has a tendency to be less secure then what most people would like, and this is an example of that. Technically, once someone knows your IP address, they can then use these open and unused ports to connect and send unwanted data to your computer. However, most firewalls also have the tendency to stop ports that you may be trying to use (such as SMTP if you are trying to send email out, or HTTP if you are trying to view web pages). This is where the difficulty of setting up a firewall begins. 

In general, simply allow the ports listed above to be open (80, 25, 21, 143, and 110) as well as any other ports you might need for programs that require their own ports. Most programs that need their own transmission port will say so in their instruction manual or in their help file. You will need to determine what particular port(s) those programs use in order to allow them through your firewall. As mentioned above, firewalls in their most basic form, close ports that Windows normally leaves open. There may be other functions that your Firewall gives, such as monitoring incoming data for various hacker-type attacks and preventing those, or monitoring outgoing traffic for virus-like activities that your virus scanner might not catch.

Another security option, although much more advanced, (especially if multiple computers use the same connection) is to setup what is sometimes called either a Gateway or Internet Connection Sharing computer. Basically on a network setup one computer would connect to the Internet while other computers connect through that one "main" computer to get their online data. This is a great way to keep people out of the computers on the network (as they are virtually impossible to reach from an outside source) but this requires a working knowledge of setting up a simple network, as well as having network cards and cable for each computer on the network. Someone who setup a system as such could then put the Firewall software on the Gateway computer and keep the networked computers secure as well as the Gateway itself.

There is, of course a downside to this setup. Aside from the obvious drawback of buying basic network equipment and having to know how to setup a network (which can be learned by reading the popular "Dummies" series Network for Dummies book) there is the chance that certain online programs and games will not work properly from the networked computers. A good example of such a program is the popular chat program ICQ - ICQ in and of itself works great through most connection sharing software but sending files through ICQ generally will not function properly. AIM (AOL Instant Messenger) seems to work quite well through a sharing setup; file transfer even works although we have not tested this properly enough to offer a final answer as to its compatibility with a sharing setup. Also, most online-type games seem to work quite well through a shared connection.
    

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Last Updated:
03/06/17 11:11 PM

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