Windows 7 : Working with the Windows Firewall (part 1) - Windows Firewall Features and Improvements

3/14/2011 6:33:25 PM
With Windows 7, Microsoft offers you the ability to manage Windows Firewall in several different ways. You can manage the basic functionality of the firewall using the Windows Firewall in Control Panel, and the advanced functionality of the firewall using the Windows Firewall with Advanced Security console. This section looks at the basic Windows Firewall. You’ll learn more about the advanced firewall in the next section.

1. Windows Firewall Features and Improvements

When Windows Firewall was first introduced, it enabled built-in exceptions for file sharing and similar protocols that allowed some ports to be open on the computer, but it disallowed most other ports on the computer. In subsequent revisions, Microsoft added the ability to manage the firewall using Group Policy, enabling administrators to manage the feature throughout an enterprise. Later, Microsoft implemented the same changes into Windows Server 2003, which brought the same improvements to the server operating system. Unfortunately, in order to correct some of the problems associated with Windows Firewall, you often had to disable the product completely to make things work efficiently on your computer—and that definitely was not good for computer security.

The current version of Windows Firewall includes IPv6 support, outbound packet filtering, and a host of other features (see Table 1). Together, these features offer great improvements over the Windows Firewall that was first introduced with Windows XP. These features also help alleviate the need to turn off Windows Firewall, as you had to do with early offerings of the product.

Table 1. Windows Firewall features
IPv6 connection filteringAllows filtering of connections using the IPv6 protocol
Outbound packet filteringAllows control of outbound ports
Advanced packet filteringAllows filtering rules specified by source and destination IP addressing, or complete port ranges
IPSec integrationManages connections through the use of IP Security (IPSec) and a certificate
Encryption requirementManages connections through the ability to require encryption
Separate firewall policies for domains, private, and public network enrollmentManages rule enforcement based on the network enrollment of the computer
Management Console (MMC)MMC snap-in, called Windows Firewall with Advanced Security

IPv6 connection filtering enables you to use the IPv6 protocol in a secure fashion. This ability did not exist under Windows XP. Because of this feature, your IPv6 connections will be as secure as your IPv4 connections.

Firewall rules for inbound packet filtering make up the majority of configuration efforts on firewalls. These rules determine how network traffic flows through the computer. You manage the flow of inbound and outbound traffic through these rules. The firewall inspects the packets as the computer receives them, and then determines based on the configured rules—how the computer will handle a particular packet. If Windows Firewall determines that the packet should be accepted, it passes the packet along internally to the computer. If the packet does not meet the requirements of the rule set, it discards the packet.

Outbound packet filtering enables you to manage outbound connections from your computer. This option did not exist as part of the Windows Firewall in early versions. Outbound packet filtering lets you keep spyware or malware from uploading personal data that’s been collected. To use this type of functionality in Windows XP, you had to purchase a third-party application. Microsoft now offers this ability as part of the operating system. When the computer encounters a packet requesting outbound access, Windows Firewall inspects the packet to determine its purpose, verifies the packet against the firewall rules, and then either allows the packet to be delivered or discards it completely.

Advanced packet filtering allows you to create rules associated with multiple IP addresses. This feature gives you greater flexibility in managing connections using a source or destination IP address. You even can manage a range of IP addresses for connectivity to the computer. With Windows XP, you could filter with only a single IP address, never a range of IP addresses. This is a marked improvement over early versions of the product.

IPSec integration allows you to manage connections using encryption. With IPSec integration, you can require that a connection have the proper certificate in order to connect to the computer. This allows for incredibly strong security and much greater flexibility when transferring data among computers.


IPSec requires the use of certificates to transfer data. These certificates use public and private keys to determine whether the connecting entity has authorization to transfer data. This option makes transferring data much more secure among computers than before, especially among computers connected across the Internet.

Separating policies by network enrollment enables you to manage how your computer reacts to requests in different network environments. You can associate a very hardened security policy when you are using an insecure network, a fairly open security policy when connected to your corporate network, and a moderately secure policy when connected to your home network. The beauty of this feature is that you do not have to configure the settings over and over; Windows 7 allows you to create a profile for each type of environment and forget it. You specify the type of environment when you create the network connection.

Windows Firewall with Advanced Security offers the greatest flexibility in managing the advanced security options This allows you to manage the different types of connections and rules through a single interface. And administrators can easily manage the Windows Firewall connections and associate the settings with Group Policy.

Overall, Microsoft brings a very capable firewall into Windows 7. It offers excellent security features, and truly supplements a network perimeter firewall. Although you may have more difficulty configuring some of the advanced features of Windows Firewall, you will find considerably fewer intrusions and false positives on your computer when the firewall is configured correctly.

  •  Windows 7 : Using Windows Defender (part 3) - Using Windows Defender Tools & Troubleshooting Windows Defender
  •  Windows 7 : Using Windows Defender (part 2) - Scanning Your Computer for Spyware and Malware
  •  Windows 7 : Using Windows Defender (part 1) - Configuring Windows Defender
  •  Windows 7 : Protecting Your Computer with Windows Defender and Windows Firewall - Introducing Action Center
  •  Windows 7 : Navigating the Computer Security Maze
  •  Windows 7 : Troubleshooting Common Problems on Small Networks
  •  Windows 7 : Advanced Networking Concepts
  •  Windows 7 : Networking with TCP/IP (part 2) - Understanding IPv6 & Configuring IPv4, IPv6, and Other Protocols
  •  Windows 7 : Networking with TCP/IP (part 1) - Understanding IPv4 & Using Private IPv4 Addresses and Networking Protocols
  •  Windows 7 : Mapping Your Networking Infrastructure (part 2) - Viewing the Network Map & Viewing and Managing Your Network Connections
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