Top Personal Firewalls: Network Firewall Software

One of the easiest, least expensive ways to guard a home network from attack is to set up a personal firewall. The top firewall software products listed below afford good network protection and help maintain personal privacy. Even those who have home routers probably need the additional protection that a personal firewall offers. While these products all target the Windows environment, Symantec also sells the Norton Personal Firewall for Macintosh.

Some personal firewalls formerly available as stand-alone downloads, such as the CA Personal Firewall based on the old free TINY Personal Firewall, are now bundled together with other security software and no longer on this list.

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Sygate® Personal Firewall PRO

Computer Protected by a Wall of Fire
Getty Images/Trina Dalziel

Before being discontinued by Symantec as a product, Sygate Personal Firewall software offered solid network protection, activity logging, and automatic email notifications. Free for personal use, it supported advanced configuration options without being overly difficult to use. The PRO edition (no longer available) included guaranteed VPN support, an unlimited number of security rules, ability to import/export settings to multiple computers, and one year of free upgrades.

Zone Labs provides a free ZoneAlarm download, too. The Pro edition adds email attachment protection similar to that offered by antivirus software, password protection, and ICS/NAT support. ZoneAlarm runs in Stealth Mode, making your PC literally "invisible" on the Internet. Though missing some of the more advanced personal firewall controls, its user interface includes handy features like the "Stop" button.

Some claim that Norton's graphic interface isn't as easy to use as some other products in this category. Symantec doesn't offer a free trial version of this personal firewall software product either. Still, it continues to improve, and a new Home Network Assistant feature simplifies administering security across the home LAN. The Norton Personal Firewall software is solid and from a reputable company.

McAfee's software is sold on a one-year subscription basis rather than on one-time purchase, a feature that may appeal to some, but no free trial exists. McAfee also possesses a comparatively small footprint and a central "Control Panel" style of user interface. Product updates occur "live" over the Internet. McAfee does not support Windows ICS networks or the IIS Web server.

BlackICE was the first mainstream personal firewall software product and remains an all-around top choice. Its high-quality user interface, logging capability, and support for auto-blocking of traffic from specific network addresses are great features for beginners and more advanced networkers alike. BlackICE PC Protection is an end of life product no longer receiving support from its vendor (IBM).

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