Finding and Using the Windows 7 Firewall

A ghostly hand is seen within a complex network of computer circuitry representing a firewall
John Lund / Getty Images

The best thing Microsoft ever did for security was turn on the firewall by default way back in the days of Windows XP, Service Pack (SP) 2. A firewall is a program that restricts access to (and from) your computer. It makes your computer much safer, and should never be turned off for any computer connected to the Internet. Before XP SP2, the Windows firewall was turned off by default, meaning users had to know it was there, and turn it on themselves, or be left unprotected. Needless to say, many people failed to turn on their firewall and had their computers compromised. 

As of January 2020, Microsoft is no longer supporting Windows 7. We recommend upgrading to Windows 10 to continue receiving security updates and technical support.

Discover how to find and access firewall directions for Windows 7. If you're seeking information on firewalls in Windows 10, we have that, too. 

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Find the Windows 7 Firewall

screenshot of Win 7 control panel, system and Security page
The Windows 7 Firewall is, appropriately, found in "System and Security" (click on any image for a larger version).

The firewall in Windows 7 isn't much different, technically than the one in XP. And it's just as important to use. As with all later versions, it's on by default and should be left that way. But there may be times it has to be temporarily disabled, or for some other reason gets turned off. That means learning how to use it is important, and that's where this tutorial comes in.

To find the firewall, left-click on, in sequence, Start/Control Panel/System and Security. That will bring you to the window shown here. Left-click on "Windows Firewall," outlined here in red.

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The Main Firewall Display

Windows firewall settings screenshot
The main firewall screen. This is how you want it to look.

The main screen for Windows Firewall should look like this, with the green shield and white checkmark for both "Home" and "Public" networks. We're concerned here with Home networks; if you're on a public network, chances are very good that the firewall is controlled by someone else, and you won't have to worry about it.

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Danger! Firewall Off

Windows firewall off screenshot
This is what you don't want to see. It means your firewall is disabled.

If instead, those shields are red with a white "X" in them, that's bad. It means your firewall is off, and you should turn it on immediately. There are two ways to do this, both outlined in red. Clicking "Use recommended settings" to the right turns on all your firewall settings automatically. The other, to the left, says "Turn Windows Firewall on or off". This allows you to have greater control over the firewall's behavior.

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Block New Programs

Windows firewall settings screenshot
Block programs of which you're unsure.

Clicking "Turn Windows Firewall on or off" in the previous screen brings you here. If you click on "Turn on Windows Firewall" in the circles (you may also hear them called "radio buttons"), you may notice that the box "Notify me when Windows Firewall blocks a new program" is automatically checked.

It's a good idea to leave this checked, as a security measure. For example, you may have a virus, spyware or other malicious program try to load itself on your computer. This way, you can keep the program from loading. It's a good idea to block any program you have not just loaded from a disc or downloaded from the Internet. In other words, if you didn't initiate the installation of the program in question yourself, block it, because it's likely to be dangerous.

The "Block all incoming connections..." checkbox will essentially shut your computer down from all networks, including the Internet, any home networks or any work networks you're on. I'd only check this is your computer support person asks you to for some reason.

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Restore Default Settings

Windows firewall settings screenshot
To turn back the clock, restore your default settings here.

The final item in the main Windows Firewall menu you need to know is the "Restore defaults" link on the left. It brings up the screen here, which turns the firewall back on with the default settings. If you've made changes to your firewall over time and don't like the way it's working, this puts everything right again.

The Windows Firewall is a powerful security tool and one you should use at all times. If connected to the Internet, your computer could be compromised in minutes, or even less, if the firewall is disabled or otherwise turned off. If you get a warning that it's off, take immediate action -- and I do mean immediate -- to get it working again.

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