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Firewalls can do a good job protecting you from internet threats, but having too many of the wrong kind can cause conflicts.

I have both Earthlink and Microsoft firewalls loaded - do I need both? Could they be interfering with each other? If it is best to use only one which would you recommend? Also, I'm using AVG 8.0 free and does this have a firewall?

No, I don't believe AVG 8.0 free has a firewall.

As to how many you need, it's best summed up with a line from a movie:

"There can be only one."

Why, and which one, deserves a little explanation.

Software firewalls have to work at a very low level in order to protect your system. By "low level" I mean that when something comes across your network connection you want the firewall to be one of the very first pieces of software examining the data.

While conceptually it's possible to have more than one piece of software doing that job, the reality is most software firewalls are simply not designed to play well with others. When enabled, they assume that they are the only firewall. The net result is that they can interfere with each other.

"... most software firewalls are simply not designed to play well with others."

To be honest, I wish that they would check, and at least warn if they find another firewall is in operation.

As an aside: note that I've been careful to refer to them as "software firewalls". It's certainly possible, safe and in some cases even desirable to have a hardware firewall, such as a router, in addition to a single software firewall.

So in your case, which one do you want?

I'm not at all familiar with Earthlink's firewall. However, I'm going to assume it's one of the popular commercial ones like ZoneAlarm or Comodo that came bundled with your system.

The Windows built-in firewall is a good solution for many situations. As I've mentioned before I'm behind a router as my firewall at home, but do enable the Windows firewall when I travel. It's easy, no extra installation or management is required, and it's always there.

That being said, most of the other software firewalls "do more"; particularly when it comes to outbound threat detection. Like a hardware firewall, the Windows firewall is focused mostly (though not exclusively) on protecting you from external threats. Other software firewalls will also monitor outgoing network traffic to see if there is something suspicious going on within your machine. They'll frequently block external access attempts that aren't known to be safe, for example.

None of that answers the question: which one do you want?

I'm going to say it's personal preference.

If you want the comfort of a little more protection, then perhaps enabling the Earthlink firewall is the way to go. Personally, I'm not a big fan of outbound protection, because by definition it's too late - if outbound protection catches something real, then it's because you're infected with malware or have some other problem. My preference is to focus on inbound protection and other good behavior to prevent ever needing outbound protection.

The Windows firewall is certainly good enough for most usage.

And finally, if you're already behind a router, you may not need either. That's how I run here at home. A hardware based firewall gives me all the inbound protection I'm looking for.

The bottom line: you'll probably be fine with either, but not both.

Article C3415 - June 13, 2008 « »

Leo Leo A. Notenboom has been playing with computers since he was required to take a programming class in 1976. An 18 year career as a programmer at Microsoft soon followed. After "retiring" in 2001, Leo started Ask Leo! in 2003 as a place for answers to common computer and technical questions. More about Leo.

Not what you needed?

ms alam
June 22, 2008 1:28 AM


May 4, 2009 11:44 AM

I have had 2 firewalls for 3 yrs. Windows XP &
McAfee Special edition from AOL, which a relative downloaded as the previous McAfee had expired last yr. After reading your article, I decided to turn off McAfee last Fri. Today, noticed that it was on again. How can that be if I turned it off? Also, had to turn off the hard drive 3 times as it hung each time I powered on the moden & then the hard drive. Finally It came on the 4th time. Which of the 2 firewalls will be better to leave on?

June 1, 2010 6:44 PM

I have Norton Smart Firewall as well as Microsoft Firewall. is it safe to run both?

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