Windows Defender & Firewall in Vista

Posted: August 21, 2009 in Security, Vista
Tags: ,

One of the best features in Windows Defender is hidden a bit in the application’s user

interface. The Software Explorer—found in Tools➪Software Explorer—lists the applications

that run at startup (you can also change the display to list currently running

applications, network-connected applications, and other features). Best of all, you can

actually remove or disable startup applications. In previous versions of Windows, you

would use the System Configuration utility (msconfig.exe) for this functionality;

System Configuration is still available in Windows Vista, but Windows Defender’s

Software Explorer feature is arguably a better solution because it provides so much

information.

There’s some confusion about how the Windows Firewall is configured in Windows

Vista. Although it is indeed enabled to monitor both inbound and outbound network

traffic, it is configured differently for each direction. Windows Firewall, by default, is

configured to block all incoming network traffic that is not part of an exception rule,

and allow all outgoing network traffic that is not blocked by an exception rule.

The Windows Firewall interface described previously is quite similar to that found in

Windows XP with Service Pack 2. But Microsoft also includes a second, secret interface

to its firewall that presents far more options. It’s called Windows Firewall with

Advanced Security, and you can access it via the also-hidden Administrative Tools

that ship with all mainstream Windows Vista versions. To find it, navigate to Control

Panel and turn on Class View. Then, navigate into Administrative Tools and then

Windows Firewall with Advanced Security., the tool loads into

a Microsoft Management Console (MMC).

As good as Vista’s firewall is, you should absolutely use a third-party firewall instead if

you’re using a security software suite. In such cases, the security suite will typically

disable Windows Firewall automatically and alert Windows Security Center that it is

now handling firewalling duties. Unlike with antispyware applications, you should

never run two firewalls at the same time, as they will interfere with each other.

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