The Windows Firewall has been included in each version of Windows for the last decade and it is a silent tool that keeps our systems safe from all kinds of network threats. Because it is a silent ally, doing most of its work in the background, few users interact with it on a regular basis and even fewer know what this tool is and how it works. That's why, in this article, we will explain what the Windows Firewall is, what it does, how to find it and how to enable it or disable it, depending on whether you want to use it or not.
What is the Windows Firewall?
Windows Firewall is one of the most important security tools that are built into the Windows operating system. It was first included in Windows XP (in 2001) and since then it has been improved in each version of Windows.
Prior to 2004 it was named Internet Connection Firewall. At that time it was a rather basic and buggy firewall with lots of compatibility issues. Windows XP Service Pack 2 changed its name to Windows Firewall and added some improvements.
In its first version, this firewall was capable of filtering and blocking only incoming connections. The modern version of the Windows Firewall filters and blocks both outgoing and incoming connections. The firewall has a predefined set of rules for both types of traffic. Obviously, its rules can be edited and changed both by the user and the software that the user installs on a Windows device.
By default, the Windows Firewall allows users to do many things: browse the Internet, use instant messaging apps, connect to a Homegroup, share files, folders and devices, etc. The rules are applied differently depending on the network profile set for the active network connection.
These rules are applied depending on the network location set for your active network connection. If you are not familiar with this concept, we recommend you to read this article: Simple Questions: What are Network Locations in Windows 7 & Windows 8?.
Most Windows programs that need Internet and network access, automatically add their own exceptions to the Windows Firewall, so that they work correctly. If they don't add such an exception, the Windows Firewall displays a prompt named Windows Security Alert, asking you to allow them to access the network. You can see an example in the screenshot below.
By default, the Windows Firewall selects the checkbox that is appropriate for the network connection you are using. You can select either of the options or both, depending on what you want to do. If you want to allow a program to connect to the network and the Internet, click or tap Allow Access. If you want to block access, press Cancel.
If you are using Windows with a user account that is not an administrator, you will not see such prompts. All programs and apps are filtered according to the rules that exist in the Windows Firewall. If a program doesn't comply with these rules, it is automatically blocked, without any prompts being displayed.
Windows Firewall is turned on by default in Windows 7 and Windows 8.1, and it runs silently in the background as a service. It prompts users whenever they need to make a decision. You won't need to open it unless you want to see its status or configure the way it works.
Where to Find the Windows Firewall
To open the Windows Firewall, you have several options. One is to go to "Control Panel -> System and Security -> Windows Firewall". This applies to both Windows 7 and Windows 8.1.
In Windows 7, you can use the Start Menu search box and type the word "firewall". Click on the Windows Firewall search result shown below.
In Windows 8.1, go to the Start screen and type the word "firewall". Then, click or tap the Windows Firewall search result.
When you open it, you will see a window similar to the one below: showing the type of network you are connected to and whether the firewall is turned on or off.
On the column on the left there are several links to different configuration options. We will present them in detail in other articles.
How to Turn On or Off the Windows Firewall
To activate or deactivate the Windows Firewall, click or tap the "Turn Windows Firewall on or off" link, on the left side of the Windows Firewall window.
By default, the Windows Firewall is turned on for both types of network locations: private (home or work in Windows 7) and public. If you want to turn it on or off for any of these network locations, check the appropriate "Turn on/off Windows Firewall" box and press OK.
To disable it completely, you need to select "Turn off Windows Firewall" for both types of networks and press OK.
Please keep in mind that you can turn on or off the Windows Firewall only if you are an administrator. Your setting applies to all the user accounts that exist on your Windows device.
Also, if you choose to disable the Windows Firewall make sure that you have a reliable alternative installed, like a third-party firewall or internet security suite.
As you can see from this article, the basics about the Windows Firewall and how it works are not that complicated. However, if you want to get your hands dirty in configure more advanced rules that govern its functioning, you will need to document yourself a bit before doing so. That's why we recommend you to read the guides recommended below.