Technology in terms you understand. Sign up for the Confident Computing newsletter for weekly solutions to make your life easier. Click here and get The Ask Leo! Guide to Staying Safe on the Internet — FREE Edition as my thank you for subscribing!

Is it ok to have more than one firewall?

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.

Become a Patron of Ask Leo! and go ad-free!

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.

Subscribe to Confident Computing! Tech problem solving & safety tips & a weekly confidence boost in your inbox every week.

I'll see you there!

10 Reasons Your Computer is Slow

Slow Computer?

Speed up with my special report: 10 Reasons Your Computer is Slow, now updated for Windows 10.

NOW: name your own price! You decide how much to pay -- and yes, that means you can get this report completely free if you so choose. Get your copy now!

3 comments on “Is it ok to have more than one firewall?”

  1. 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?

    Reply

Leave a reply:

Before commenting please:

  • Read the article.
  • Comment on the article.
  • No personal information.
  • No spam.

Comments violating those rules will be removed. Comments that don't add value will be removed, including off-topic or content-free comments, or comments that look even a little bit like spam. All comments containing links and certain keywords will be moderated before publication.

I want comments to be valuable for everyone, including those who come later and take the time to read.