PC Tools Firewall Plus 2.0: The Right Tool for the Job?
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PC Tools Firewall Plus 2.0 installation file
Numerous options exist for protecting Windows systems from malicious traffic. While Windows boasts its own Firewall, many deride it as ineffective. More expensive (and more difficult to administer) hardware-based firewalls are another option. All many users require, however, is an effective software-based firewall. PC Tools Firewall Plus 2.0 monitors systems and prevents unauthorized access. Better yet, it’s free and operates with no limitations or time limits.
You may download PC Tools Firewall Plus 2.0 here. Then, click through this gallery to see how it works.
PC Tools Firewall Plus is installed using the fwinstall.exe executable.
PC Tools Firewall Setup Wizard
Upon triggering the installation file, the PC Tools Firewall Plus Setup Wizard begins.
PC Tools Firewall license agreement
Before installing PC Tools Firewall Plus 2.0, users must accept the application’s license agreement.
PC Tools Firewall destination location
The default location for the PC Tools Firewall Plus files is within the same-named folder within Program Files.
The default installation of PC Tools Firewall Plus installs Spyware Doctor, too. The additional antispyware program likely will not be desired by many users, who can simply opt not to install the program.
PC Tools file download
Clicking Next from the last screen prompts the PC Tools setup program to download required files (before beginning installation).
Spyware Doctor installation
As part of the default PC Tools Firewall Plus installation, Spyware Doctor is also installed. Here you can see the files being extracted as part of the firewall setup.
Spyware Doctor installation
Once again users can opt out of installing Spyware Doctor, this time by selecting the Do Not Install Spyware Doctor button. This is the second time users are given the option of passing on Spyware Doctor, so it would be unfair to claim PC Tools is trying to slide it by users; the company is not doing so. Instead, PC Tools believes the two tools (Spyware Doctor and Firewall Plus 2.0) deliver a powerful 1-2 punch against unwanted traffic and application activity.
PC Tools Firewall Plus setup
Next, the installation program installs the firewall application.
PC Tools Firewall Setup Wizard completion
When the PC Tools Firewall Plus 2.0 Setup Wizard completes, the workstation must be reboot.
Firewall Plus updates
Upon starting up, PC Tools Firewall Plus Smart Update feature ensures the user’s firewall program stays current with the latest program updates.
When choosing to leverage the firewall’s Smart Update feature, users are presented with this Smart Update wizard.
PC Tools Firewall alerts
PC Tools Firewall Plus 2.0 runs actively in the background, protecting against threats to Windows workstations. When it perceives a threat, PC Tools Firewall displays alerts similar to this above the Windows System Tray.
In addition to choosing either to Allow or Deny the activity in question (and PC Tools Firewall Plus 2.0 does a good job explaining which application is attempting to do what), users can set PC Tools to remember the setting so that it need not be entered again.
Smart Updates downloading
Clicking Next prompts the firewall application to download available updates.
Smart Update installation
PC Tools Firewall Plus 2.0’s Smart Update feature displays the names of program updates that are found. To install these updates, users need only click Next (the products are preselected).
Smart Update installation
When the available updates have been downloaded and installed, the Smart Update page confirms each product is finished.
Smart Update confirmation
When the Smart Update feature completes the installation of available updates, this confirmation window is displayed. Clicking Finish closes the Smart Update feature.
Following the installation of updates, PC Tools Firewall Plus 2.0 may prompt users to restart their workstations. I found my system required a few restarts following the installation of the firewall and antispyware apps.
PC Tools Firewall alerts
The PC Tools firewall goes so far as to block Internet Explorer’s attempts to access the Internet.
This is my chief complaint when it comes to software-based firewalls; the first time you attempt connecting to any network resource (whether it’s a network printer, another workstation or server or the Internet), you need to be prepared to teach the firewall application which activities are permitted and which are not. In other words, be prepared to click a lot of Allow buttons (and Remember This Setting checkboxes).
PC Tools Firewall monitor
PC Tools Firewall Plus places an active icon in the Windows system tray. The animated icon changes as it actively monitors and tracks network access.
PC Tools Firewall Plus main menu
The PC Tools Firewall Plus menu provides immediate access to the most important application information. For example, at a glance users can determine whether firewall protection is active and view network packet statistics.
Accessing other information, including application settings and options, requires users to navigate using the application’s left-side navigation bar.
PC Tools Applications menu
Clicking the Applications menu button reveals the status of active programs. In addition to listing application names alphabetically, the program’s file locations are displayed (along with active Allow/Deny and Log settings).
Users can Add and Delete applications manually using the supplied buttons. To configure more advanced settings, users need to click the Advanced Rules menu button.
PC Tools Firewall Plus advanced rules
Using advanced rules, PC Tools Firewall Plus can be configured to allow or deny specific types of traffic. For example, DHCP packets can be allowed, whereas Bit Torrent activity can be blocked.
PC Tools’ firewall does a good job providing easily understood descriptions as to the purpose of TCP/UDP’s many packet types.
While many software-based firewall tools overly complicate allowing/denying specific traffic types, Firewall Plus 2.0 simplifies configuration by getting as much of that information as front and center as possible. As with Applications, users can Add or Delete rules using supplied buttons (as well as edit existing rules and shift the order in which rules are applied).
Besides tracking rules within the Internet Zone (displayed in this image), the firewall application also tracks rules within Windows Trusted Zone (accessed using the second tab, as shown in this image).
PC Tools Firewall logs
Clicking the Logs button provides users with ready access to the firewall applications logs. Information collected here provides valuable forensics evidence when troubleshooting network and application issues.
PC Tools Firewall activity page
The Activity button provides access to firewall statistical data. PC Tools Firewall Plus tracks packets and bytes blocked as well as the total number of packets and bytes sent over the network.
The Activity page also displays a list of Active Applications.rnrnIn my experience consulting for small businesses, this section proves very helpful identifying and troubleshooting runaway network applications (and even overactive spyware infections).
PC Tools Firewall Plus general settings
General settings, including firewall and language options, are configured from the Settings menu. In addition to enabling the firewall, you’ll find options for enabling Application and packet filtering, displaying traffic information in the Windows System Tray and automatically allowing known applications.
PC Tools Firewall Log File
Double-clicking a log entry within the PC Tools Firewall Plus 2.0 log reveals more information about the event.
Here you can see the myriad data points the firewall app collects for each incident. In addition to tracking the source and destination IP addresses, the log captures the protocol type, the source port, the destination port and additional information.
PC Tools Firewall application details
Double-clicking an Application entry reveals additional information about that program. Beside listing the application type, the firewall program displays the file’s hard drive location. This information proves handy in shutting down wayward applications quickly, thereby simplifying the battle against spyware, trojans and other malicious programs known to exploit network communications.
PC Tools Firewall rules
Firewall rules are easily created and edited using PC Tools Firewall Plus 2.0. The screens appear very similar to the Rules windows encountered when creating Outlook rules. Instead of routing e-mail messages, though, users receive the ability to route network traffic according to the specifications and actions they supply.
Is PC Tools Firewall the Right Tool for the Job?
The ability to custom tailor application and network access (or denial) easily based on specific needs makes PC Tools Firewall Plus 2.0 a standout. Unlike other applications that often hide configuration settings several menus deep, PC Tools has made configuring its firewall app simple. Small networks (and standalone workstations) will find the firewall program a great fit as a result. Larger businesses, however, will find a hardware-based firewall’s ability to centralize network administration a big plus (versus having to custom-tailor each workstation’s settings).
PC Tools Firewall Plus licensing
Users can register their software by clicking the Register icon within the main PC Tools Firewall Plus menu. Clicking Register opens this licensing screen.
However, as there doesn’t appear to be a registered version yet available, the program simply generates errors when attempting to Register Online.
As the application’s engineers introduce improvements and refinements, I suspect that (for a nominal fee) users of the free version will be able to upgrade by purchasing a simple registration key. As of this writing, though, the Registration functionality does not appear to be working.