A firewall helps make your computer invisible to online attackers and blocks some malicious software such as viruses, worms, and trojans. A firewall can also help prevent software on your computer from accessing the Internet to accept updates and modification without your permission.
Firewalls come in both software and hardware form, but hardware firewalls are intended for use in addition to a software firewall.
Windows 7, Windows Vista, and Windows XP include a firewall, which is turned on by default. It is important to have both a firewall and antivirus software turned on before you connect to the Internet. Read more about firewalls.
Yes. A firewall helps stop hackers and viruses before they reach your computer, while antivirus software helps get rid of known viruses if they manage to bypass the firewall or if they've already infected your computer.
One way viruses get past a firewall is when you ignore your firewall's warning messages when you download software from the Internet or email.
Read more about how to help protect your computer against viruses.
Antispyware software helps detect and remove spyware from your computer. "Spyware" (also known as "adware") generally refers to software that is designed to monitor your activities on your computer.
Spyware can produce unwanted pop-up advertising, collect personal information about you, or change the configuration of your computer to the spyware designer's specifications. At its worst, spyware can enable criminals to disable your computer and steal your identity.
Antispyware software is an important tool to help you keep your computer running properly and free from intrusion. Microsoft offers Microsoft Security Essentials to help protect you from spyware.
Download Microsoft Security Essentials for free.
Read more about spyware.
Note Some "spyware" is beneficial, as it either helps desirable software run as it's intended, or enables some good software to be offered on a free-with-advertisements basis (such as many online email programs). Most antispyware software allows you to customize your settings so you can enable or disable programs.
Spam filters (sometimes broadly referred to as "email filters") evaluate incoming email messages to determine if they contain elements that are commonly associated with unwanted or dangerous bulk mailing.
If the filter determines that an email message is suspicious, the message usually goes to a designated folder, often called the Junk Folder, and links and other code in it are disabled. Once the message is in the designated folder, you can evaluate it at your convenience.
Microsoft Office Outlook, Outlook.com (formerly Hotmail), and other Microsoft email services fight spam with SmartScreen Filter.
Read more about how to keep spam out of your inbox.
A phishing filter can be a component of a web browser or Internet toolbar, or part of an email program. Phishing filters evaluate websites for signs that they are connected with phishing scams.
Phishing scams use email and websites that look like those that belong to legitimate sources (such as financial or government institutions) but are actually hoaxes. If you click links in the email or enter your user name, password, or other data into these websites, you might give scammers information they can use to defraud you or steal your identity.
Read more about the signs of phishing scams in How to recognize phishing email messages or links.
Parental controls can help you protect your children from inappropriate content, both on the Internet and in computer video games.
Microsoft offers parental controls in both Windows 7 and Windows Vista. To download parental controls, go to Windows Live Family Safety, where you'll find services that allow you to choose separate levels of security for each child in your house, depending on their age and maturity level.
Xbox 360 Family Settings offers parental controls that can help you restrict your children's ability to play inappropriate games and watch inappropriate DVD movies.
For more information, see What are parental controls?
If your new computer comes with Windows 7 or Windows Vista installed, you can be assured that you have a built-in firewall as well as antispyware and parental controls. If your new computer has an operating system other than Windows 7 or Windows Vista, check your packing list to see if the manufacturer has included firewall, antivirus, and antispyware software. All email programs from Microsoft include a spam and phishing filter, and Internet Explorer, the Microsoft web browser, includes phishing protection. If you use another web browser or email program, check the help file to find out if it includes phishing and spam protection.