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IT Pro Briefing: How To Secure Desktop PCs With Personal Firewalls

Personal firewalls aren't a luxury anymore. As more users roam with their laptops in and out of corporate networks, it's easy for their devices to become infected. This has prompted companies to look for ways to shield them from the continual attacks raging across the Internet.

Yes, continual attacks. A recent study from the University of Maryland Clark School's Center for Risk and Reliability and Institute for Systems Research finds that attackers attempted to breach the average Internet-connected computer every 39 seconds. "Our data provide quantifiable evidence that attacks are happening all the time to computers with Internet connections," says Michel Cukier, the author of the study and an engineering professor at the school. The computers in Cukier's study were attacked, on average, 2,244 times a day.

The old days of simply getting a virus via e-mail seem benign compared to today's security risks. "Threats haven't relented," says Richard Weiss, director of endpoint security product marketing at CheckPoint Software. "We've seen a very clear change in the kinds of attacks. It isn't a bunch of script kiddies, but now very sophisticated and professional hackers who are trying to make money by breaching enterprise security and getting confidential information." Trojan applications are now four times as prevalent as viruses and worms reports antivirus software vendor Sophos. That's double the ratio from the first half of 2005.

Traveling laptops connect to different local networks, both wired and wireless. "They're networks over which corporate IT has no control," notes Monte Robertson, a consultant at Software Security Solutions, an independent security reseller. Companies need to start protecting mobile devices, including laptops and PDAs, with the same layered approach that they use to protect their corporate networks, Robertson says.

Personal Firewalls Checklist
Do inventory of Windows versions of remote users first to understand potential population dynamics
Collect typical Internet-based applications that these users will be running
Test two or three third-party personal firewalls with this collection of OS versions and typical applications
Examine results for your selected products
If more protection required, begin to examine more expensive total endpoint security products from Juniper and others
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