Let’s put your firewall to the test

Fred langa By Fred Langa

Most PC users take it on wary faith that their firewalls are providing full protection from malicious applications.

A better policy is to use firewall testing services and free applications to ensure your firewall is correctly set.

Get free testing with online services

Brian Brooks wants to make sure his firewall/router is doing its job.
  • “The other day, while using my Netgear DG834 modem/router, I was wondering whether there are any good tools that can safely test a firewall setup from the outside. I vaguely remember years ago reading about tools that will check ports, etc. I would really find it useful if you’d recommend a few basic checks.”
The best place to start is Steve Gibson’s free and reliable Shields Up firewall testing site.

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A PC’s Internet “ports” are numeric addresses that online sites use to communicate with your PC. Shields Up rapidly and safely checks your ports and reports on the status of each one as follows:
  • Open — available for use by anyone on the Internet (and potentially, a hacker’s doorway to your PC)
  • Closed — unavailable to outsiders but still visible to anyone searching for open ports on the Internet (inviting further attacks from hackers)
  • Stealth — closed and completely invisible to outsiders
Another highly regarded and free port probe is on HackerWatch’s site.

It’s smart to use more than one port probe. While one test might miss something, it’s much less likely that two independent tests will.

After testing a firewall from the outside, test it from the inside with leak tests. Mimicking malware, these tests safely and harmlessly try to phone home to a test site. Properly configured firewalls will warn you when an app tries to contact an online site, giving you the option to cut the link.

Two good (and free) leak tests can be found on Steve Gibson’s LeakTest page and on PCFlank’s Leaktest site. Here, too, two independent tests are better than one.

There are many other testing sites available, but I recommend that you do not rely on tests offered by security-tool vendors. Their security tests sometimes seem geared more to scaring you into buying their product than offering a truly objective and dispassionate analysis of your setup.

Wanted: Desktop shutdown “cancel” option

Tom Wilson asked a follow-up question to an item in my Feb. 18 column:
  • “Following the instructions in ‘Wanted: easy desktop shutdown options’ … I created a Shutdown shortcut (with a 60-second delay) and a separate Abort shutdown shortcut. But I have not been able to create a Shutdown shortcut that includes a Cancel button. Can you give any further help, please?”
Windows’ built-in shutdown function is command-line-driven — it doesn’t have a slick graphical front end to control its various options. So, you’ve done it correctly, Tom — creating one shortcut to initiate a shutdown and a separate shortcut to abort the process.

Once in operation, if you change your mind after clicking the shutdown shortcut, just click the separate abort shortcut. The shutdown is canceled, and you’ll be back where you were before launching shutdown.

The shutdown command sure isn’t fancy — but it’s built in, it works, and it’s free.

More on Win7-NAS networking problems

Charles Ojserkis also wrote a follow-up note, but on a different issue:
  • “Just wanted to comment on the ‘Solving Windows 7 Networking Problems’ item in the Feb. 25 issue.

    “I had the same problem with two older NAS (network attached storage) units on my LAN when I went from XP to Vista. They were older (like 1999) Linux-based Iomega devices.

    “There was a problem with the method of encryption used by the new OS to communicate with the network shares. As I recall, I had to go into the OS and reduce the type of encryption/handshaking used by the new OS. Once I made the change, I was able to create the share. Prior to the change, the share could not be created. Hope this helps.”
Thanks, Charles. Yes, it’s confirmation of one of the items I suspected and described this way: “But HomeGroup — and related elements of Win7’s networking, such as 128-bit encryption for shared files — introduces new and added complexity into your local networking mix.”

To change Win7’s network-share encryption levels, go into the Network and Sharing Center and do the following:
  • Open Control Panel (default view), click Network and Internet, then click Network and Sharing Center.

  • In the Network and Sharing Center’s left-hand pane, select Change advanced sharing settings.

  • Select the appropriate type of networking profile: Home or work or Public (LANs are likely to be the former); then scroll down to File Sharing Connections and make your selection. (See Figure 1.)
change the encryption level for win7 network shares
Figure 1. In the Network and Sharing Center’s advanced settings, you can change the encryption level for Win7 network shares.

If 128-bit encryption is selected, try the 40- or 56-bit option. Win7 should now communicate with older and non-Win7 devices.

What to do when Win7 won’t show file extensions

Reader Joe Sander’s copy of Windows 7 isn’t properly displaying file extensions.
  • “I have changed and re-checked the option to show the file extensions in Folder Options in Windows 7’s Explorer. The only file extension that shows is the .dll extension; all the others still do not display. I’ve checked the Internet for this, but nothing tells me what’s wrong. Any idea what’s going on?”
As you discovered, Joe, with Win7 (and Vista), Folder Options is in a new location. I, too, ground my gears a bit when I first encountered this change.

There are several ways to control the display of file extensions, but I prefer the following:
  • Open a major folder — one that holds many different file types. I suggest using:


  • Click Organize, then Folder and search options. (See Figure 2.)

    Accessing folder options in win7
    Figure 2. In Win7, you access folder options via “Folder and search options.”

  • When the Folder Options dialog opens, select the View tab and uncheck Hide extensions for known file types. (See Figure 3.)

    The folder options dialog
    Figure 3. The Folder Options dialog. Note the “Apply to Folders” button at the top — click this to propagate your changes to all folders.

  • Next — and this may be where things went wrong for you, Joe — click Apply to Folders (which should become active once you make any change to the available options).

    When you click Apply to Folders, the change you’ve made will ripple through all your folders, not just the one you’re working on.
That may solve the immediate problem, but don’t stop yet!

While the Folder Options dialog is still open, you might also want to check out other offered options. I find many of the default Folder Option settings too restrictive and dumbed down.

Your choices are your own, of course, but the following is a list of all the items that I’ve checked in my Folder Options dialog; all items not listed here are unchecked.
  • Always show menus
  • Display file icon on thumbnails
  • Display file size information in folder tips
  • Display the full path in the title bar (Classic theme only)
  • Show hidden files, folders, and drives
  • Show drive letters
  • Show encrypted or compressed NTFS files in color
  • Show pop-up description for folder and desktop items
  • Show preview handlers in preview pane
  • Use Sharing Wizard (recommended)
  • Select the typed item in the view
Again, when you’re done making changes in the Folder Options dialog, make sure you click the Apply to Folders button to make your changes take hold system-wide.

Have more info on this subject? Post your tip in the WS Columns forum.

Fred Langa is a senior editor of the Windows Secrets Newsletter. He was formerly editor of Byte Magazine (1987–91), editorial director of CMP Media (1991–97), and editor of the LangaList e-mail newsletter from its origin in 1997 until its merger with Windows Secrets in November 2006.
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Fred Langa

About Fred Langa

Fred Langa is senior editor. His LangaList Newsletter merged with Windows Secrets on Nov. 16, 2006. Prior to that, Fred was editor of Byte Magazine (1987 to 1991) and editorial director of CMP Media (1991 to 1996), overseeing Windows Magazine and others.