A firewall is software or hardware that checks information coming from the Internet or a network, and then either blocks it or allows it to pass through to your computer, depending on your firewall settings.

A firewall can help prevent hackers or malicious software (such as worms) from gaining access to your computer through a network or the Internet. A firewall can also help stop your computer from sending malicious software to other computers.

The following illustration shows how a firewall works:

Illustration showing how the programs that you haven't allowed into your computer are blocked by a firewall
Illustration of how a firewall works