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Author Topic: Windows Firewall Control - Mini Review  (Read 8042 times)
4wd
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« on: May 28, 2012, 07:03:08 AM »

NOTE: Not to be confused with Windows 7 Firewall Control, that is a completely separate entity - both from this program and Windows Firewall.

NOTE: This is just to make it clear: The free version of WFC will not provide any form of notification regarding network access at all.
What it will give you is an easy way to add and edit Windows Firewall rules.
The paid version will add access notifications.

Basic Info

App NameWindows Firewall Control (WFC)
App URLBinisoft
App Version ReviewedVersion: 3.3.0.1  Build Date: 14.05.2012  Filesize: 526 KB
Test System SpecsSummary
      Operating System
         MS Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit SP1
      CPU
         AMD Phenom II X6 1100T
      RAM
         8.00 GB Dual-Channel DDR3
Operating System
   MS Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit SP1
      Windows Security Center
         User Account Control (UAC)   Disabled
         Firewall   Enabled
      Antivirus
         Antivirus   Enabled
         Company Name   Microsoft
         Display Name   Microsoft Security Essentials
         Product Version   4.0.1526.0
Supported OSesWindows Vista & 7 (x86 & x64)
Support MethodsContact via form at Binisoft and the author is also active at this Wilders Security Forum thread, (as alexandrud).
Upgrade PolicyLifetime license, (as in all future updates), for US$10 donation.
Trial Version Available?There is a Free and a Paid version, the Free version lacks the following:
  • Learning Mode, which displays notifications about blocked outgoing connections, with detailed information about these connections, and which permit the user to "Allow Always" or "Block Permanently" a program that was blocked by Windows Firewall.  From version 3.0.1.2. this feature is available for all language localisation.
  • Lock the current configuration of the program with a password. Useful if you don't want other users to alter program settings. This will disable the access to the shortcut from Control Panel for Windows Firewall and the Management Console snap-in control file that provides additional administration capabilities for Windows Firewall.
  • Reset a forgotten password used to lock the current state of the program.
Pricing SchemeUS$10 for the Paid version.
Author Donation LinkBinisoft
Reviewer Donation LinkSave your money and spend it on a new graphics card.
Relationship btwn. Reviewer and Product None.  I downloaded the Free version, liked what it did and donated to get the extra functions of the Paid version.


Introduction:

"Windows Firewall Control is a nifty little application which extends the functionality of the Windows Firewall and provides quick access to the most frequent options of Windows Firewall. It runs in the system tray and allows user to control the native firewall easily without having to waste time by navigating to the specific part of the firewall. This is the best tool to manage the native firewall from Windows 7 and Windows Vista."

The above is straight from the website and in my opinion it's pretty well spot-on.


Who is this app designed for:

Anyone who wants a bit more control over the default Windows Vista/7 firewall without resorting to a completely separate firewall solution.

Installation:

WFC is compatible with all 32bit and 64bit versions of Windows 8 Consumer Preview, Windows 7 and Windows Vista.

Requirements:
  • Microsoft .NET Framework version 4.0

The following Windows services are required to be enabled for Windows Firewall Control to run:
  • "Windows Firewall"
  • "TCP/IP NetBIOS Helper"
  • "Workstation"
  • "DNS Client"

The file is downloaded as a single file executable, when you run it you will be presented with the License Agreement, (EULA), which you can accept or reject.  Acceptance will take you to the main installation window where you can choose some basic options to start with:



When you click the Install button, a service and a GUI component will be installed to the install directory you chose, (default is C:\Program Files\Windows Firewall Control).  The files are wfcs.exe and wfc.exe respectively.

The service will be added and set to Automatic Start, a shortcut will be added to All Programs->Startup for the GUI component.

It will then run and you'll end up with an icon in your System Tray.

NOTE: Once installation has completed, the installer will be deleted - it becomes the GUI program so you can find it in C:\Program Files\Windows Firewall Control.


Operation:

WFC adds rules directly to the inbuilt Windows Firewall, this means that you can exit WFC or uninstall it and those rules will still be active within Windows Firewall until you delete them, (whether as part of the uninstall or through Windows Firewall Advanced Settings), or disable Windows Firewall.



A right or left click the SysTray icon will open the GUI, clicking outside the GUI will close it.



Common to all tabs are the following buttons:
At the top right you have two buttons - the first locks the interface with a password to stop anyone else from changing your configuration.  This also stops access to Windows Firewall via the Control Panel.
The second causes the WFC GUI to exit however the service still runs in the background, you just won't get any notifications under Learning mode if registered.

At the bottom right you have four buttons you can use to add programs to Windows Firewall Allow/Block rules, from left to right:

  • 1) Browse for a program to allow through the firewall.
  • 2) Select a program window to allow a program through the firewall.
  • 3) Browse for a program to block a program from connecting through the firewall.
  • 4) Select a program window to block a program from connecting through the firewall.

Selecting either 1 or 3 will open a file browser so you can choose a program to allow or block.
Selecting 2 or 4 will allow you to click on a programs interface to allow or block it.



The last is the Manage Rules button - I'll get to that later.


Profiles tab - you have four profiles to choose from, they are pretty self-explanatory:

  • High Filtering - All outgoing connections are blocked whether there is a rule or not.  Stops all communication from your computer.
  • Medium Filtering - Any connection for which no rule is present is blocked.  Learning Mode only works when this profile is active.
  • Low Filtering - Any connection for which there is no rule is allowed.  ie. You create rules only for those programs you want to block.
  • No Filtering - The Windows Firewall is turned OFF, ie. ALL connections are allowed.  Windows Security Center will immediately complain that the firewall is off.

Options tab - this is where you can choose to enable Learning Mode, Shell Integration and the option to start the GUI when Windows starts.



  • Learning Mode is only available to registered users and causes an alert to open whenever a new program tries to access the network, more later.
  • Enable notifications for system applications will cause you to get notifications for System and svchost when they try to connect, unchecking will cause them to be ignored.
  • Shell Integration adds two entries to the right-click context menu of Explorer letting you Allow or Block programs without having to use the file browser, select the interface or wait for a Learning Mode alert.
  • Start with Windows starts the GUI program when a user logs on.


Policies tab - here you can Export, Import or Restore the default Windows firewall rules.  The Default rules are those that were created when Windows was installed - any rules you created after that will be deleted.




Shortcuts tab - has three shortcuts to Windows Firewall with Advanced Security, Event Viewer and the CLI.



About tab - provides information about the program, check for a new version and register the program.




Learning Mode:  This is similar to most other firewall programs, ie. when a new program tries to access the network a requester opens asking whether you want to give it access or not.



The requester gives you the name of the originating program, Source IP:port, Remote IP:port, Protocol, whether the program is signed and allows you to create a rule to Allow or Block it from this moment on or to just Block it this time, in which case you'll get an alert next time it tries to connect.

The program name is a clickable link that will open Windows Explorer at the container directory.
Clicking on the Remote IP will open a WhoIs request in your default browser using the Remote IP as the argument, allowing you to check where the connection was going, as shown below.



You can also customise the rule before allowing/blocking the program.



Starting with versions 3.3.0.1 you have the option to add a temporary rule, (eg. for a setup program), that will be removed the next time WFC is run.



Temporary rules will show up in the Rule List as follows:






Manage Rules:



The columns can be clicked on for sorting and the colour coding of rules is as follows:
White background: Disabled rules, (No in the Enabled column).
Green background: An enabled Allow rule.
Red background: An enabled Block rule.

You can select rules by clicking on them and also multi-select by drag, shift or control.

Starting at the top of the Actions list, (right hand side):
Refresh rules list: Self-explanatory.
Find invalid rules: Searches for rules that have no associated executable, eg. you uninstalled a program but the rule still exists.  This will auto-select all invalid rules and show the total number in brackets next to the Delete Rule action as shown below, you can then click Delete Rule button to remove them.



Under the Display actions, you can choose to display All, Inbound and Outbound rules and also filter by Enabled and Disabled rules.  You can also search for a rule, eg. typing in dopus.exe will highlight the rule for Directory Opus if it exists.

The Create New Rule actions are the same as the main program interface:
  • 1) Browse to allow.
  • 2) Click to allow.
  • 3) Browse to block.
  • 4) Click to block.

Selecting either 1 or 3 will open a file browser so you can choose a program executable to allow or block.
Selecting 2 or 4 will allow you to click on a programs interface to allow or block it.

The Options are only enabled when there is at least one rule highlighted:
Allow rule: Will be enabled if you have a block rule highlighted, this will allow you to toggle the rules action from blocking network access to allowing it.
Block Rule: Will be enabled if you have a allow rule highlighted, this will allow you to toggle the rules action from allowing network access to blocking it.
Enable Rule: Allows you to enable a disabled rule.
Disable Rule: Allows you to disable an enabled rule.
Delete Rule: Deletes selected rules.
Properties: Opens the rule properties allowing you to modify them, the same as double-clicking on a rule.



From here you can edit the Ports, Protocol, Remote IP, Profile (Domain, Private, Public) and add a Description if needed.

Uninstalling



If you uninstall WFC at a later date it will ask you to either:
  • restore the default Windows Firewall rules, (those in effect when Windows was first installed),
  • restore the rules that were active before you installed WFC, or
  • not delete any rules at all, (whether created by WFC or not).


How does it compare to similar apps

There are two similar programs available, (that I know of), both of them are fully free, (no paid versions):

TinyWall Firewall
Windows Firewall Notifier

I can't really comment on them because I have only used them very briefly, other than to say that of the three programs I prefer WFC.


Some more information:

The following is relevant to versions prior to 3.2.0.0:
How WFC detects connection attempts: How are the notifications created and why they are sometimes so slow or missing ?

With the separation of the program into service and GUI, I have yet to experience any missing connection attempts.


License:

According to the website:
Quote
Benefits of becoming a registered user
  • You will get priority support via email.
  • You will unlock all the features from all of our programs, so that you can use them at their full potential.
  • You will receive unrestricted access to "Get my activation code" area.
  • You can activate our products on all PC's from your home, for unlimited times.
  • You will be registered user for all future versions of our programs.
  • You will never receive emails regarding eventual upgrades, patches releases, special offers and so on.
  • You will support us to continue the improvement of our programs.

Reading that, you can use the program on all PC's in your home and you get all future upgrades for free.
Registering WFC will also let you unlock the registered features of their other program(s), (eg. USB Flash Drives Control) - ala Donation Coder's license.
I can attest to having received no emails ever since registering WFC - not even for upgrades.  The only two ways to find out are the Check for Upgrades within the program or to check the forum thread at Wilders for possible betas.


PS. Sorry if this mini-review isn't up to scratch, in depth analysis is not my forte.  To paraphrase: "I'm a user, not a reviewer." smiley
« Last Edit: May 30, 2012, 12:58:41 AM by 4wd; Reason: Added Properties dialog and Temporary Rule example. » Logged

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cranioscopical
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« Reply #1 on: May 28, 2012, 01:40:42 PM »

That's a good, useful review. Thank you!
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IainB
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« Reply #2 on: May 28, 2012, 10:32:07 PM »

@4wd: Thanks for this. Is very interesting.  You have triggered the obsessive-compulsive software trialler in me. Methinks I shall have to take a look-see at WFC now...           smiley
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4wd
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« Reply #3 on: May 29, 2012, 02:31:05 AM »

That's a good, useful review. Thank you!

Thanks! smiley

@4wd: Thanks for this. Is very interesting.  You have triggered the obsessive-compulsive software trialler in me. Methinks I shall have to take a look-see at WFC now...           smiley

See, I did get around to it...wonders will never cease  Grin

Every time I went back to adding a bit more to this the program would have been updated, so a couple of the grabs are from different versions.

There is also a third program, (other than TinyWall and WFN), that works a similar way but I cannot remember the name of it - I do know it only came out in the last 2-3 months so if I happen to find it again, I'll add it above.
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Babis
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« Reply #4 on: May 29, 2012, 08:05:48 AM »

Thanks for the review. Would you mind clarifying what are the features of the program that the donation unlocks, so I can use it at its full potential?
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highend01
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« Reply #5 on: May 29, 2012, 08:28:36 AM »

Thanks for the review. Would you mind clarifying what are the features of the program that the donation unlocks, so I can use it at its full potential?

Registered Users Features
√ Learning Mode which provides notifications for blocked outgoing connections.
√ Lock the current state of the program and Windows Firewall with password.
√ Reset a forgotten password used to lock the current state of the program.
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4wd
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« Reply #6 on: May 29, 2012, 08:58:59 AM »

Thanks for the review. Would you mind clarifying what are the features of the program that the donation unlocks, so I can use it at its full potential?

highend01 pointed them out above but here's the picture version smiley

With the unregistered version, you will not get notifications like this:



And the item arrowed below will not work:



The Reset a forgotten password naturally won't be useful since unregistered users can't lock the program in the first place. Wink

Everything else will work, Shell Integration, Rule Management, Import/Export, etc, etc.
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IainB
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« Reply #7 on: May 29, 2012, 01:19:54 PM »

There is also a third program, (other than TinyWall and WFN), that works a similar way but I cannot remember the name of it - I do know it only came out in the last 2-3 months so if I happen to find it again, I'll add it above.
Well, prompted by your review, and after a bit of hasty trialling today, so far I have tried these out:
  • 1. Windows7 Firewall Control (FREE version): Been using this for a while now. I reckon it's very good. Probably dead simple to use for most users. My installation was uninstalled nice and easy by the PAID (nagware) version install.
  • 2. Windows7 Firewall Control (PAID nagware version): Just quickly tried this out today. Bit more complicated to use (more options/decisions to take) than the FREE version. Uninstalls nice and easy.
  • 3. TinyWall: I just quickly tried this out today. Probably a bit complicated to use for many users (more options/decisions to take). Not sure I like it (does not seem to be very intuitive). Devil of a job to uninstall. I think it left some damage judging by the state of my firewall just now, which I am still fixing as I write this. Maybe it was attributable to my ignorance/misuse of the thing.
  • 4. Windows Firewall Notifier: Not a firewall control per se, but a useful notification tool. Probably a bit complicated to use for many users (more options/decisions to take). In use is annoying as heck and does not seem to be very intuitive. Uninstalls relatively easily via brute force.
  • 5. Windows Firewall Control: Just quickly tried this out today. It seemed to silently install on my system - no evidence that anything had happened, though it was self-aware enough to ask me to change the filename back to wfc.exe before installing. I think the install file may have been corrupted, or something - didn't appear to do anything - and then I later noticed that it was there. Seemed like it could be a useful notification/control tool. Probably a bit too complicated to use for many users (more options/decisions to take). In use is annoying and does not seem to be very intuitive. Uninstalled it.
    EDIT: Just discovered I had an old version (v3.1.0.3) of Windows Firewall Control. Latest version is v3.3.0.1.

Ended up by:
  • (a) renistalling Windows7 Firewall Control (FREE version).
  • (b) giving up on fixing the damage done by all the Firewall rules changed (especially TinyWall) and going back to square one with the otherwise excellent Win7 Firewall by going to Control Panel\All Control Panel Items\Windows Firewall and selecting Restore defaults.
  • (c) Reinstalling latest version (v3.3.0.1) of Windows Firewall Control. Not sure whether this is redundant. Seemed to install without any conflicts with  W7FC, so far.[/b]
Phew!    smiley

EDITED: 2012-05-30 1934hrs (NZT)
« Last Edit: May 30, 2012, 02:34:30 AM by IainB; Reason: Updated re Windows Firewall Control (v3.3.0.1) » Logged
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« Reply #8 on: May 29, 2012, 04:47:01 PM »

Thanks a lot for this maxi-review!!!
Very interesting - I am testing the software right now.
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4wd
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« Reply #9 on: May 29, 2012, 08:15:25 PM »

  • 1. Windows7 Firewall Control (FREE version): .... Probably dead simple to use for most users. ....
  • 5. Windows Firewall Control: .... Probably a bit too complicated to use for many users (more options/decisions to take)....

My experience was the opposite, W7FC was more confusing than Outpost Security Suite, (was about a month before I found WFC), so I ended going back to OSS.  There's also less options for a user to act upon in the WFC notifications, generally just Allow or Block compared to W7FC which presents all of them all at once, (IIRC).  In WFC, if you want to customise the rule before accepting you can but otherwise it's just three buttons.

I probably should have pointed out, (but didn't because I haven't used the feature), that WFC also allows you to have multiple rules per application, (I'm sure someone can think of a use for this but my brain escapes me at the moment).

CRAP!!   undecided
Just realised I didn't put up an image of the rule Properties dialog.........edit....edit......there!   cheesy

Quote
  • ... and selecting Restore defaults.

You could have done that from within WFC or as part of its uninstall procedure. smiley

Quote
  • (c) Reinstalling latest version (v3.1.0.3) of Windows Firewall Control. Not sure whether this is redundant. Seemed to install without any conflicts with  W7FC, so far.[/b]

Are you sure this is right?

The latest version is 3.3.0.1.

There won't be any conflicts because WFC is just an alternative interface to the native Windows Firewall which W7FC will work with.

I see if I can hunt up the other one for you to play with.

Edit:  Possibly some confusion, (or lack of intuitive interface), may arise with WFC because unlike most other free versions of firewalls you don't get any notifications - that's one of the advantages of the paid version.
As such, that is why it defaults to Low Filtering, (so you don't suddenly find all your programs cease to work), unlike other firewalls where you are immediately bombarded with access notifications.

And to be honest, it doesn't say that it will bombard you with notifications - that is a bonus(?) - because it is not a firewall, (unlike W7FC).

It does what the website says:
Quote
"Windows Firewall Control is a nifty little application which extends the functionality of the Windows Firewall and provides quick access to the most frequent options of Windows Firewall. It runs in the system tray and allows user to control the native firewall easily without having to waste time by navigating to the specific part of the firewall. This is the best tool to manage the native firewall from Windows 7 and Windows Vista."

PS: Sorry if I seem to be pushing its case overly hard but I probably should have made it clearer that in and of itself, it is not a firewall.
« Last Edit: May 29, 2012, 10:33:11 PM by 4wd » Logged

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« Reply #10 on: May 30, 2012, 04:15:20 AM »

4wd & highend01 thanks for the explanations.

I am testing it since Tuesday and luckily I found the mini review.

From what I understand so far, it seems a nice addition to the windows 7 firewall with the only downside (for me) is that doesn't inform you in real time that an application tries to obtain network access so that you may allow or deny it. You have to do it manually. Can you confirm that 4wd? Thanks.
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4wd
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« Reply #11 on: May 30, 2012, 04:59:06 AM »

From what I understand so far, it seems a nice addition to the windows 7 firewall with the only downside (for me) is that doesn't inform you in real time that an application tries to obtain network access so that you may allow or deny it. You have to do it manually. Can you confirm that 4wd?

That's correct - you need to donate to get that feature.
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« Reply #12 on: May 30, 2012, 08:52:03 AM »

Now we still wonder why anyone would want to use a "personal firewall".  tongue
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« Reply #13 on: May 30, 2012, 05:47:53 PM »

@4wd: Thanks for spotting the version number error in my above post. I have corrected it.
I am still running W7FC (FREE) with the latest version of WFC, and the latter is unobtrusive and not too complicated, and I can confirm no apparent conflicts (which is what you had supposed).
I think there must have been something buggy about the older version that I had installed.

At the moment, my ignorance of the product and firewalls in general leaves me wondering why I might need WFC though.
I can see the need for me to use W7FC - which is why I use it - and I have trialled the PAID version as well, but found it a bit too complicated to use.
"Complicated" here means that I need to think carefully before taking any actions using the tool, to make sure that I understand what rule-changes will be effected by my confirming any instructions to the tool, and the implications of those changes.
To have to do this on-the-fly because of pop-up prompts from the tool is a real distraction from what I am concentrating on doing, and thus likely to be conducive to mistakes made in haste.

WFC does not seem to be obtrusive or "complicated" in this regard.
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