What is a Firewall?
A firewall is a tool that monitors communication to and from your computer. It sits between your computer and the rest of the network, and according to some criteria, it decides which communication to allow, and which communication to block. It may also use some other criteria to decide about which communication or communication request to report to you (either by adding the information to a log file that you may browse whenever you wish, or in an alert message on the screen), and what not to report.
What Is It Good For?
Identifying and blocking remote access Trojans. Perhaps the most common way to break into a home computer and gain control, is by using a remote access Trojan (RAT). (sometimes it is called "backdoor Trojan" or "backdoor program". Many people simply call it a "Trojan horse" although the term "Trojan horse" is much more generic). A Trojan horse, is a program that claims to do something really innocent, but in fact does something much less innocent. This goes to the days where the Greek soldiers succeeded to enter through the gates of Troy by building a big wooden horse, and giving it as a present to the king of Troy . The soldiers allowed the sculpture to enter through their gates, and then at night, when the soldiers were busy guarding against an outside attack, many Greek soldiers who were hiding inside the horse went out and attacked Troy from the inside. Read My Article about How to Overcome Junk Files and Cookies and 10 Reasons PCs Must You Know
This story, which may or may not be true, is an example of something which looks like something innocent and is used for some less innocent purpose. The same thing happens in computers. You may sometimes get some program, via ICQ, or via Usenet, or via IRC, and believe this program to be something good, while in fact running it will do something less nice to your computer. Such programs are called Trojan horses.
It is accepted to say that the difference between a Trojan horse and a virus, is that a virus has the ability to self-replicate and to distribute itself, while a Trojan horse lacks this ability. A special type of Trojan horses, is RATs (Remote Access Trojans, some say "remote admin Trojans"). These Trojans once executed in the victim's computer, start to listen to incoming communication from a remote matching program that the attacker uses. When they get instructions from the remote program, they act accordingly, and thus let the user of the remote program to execute commands on the victim's computer. To name a few famous RATs, the most common are Netbus, Back-Orifice, and SubSeven (which is also known as Backdoor-G). In order for the attacker to use this method, your computer must first be infected by a RAT.
Prevention of infections by RATs is no different than prevention of infection by viruses. Antivirus programs can identify and remove most of the more common RATs. Personal firewalls can identify and block remote communication efforts to the more common RATs and by thus blocking the attacker, and identifying the RAT.