Utility software

NetBarrier X4 10.4.1

Intego’s NetBarrier X4 10.4.1 costs more than most other Mac firewall products, but you get what you pay for: It has more features and is more capable than any other Mac firewall, including the one that comes built-in to OS X. While it has all the standard features you’d expect in a firewall, such as packet filtering and intrusion detection, it also includes tools to fight spyware, manage your Web site cookies, and hide your browser info when you visit sites on the Internet.

Once you’ve installed and opened the program, NetBarrier runs you through a simple configuration process to help you define how thorough you want NetBarrier to be about protecting your Mac. The application comes with five pre-configured rule-sets for monitoring network traffic; in my opinion, though, these presets are either too permissive or too restrictive for the average user, either exposing you too much or locking your Mac down so tight you won’t be able to access the Net the way you need to. Fortunately, NetBarrier also offers a sixth configuration option, which allows you to customize which applications and services should have access to the Internet, your local network, and your Macintosh.

After you’ve completed configuration, the program goes to work behind the scenes, monitoring traffic and warning you if something untoward happens. NetBarrier’s main interface lets you see at a glance how much network traffic you’re generating and receiving; a single click on any item on the main panel takes you to a window where you can change the configuration settings for that item.

A monitoring button in the application window allows you to view network traffic information for six different applications or network interfaces at a time. So, for example, if you want to see how much of your network traffic is being used to share music from your iTunes music library, a drop-down menu allows you to change your view and look at that specific type of traffic. NetBarrier can also be configured to export a detailed log of denied connections and incoming and outgoing denials of network access. There’s even a Dashboard widget that lets you monitor network activity.

While custom configuration of any firewall application can lead to problems if you’re unfamiliar with the nuances of networking, NetBarrier does an excellent job of minimizing the chance that you’ll accidentally block applications or network access. NetBarrier uses a rules-based system for evaluating network traffic, which means that for every packet of data that’s entering or leaving your computer, NetBarrier checks a list to see if it’s allowed or not. Because of this, it is possible, when adding new rules to a configuration, to unknowingly allow or deny network access. Such potential conflicts are detailed extensively in NetBarrier’s documentation, but it behooves you to pay close attention to where you add rules to the list.

Macworld buying advice

NetBarrier X 10.4.1 is a versatile, highly configurable firewall application that allows for superior protection of your Mac. While the program’s default configurations are probably either too permissive or too secure for most users, customization will allow for all the Internet and network access you need, while protecting you from the bad guys.

[ Jeffery Battersby is a network analyst and a regular contributor to Macworld. Testing performed by Daniel Adinolfi. ]

NetBarrier X4’s main interface gives you control of the firewall, privacy protections, and intrusion detection, and lets you monitor network traffic, too.

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