Tech Q&A: A firewall that’s ‘in the cloud’ won’t help if you travel

Question: Your column about Comcast’s new Xfinity cloud-based firewall (see ) made me wonder what protection my Windows 10 PC would have if I were away from home. You mentioned that the new Comcast firewall doesn’t include antivirus software. Does this mean that if I use a Wi-Fi hot spot at a hotel, I won’t have any firewall or antivirus protection? — L.L., Mendota Heights, Minn.

Answer: If you had to depend only on the Comcast firewall software, you’d be correct — there would be no firewall or antivirus protection when you were away from home. But Windows 10 PCs (and most Macs) have protective software that will shield your computer when nothing else is available.

Why would you have no Comcast protection while traveling? Because the new Xfinity firewall (called xFi Advanced Security) resides on a Comcast server (or “in the cloud.”) As a result, it’s available only when you use your home Comcast internet connection. (And, as I previously noted, xFi doesn’t provide you with any antivirus protection, which means you should find a free or for-pay antivirus program.)

All of this is different from the Norton Security Online software that Comcast will stop providing to customers in December. Norton provided both firewall and antivirus protection, and was downloaded to your PC, so that it would protect your computer when you traveled.

What will protect you when you travel is the Windows 10 built-in firewall, which will automatically activate when your computer is away from your Comcast internet connection. Windows 10 also has a built-in antivirus program which automatically runs unless you install a different antivirus program on your PC.

Mac owners who use Comcast’s new firewall have similar protections. Mac computers also have a built-in firewall, provided they have Mac OS X v10.5.1 (aka Leopard) or later. However, the Mac firewall doesn’t turn on automatically when you leave home. (To turn it on manually, see ). Mac computers also have built-in antivirus software, although some experts have reservations about how effective it is (see ).

Question: What are photo sticks and what are their benefits? — M.M., Lake Elmo, Minn.

Answer: They are flash drives that include backup software for computers or cellphones. The software searches a computer hard drive or a phone’s memory to find photos, then copies them to the flash drive. These devices sell under brand names such as ThePhotoStick, Photo Vault, Photo Backup Stick and Picture Keeper. Here’s what you need to know about these devices:

They automate a process that could done manually. Anyone who can copy and paste files can easily move photos from a computer to a conventional flash drive. There are also other easy ways to back up pictures on a phone: Via a cable connected to a computer or through an online backup service (see or ).They are expensive. In the 32-gigabyte category, a standard flash drive for a computer costs $7. But a Photo Vault for computer costs $140, a Picture Keeper for phone costs $60 and a Photo Backup Stick for phone or computer costs $72.