A Hidden Personal Firewall - The nVidia nForce Network Adapter

The nVidia corporation, probably best known for their industry leading video cards like the GeForce, is now marketing a hardware based personal firewall. The nForce comes in two forms - an Ethernet adapter PCI card, and a motherboard with an embedded Ethernet adapter.

The nForce is an ICSA certified firewall, with full firewall functionality, that sits inside your computer.

If you're having a Windows Networking, or file sharing, problem, and you have an nForce component in your computer, you need to know this. During January and February 2006, I assisted in diagnosing several network issues that involved the nForce. In at least one case, the person with the computer had no idea what he had purchased, and innocently installed.

Run an "ipconfig /all" on your computer. If you see something like


Windows IP Configuration

Host Name . . . . . . . . . . . . : PChuck1
Primary Dns Suffix . . . . . . . :
Node Type . . . . . . . . . . . . : Unknown
IP Routing Enabled. . . . . . . . : No
WINS Proxy Enabled. . . . . . . . : No

Ethernet adapter Local Area Connection:

Connection-specific DNS Suffix . :
Description . . . . . . . . . . . : NVIDIA nforce Networking Controller

and you're having any type of problem pinging that computer, seeing it in Network Neighborhood, or otherwise accessing that computer thru the network, take a few minutes and read the manual. Or peruse the nVidia Support Forum, and in particular, POST HERE, Problems with nvidia network port. And my latest effort, Firewall Behaviour - And Windows Networking.

And be aware - the drivers for the nVidia nForce Versions 2, 3, and 4 contain shared components. And the installable component in the firewall, the nVidia Access Manager, has been reported to fail open. That is, if you don't install NAM, or don't activate it, the firewall blocks traffic, and not necessarily all traffic.

Be aware of what you're buying, please.

Disenchanted nVidia Customers
Here are some individual discussions and / or threads from folks who have experienced this problem first hand:
  • 2006/09/16: Even WikiPedia is involved now. Markus, in Updating Firewall rules for ActiveArmor Network Access Manager provides the link to WikiPedia: NForce4: Flaws, which contains an interesting summary of the problem.
  • 2006/08/13: NVIDIA "hidden firewall" causes networking problem, which makes immediate reference to a very long thread in the forum. Usenet technical details require that I archive the end of the thread here, since all posts by the person experiencing the problem are being removed:

  • >>>>>Good Morning, Chuck. And for the twentieth time, I appeciate your
    >>>>>tenacity and effort in trying to help me solve this frustrating
    >>>>>problem.

    >>>>>Update:
    >>>>>I think I followed your suggestions properly. Here's what I did:
    >>>>>1. Established a new account on all three (ASUS-AMD is back up!)
    >>>>>computers. They are adminstrative accounts with identical passwords.
    >>>>>2. Simple file sharing disabled on all three.
    >>>>>3. Created a test folder on AMD64, with full permissions for everyone
    >>>>>under "sharing" tab, and with "read" permissions for each user and
    >>>>>group under the "security" tab. (Some were greyed out).
    >>>>>4. Activated this user name on each computer with "net user name
    >>>>>/active:yes"
    >>>>>5. Checked TCP/IP for correct settings and did "repair" to flush.
    >>>>>6. Put remote registry service on automatic. There are very few
    >>>>>services now disabled (alerter, messenger, clip book)
    >>>>>6. Rebooted.
    >>>>>7. Tested system...Result --->No change. Working from amd64, I can
    >>>>>easily see and copy files from the other two computers. Working from
    >>>>>either asus-amd or mbx-notebook, I can see files and folders on amd64,
    >>>>>but I cannot open them. Tried again with all firewalls disabled. No
    >>>>>change.

    >>>>>

    >>>
    >>>***********************************************************
    >>>Soooo, Chuck, I guess I am essentially out of luck, and if my
    >>>persistent search for a "hidden" firewall proves to be fruitless, I
    >>>guess I must accept defeat. Or reinstall Windows.

    >>>Nothing came of the NVIDIA forum post except the one reply I quoted,
    >>>and there is nothing there which applies to my situation, although
    >>>they've had lots of firewall and driver problems, but not this kind.

    >>>I sincerely appreciate all your time and effort.
    >>>I will post a followup.
    >>>Of course if you have any other suggestions (please!), I'll be most
    >>>eager to pursue them

    >>>Jack

    >>Hello Chuck,
    >>Well, finally some good news. Success! You were right all along in
    >>suspecting a "hidden firewall" in the NVIDIA system. Apparently when I
    >>installed the latest drivers, a network manager was installed. This
    >>was acting as a firewall despite not having the actual NVIDIA firewall
    >>installed and despite not activating the firewall software (Active
    >>Armor or Armor On or something like that.) Fortunately, I was able to
    >>uninstall this manager without uninstalling the "NVIDIA drivers" which
    >>was a separate entity in the "Add-Remove programs". When I rebooted
    >>and went into Device Manager, I could see that there was now an older
    >>date on the driver for the NVIDIA network controller, which Windows
    >>must have silently installed.
    >>Caveat Emptor!
    >>My mind is so muddled now that I can't remember the exact name of the
    >>function I deleted.
    >>But I get easy access to the "server" now from the two secondary
    >>computers. Amen!
    >>Can't thank you enough for all the work you put in on this with me. I
    >>hope others may learn from this. If I have the energy (a bit burnt out
    >>now), I may go through this process again and make some notes to post
    >>for those who may be faced with this problem in the future. No help
    >>from NVIDIA or their forum, sadly.
    >>Sincere appreciation,
    >>Jack

    >All right, Jack!! Way to go!!

    >YOU will be the help to nVidia customers. Please write up what you can, and
    >whatever you write up will go into my article, and you will be able to help
    >other folks like you.

    Hi Chuck.
    I went through the process of reinstalling and uninstalling the
    troublesome NVIDIA network access manager, just so I could plan a post
    with some specific instructions for some unfortunate individual like
    me and try to save that person some time and frustration. So I plan to
    post it as a new topic under the heading

    "NVIDIA "hidden firewall" causes networking problem"

    I thought it might be more retrievable for someone with a similar
    problem if I put NVIDIA in the title of the topic.
    Many thanks again!

    Jack


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2 comments:

lstangel said...

I have the nforce 430 and the following problems connecting to:

-WoW
-Halo PC Servers
-another persons webcam or them to mine over yahoo and msn
-I can download utorrent, limewire, and bearshare, but they cant connect to the servers to search and download songs.

I have follwed every step in JClark's page but have a few problems:
-I have no "Network Access Manager" to remove
-I have no need to download the drive program since after i delete nvidia drivers and reboot it, everything is back in place as though it never happened, and when i do run the program, it does not give me an option to deny downloading Nvidia Firewall and Forceware Network Access Manager
-I do ot need to reconfigure TCP/IP, cause like I said, everything is back in order.

I did download the proper driver for my OS, which is different then the one JClark used.

If I did not explain anything clearly let me know and I will try to explain it again. Please contact me at lst.angel@hotmail.com

Chuck said...

Lstangel,

This sounds like a good question for the nVidia Support forum. Have you contacted them?