by Alan S. Kay
All roses have their thorns. And that wonderfully fast, always-on DSL, or other type of broadband Internet connection, exposes your systems to security risks you didn’t face when all you had was a dialup connection.
WatchGuard SOHO is one of a new breed of Internet security tools that keep you safe by erecting a firewall between your office systems and the Internet. Firewalls are available as downloadable software. However, this device adds several other capabilities that justify the $449 price tag.
The WatchGuard SOHO provides four Ethernet connections, allowing the high-speed connection to be shared among four computers (you’ll need to add a hub to connect any additional machines). It allows you to set up virtual private network connections for even more secure Internet communications. And the package also gets you a one-year subscription to the company’s online LiveSecurity Service so your security software will stay current.
Messing with networking can be scary, and this bright red box, about the size and shape of a portable CD player, doesn’t inspire confidence in the novice, with its row of 12 lights along the front and the noticeable lack of any obvious documentation in the box. But we were surprised to see how easy it was to hook up the WatchGuard SOHO. It does help to have some familiarity with networking and how TCP/IP works, however. And if the computers you’re connecting haven’t been networked before, you may need to install Network Interface Cards as well.
With the WatchGuard SOHO in place, our test system proved impermeable to Internet probing. We weren’t able to find a vulnerability that would even indicate the system existed, much less that it could be pried open. One nice added feature is that the WatchGuard SOHO provides a DHCP server for automatically assigning IP addresses to the other computers and devices on the mini-network you create. Each machine will have its own internal IP address while the high-speed connection continues to use the one address assigned by the ISP. It thus makes networking easier, and still looks to the provider like a single machine, allowing you to use the least costly service option.
The one danger, however, is that you’ll eventually outgrow the WatchGuard SOHO. It delivers network throughput at only 5Mbps, and moves encrypted data considerably slower. And the SOHO provides only minimal and vague information about creating the mini-network. But all in all, it is good technology and good value in a little red box.