Although DSL and cable modems give you the speedy, always-on Internet connectivity you crave, they also make you a target. In the week I spent evaluating the WatchGuard SOHO — a small-network firewall from WatchGuard Technologies — intruders probed my supposedly unknown test network two or three times a day. Using Network Address Translation, packet filtering, and SOCKS proxy, the SOHO successfully guarded my Macs and PCs from unwanted advances, but I encountered a few glitches along the way.
Upon opening the box, you’ll find just the small, bright-red SOHO and an Ethernet cable — no software and no documentation. Your Internet connection plugs into the SOHO’s WAN port, and your computers connect via an integrated four-port hub. You can also connect the SOHO to your own hub and support up to 50 computers (the standard license supports 10).
With the physical connections in place, you configure the SOHO via a Web browser. You can set the SOHO’s Internet IP address manually or configure it to receive this information from your ISP. (The device also supports PPP over Ethernet.) You then assign private addresses to the SOHO and to computers on the internal network, a process simplified by the device’s built-in DHCP server. Clients don’t require special proxy settings or software.
Someone to Watch over Me
When users on the LAN initiate connections with Internet servers, the SOHO forwards packets back and forth, logging and discarding any unsolicited ones. You can fine-tune the firewall’s security using its unusually flexible filters, which forward incoming packets to specific computers based on port, protocol, or IP address; outgoing filters can restrict access to certain Internet services. You can even upgrade the SOHO to support VPN tunnels with another WatchGuard firewall.
I tested the SOHO on fractional T1 and dedicated-modem connections, and all services worked reliably. The firewall’s performance matched that of a direct connection, except when a RealMedia video download dropped from a 221K stream to 34K. I also had problems with the Web-blocking feature; its blocking lists contain many glaring omissions, and the option failed if I placed the SOHO behind another firewall.