IPCop 1.4.1 review

20 Jan 2005

Although device support is limited, IPCop is deceptively simple yet powerful firewall software that is a cinch to install, easy to use and delivers very good reporting facilities.

5

The best things in life are free, goes the saying, and this can be applied just as well to firewalls. Many companies, including small businesses, can pay a fortune for network security and yet sometimes the simplest and most cost-effective solutions are right under their noses.

The IPCop project is a collaboration, the mission of which is, quite simply, to produce the best Linux-based firewall, primarily for home users and small businesses. The software is freely available for download, but the IPCop team accepts no monetary donations. Instead, it asks, where possible, for coding skills, time and hardware to be donated to help the project. Installation starts by downloading the appropriate ISO image and burning a bootable CD. Load this into your donor system, answer a few simple questions and five minutes later your firewall is ready to go.

IPCop supports both IDE and SCSI hard disks, although we did encounter driver-related problems installing on the latter and opted to go for the former for testing. There's no real need for SCSI anyway, as IPCop's demands on disk usage are minimal. Next you add an IP address for the LAN and then remotely connect to your new appliance via a browser. This version will now automatically switch you over to an HTTPS session.

IPCop supports LAN and WAN connections. It can use extra network adaptors for DMZ (demilitarized zone) and wireless ports as well, although these must all be set up during the installation phase. The WAN connection also supports PSTN, ISDN and ADSL modems, but check out the website first, as limited device support is probably IPCop's biggest weakness.

The browser interface is well designed and simple to use. The System tab provides swift access to configuration backup facilities, password settings and a page that advises of any new updates, as well as providing facilities for downloading and applying them. From the Services tab, you can activate web proxy and cacheing features, decide on how much disk space the latter can use and whether to limit the size of file transfers. Along with many appliance vendors, IPCop uses the open-source Snort for intrusion detection and you can download new attack rules directly into the appliance. It also supports VPNs and offers basic traffic-shaping functions where you can prioritise services based on port numbers.

Where IPCop scores heavily over typical dumb NAT firewall boxes is with its high levels of operational information. Most low-cost security appliances have virtually no reporting facilities, so you've no idea if they're handling the load or whether you've been subjected to an attack. IPCop's firewall logs provide a wealth of information about each attack and where it's coming from.

The Status tab also keeps you well informed about system memory and disk resources, plus all services. There are plenty of graphs showing resource usage and all network activity on each configured interface. A connection tracker also keeps a record of all source and destination IP addresses in a table colour coded for each interface.

No doubt there are people who pour scorn on these kinds of projects, but make no mistake, IPCop is good - very good. We have no qualms about recommending IPCop, as we were impressed with it during testing and have seen it being used in SME environments by very happy administrators.