SmoothWall SmoothGuard 1000-UTM review

19 Sep 2007

A wide range of security features for the price, but it isn't the easiest to configure and web-content filtering is poor.

Price when reviewed: 
6,000exc VATmore
4

SmoothWall has finally succumbed to the allure of the appliance. Its software has always offered a cost-effective firewalling solution, as it allows you to choose the hardware yourself. However, so many new components have been introduced to the base product, such as content filtering, antivirus and antispam, that it makes sense to offer them all in one box.

Some appliance vendors think they can get away with a cheap hardware platform, but the SmoothGuard 1000-UTM is a solidly built rack chassis with a decent processor, plenty of memory and seven Gigabit Ethernet ports. The web interface is easy on the eye, but it wasn't immediately obvious where some of the features are accessed from. Fortunately, installation is simple, as we defined the first port for our LAN with internal DHCP services and the second as our WAN connection with a fixed IP address.

The network ports can take on a range of roles so, as with Fortinet's FortiGate-224B, you can have internet access policies but also intrazone policies. By default, all zones are hidden from each other and you create bridging rules to allow specific zones to access others. For web filtering, the appliance can work in transparent and non-transparent modes, but in either case you'll need to configure client systems to use the appliance as a proxy. Non-transparent mode is the most versatile, as it brings in user authentication and allows extensive rules-based access policies to be applied to different users and groups. There are plenty of authentication modes to choose from, including the local user database or RADIUS, AD and LDAP servers.

The appliance uses a lot of open-source components, with ClamAV looking after web and email antivirus scanning and offering automatic updates as often as every hour. If you're not happy with this, you can use the ICAP server redirection feature and choose your own antivirus solution. Snort handles IDS functions and you can activate different rules and look only for particular attacks. The SmoothGuardian component provides web-content filtering and offers 53 URL categories to choose from. SmoothWall scores higher than many, as it also offers phrase checking within web-page content. Mailshell provides POP3 and SMTP antispam measures and is simple to use. It offers a range of RBLs, plus options to control attachment file sizes and scan messages for viruses.

Unfortunately, the URL filtering didn't impress, as with the games category blocked we tried to access 40 online bingo sites and were blocked from only 18. We used the same URLs with Websense Express and were blocked from 36 sites. Antispam performance was much better, as a four-day live test using the default sensitivity settings saw more than 90% of spam caught, with few false-positives.

For the price, SmoothWall offers a lot of security functions integrated into a well-specified hardware platform. Reporting and antispam are good, but configuration isn't easy and the content-filtering component could do better.