Linksys Home Network Defender

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Product: Linksys Home Network Defender
Provided By: Linksys by Cisco
Price:
$59.99 Annual Subscription
(Currently $49.99 Promotional Price)

 

Introduction:

It's no mystery that the internet is not that safe of a place for a naive person to surf.  The reality is that it is becoming an increasing malicious place to gather information.  Companies try and solve this by selling consumers a router/firewall, but that still doesn't prevent you from going to sites that have malicious content.  The solution falls on the company who makes the web-browser.  Firefox and IE have some sort of anti-phishing filters to take care of that vulnerability.  Then comes the issue of preventing kids from viewing content that they shouldn't - pornography, explicit violence, and even hacking sites should be on the banned list of every home network, but there are so many sites that it's impossible to add them to a "Banned" list which most routers offer.

A partial solution is a service like OpenDNS.  This service allows you to specify network-wide surfing filters that can provide some protection based on changing the name servers on your router.  You'll need to know something about configuring a router, although OpenDNS does make it pretty easy.  All of this of course still leaves you open to viruses and if you want protection from those, you'll need to buy a license for each machine on your network.  Sounds complicated?  I thought the guy at the computer store said it would be "simple and fun" and so far it seems like a big headache.

For safe surfing and protection for different members of your family you'll need the following:

  1. A good router with a decent firewall (SPI).
  2. A router configuration that blocks known malicious/adult sites.
  3. A web-browser that doesn't run scripts/phishing (Firefox).
  4. A service like OpenDNS to help protect the entire network with "blanket" coverage.
  5. Anti-virus software on your machines.
  6. A lot of patience to set all of this up.

 

There are some shortcomings to this setup however.

  1. Block sites on a router are limited to sites that you list.  There are many more sites cropping up every day.
  2. Web-browsers all have vulnerabilities.
  3. OpenDNS applies its rules to all computers on the network.  If an adult wants to get information that you've blocked for your families protection, you simply cannot access that information.
  4. Individual licenses for anti-virus are expensive and many are "bloated".
  5. All the setup and configuration of all the different services and features takes time and is fragmented.

Thankfully there is an alternative to this issue that is probably one of the best solutions out there right now.  This is the Home Network Defender from Linksys and Trend Micro.  This is a software package that runs on your Linksys WRT610N, WRT310N and soon the WRT160N router.  This provides easily customizable protection for your entire network - as well as individual machines.  Also bundled with the Home Network Defender are four 1-year licenses for Trend Micro Anti-Virus.  The cost of this entire Home Network Defender package is about the same price as one copy of Norton Anti-Virus, but the Home Network Defender does so much more.

 

HND

 

The Hardware:

To test out the Home Network Defender we used the WRT310N router.  This router is a solid product that provides 1GB wired Ethernet speed as well as 802.11n wireless speeds to make everything snappy.  While this article isn't about the WRT310N, we'll still show a few product shots so you know what you're getting into when you pick up the Home Network Defender.

 Router Box
Router Box
 In The Box
In The Box
Linksys 310 Router Bundle
Linksys 310 Router Bundle

 

All of the Linksys WRT routers made since their insanely popular WRT54G series have switched to this new style.  I'm honestly not crazy about the styling's of the WRT110, WRT160N, WRT310N and WRT610N products, but that's personal preference.

Router Top
Router Top
 Bottom of Router
Bottom of Router
Ports Close
Ports Close

 

Now that you've seen the shortcomings of other solutions and the hardware, on the next page we'll dive into the Home Networking Defender and see what it's all about.



Router Configuration:

With the LELA (Linksys EasyLink Advisor) you don't even have to login to your router using the traditional web interface.  The software allows you to do basic router setup through a much prettier interface.  However, if you still want to jump into the traditional router interface that will also work just fine.

 Security Config
Security Config
 SSID Configuration
SSID Configuration

 

Along with the basic router configuration such as SSID, Encryption and password, you also have the ability to turn on Home Network Defender for 30-days free.   You have the option to sign up for a new trial or if you've upgraded your router, you can log in an as existing customer and bring over your account.  I queried Linksys to see if your settings would all be imported if this was a replacement router, but they replied that they don't store any settings information on their servers.  The only information they store is your account details that enables you to put the Home Network Defender to work on another router.  You'll still be required to set it up.

Enable Home Network Defender
Enable Home Network Defender

 

As I didn't previously have an account for the Home Network Defender, I needed to create one which is as simple and picking a password to accompany your email address.

Create HND Account
Create HND Account

 

Home Network Defender:

Within seconds of creating my account I was taken to a network map that does a pretty good job of detecting computers and devices on the network.  It has no trouble detecting devices, but doesn't always assign the correct device type.  For instance, it didn't know what my Wii was and it detected a repeater router as something altogether different.  It is easy to rename and change the device type however and I quickly corrected these.  It was interesting to see that my D-Link DNS-323 was detected as a Print Server.

 Network Map
Network Map

 

As you can see I've got quite a few devices on my home network and LELA displays them all nicely.  When a new device is introduced to the network, you immediately have an option to flag it as an intruder or allow it to access the network.  By default the device will have access - which is not a big thing if they've already typed in the WPA2 passkey or are plugged into the network.  If they have hard-wired access or have the passkey they probably are allowed to be on the network.


Parental Controls:

While a service like OpenDNS only allows you to define parental controls for the entire network, the Home Network Defender gives you a couple of choices.  You can either do blanket coverage for your entire network or you can specify different controls for different machines on your network.  You can easily create custom rules as well that make it even more secure - or possibly allow certain sites that you frequent that may fall outside of the parental control zone you've specified.

Parental Controls - Setup
Parental Controls - Setup

 

One thing that I appreciate about the filter is that even if you should choose to use the "Adult" filter that allows Adult content, it still blocks malicious sites.  All filters block malicious sites and you've have to create a custom rule if you wanted to go to a site that is known for injecting virus', Trojans and other nasty stuff on your machine.  If you are using the included Trend Micro Anti-Virus, you should still be protected although it's not recommended.

Parental Controls - Adult
Parental Controls - Adult
Parental Controls - Kids
Parental Controls - Kids

 

After setting up the filter for "Mature Teen" I tried loading up several websites that should be blocked and they all were.  The violent filter allows a lot of content through, but sites like the one attempted below are flagrant fouls and the Home Network Defender worked just fine.

 HND - Works
HND - Works

 

If you're a parent reading this, I'm sure you'll be interested on the reporting feature.  It allows you to see which machines have been blocked the most in regards to the filters and parental controls that you have set up.  This information requires you to load up a web-page, or you can simply set up the daily report notification email and browse that at your leisure.

 Network Activity Report
Network Activity Report
 HND - Report Setup
HND - Report Setup

 

Linksys has an image of a detailed report over here if you want to see how it all breaks down.  Little Johnny is in trouble.

 

Final Thoughts:

While there are no perfect solutions for home network security, the Home Network Defender from Linksys goes a long way to fill in the gap between security and ease-of-use.  The interface looks great and is nice and simple to use.  The price of the entire solutions is pretty attractive as well.  The Home Network Defender comes bundled with four 1-year licenses for Trend Micro Anti-Virus as well as all the customization you need to keep people on your network protected from viewing inappropriate content and visiting malicious sites.  The regular price is $59.99, but is currently available for $49.99 until 60-days post launch (~ April 17, 2009).  This is a steal as the Anti-Virus alone is worth that much money.  It's not all perfect though.  In order to run "properly" a host machine needs to run a couple of processes in order to keep the Easy-Link Adviser and the reporting features working properly.   Because a router is a "dumb" device, the software is used to update the device and make sure that new sites are added to the blocked lists as they become known.

Also, you have to trust the guys at Linksys by Cisco and Trend Micro in regards to the Parental Controls.  They looked at what makes the most sense to a parent and set up the router according to the age ranges of below 13 (kids), young teen (13-15), mature teen (16-17) and adult (18+).  You may have a different set of morals and the standard parental controls may have to be tweaked.  One nice thing about the Home Network Defender is that it blocks bit torrent search sites like PirateBay, ISOHunt and others when you choose the young teen parental profile.  This is great as it helps keep your network clean from files that kids will try rip off of peer-to-peer search sites.  That being said, if you have a peer-to-peer client and files are already being downloaded, the Home Network Defender won't be able to block this content.  It merely blocks the main search engines for peer-to-peer sharing.

In the future, Linksys plans to block applications, but at this point applications have free-reign.  The Home Network Defender is a work in progress and as it stands, it's a good work that fills a large whole in Home Network Security.

Pros:

  • Unified solution for home network security
  • Easy to setup and use
  • Customizable security option
  • Comes with four licenses for Trend Micro Anti-Virus
  • Detailed reports of offending machines
  • Affordable security package

 

Cons:

  • Computer software must run on a host machine to keep the Home Network Defender Updated
  • Custom Settings are not saved to the cloud - if your router is replaced, you'll have to create all your custom rules again.
  • Many of it's features can be implemented for free with other services
  • Home Network Defender only works with certain routers.

BCCRating

 

While the Home Network Defender may not earn our Editor's Choice award because of some limited router compatibility requirements, it does in fact earn a great value award.  For $60, this piece of software will work wonders to keep you and your family - or even small office - secure, safe and protected.

 Great Value

 

I'd like to thank Linksys for sending out this piece of software to evaluate and for answering all of my questions on the phone.  If you have any questions, please drop them in the forum at the "Comments" link below.