two minute review

It took a few weeks for the pandemic to make working from home a necessity. This rapid transition meant that many technical details initially went unchecked. Among these is our vulnerability to hackers, a threat that will only get worse with more connected devices. A firewall is the first line of protection a hacker sees when entering a network, primarily serving as a deterrent.

Firewalla's journey began with a crowdfunding campaign to install a firewall in as many homes as possible. Their latest hardware, the Purple, is a portable unit that packs a powerful multi-core processor, complete with software that enables home network control. The compact device can also be used on the go thanks to two Wi-Fi interfaces and low power consumption.

Price and Availability

The Purple retails for the discounted price of €319 for a limited time and has an MSRP of €369. Firewalla also offers other models that are well suited to the budget of its customers. Its entry level costs €139, while the top-end Firewalla Gold costs €478.

(Image credit: future)

Purple Firewall: Design

Firewalla's Purple ships with quality materials and includes everything you need to get your device up and running in minutes. A 15W Type-C power adapter, matching power cord, and flat Ethernet cable are included. The purple plastic firewall sits on top of the accessories and is the first thing you see when you open the box. A card with an internet link to the online manual is provided instead of a printed user guide.

Rear ports

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The firewall itself is small and can fit in your back pocket. The 3 cm x 6 cm x 9 cm box weighs 110 g. All connectors are on one side and include two 1G Ethernet ports, one unused USB Type-A port, and the USB Type-C port used for power. On the opposite side are a micro-SD socket and a reset button accessible via a pinhole. The purple box is very light and has four rubber feet. Two LEDs located on each side of the box give the status at all times.

Front of device

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The hardware is based on a 922 GHz Amlogic 1,9X six-core processor. All four Cortex A53 and two Cortex A73 architectures perform slightly better than a Raspberry Pi 4. The Purple also supports 2GB of DDR4 RAM and has 16GB of storage. eMMC memory. The memory chips and processor are cooled by a small fan mounted on a heat sink. Air vents on the side provide proper airflow to the system, regulating temperature to prevent CPU throttling.

The firewall has a 2×2 WiFi radio that supports the 802.11ac standard with a maximum speed of 867 Mbps. An integrated Bluetooth 5.0 interface is used for initial software configuration. Two internal PCB antennas offer a few meters of range and will be handy for using the firewall in a cafe, for example. Finally, a pair of 1G Ethernet interfaces are included and connect to the WAN and LAN networks, with the WAN being the internet service provider's link, while the LAN is the home network.

QR Code

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Purple firewall - in use

The Purple Firewall configuration is based on the Firewall mobile app that exists for the Apple and Android ecosystems. Once downloaded, the user first selects the type of product used and goes through a pairing process. The app will then search for the firewall using Bluetooth and validate the device using a QR code on the back of the device. The whole process usually takes no more than five minutes.

The firewall can function as a router or as a bridge. The main difference is that the Firewalla unit will broadcast the IP address and other network information if it is a router. A bridge, on the other hand, will forward network requests to a separate router. The purple box as a router allows more control over a network. This is the recommended mode but it tends to be more complicated to configure.

Firewall application

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The drive logs events and statistics about data passing through it at all times. These are displayed on the dashboard as charts and clickable elements. For example, enabling the section that represents the number of connected devices opens a page with assigned hostnames and IP addresses. Groups can then be created to contain hosts that belong to a particular category.

Where the Purple Firewall really shines is how simple it is to view, activate, and adjust the features. Just press a few buttons to activate the built-in ad blocker. Another good example is open port testing which could offer hackers a way to get into the network. Once again, a single press will test for open ports. Other useful features built into the Firewall purple box are VPN client and server, DNS over HTTPS and family filters.

Competition

Compact firewalls suitable for home use are getting faster and cheaper thanks to affordable processors typically found in Android TV boxes. These processors provide a range of high-speed interfaces, including multiple Gigabit Ethernet ports. They also run firewall software available in an open source format. A manufacturer just needs to integrate all the components while providing a good user interface.

WatchGuard has been around for over two decades producing firewall appliances. Its entry-level unit, the Firebox T15, offers similar functionality to the purple box but for about twice the price. The included 32-bit processor is less powerful than Firewall's 922X, while resources such as RAM and Flash memory are also lacking. Finally, the T15 lacks familiar features like an ad blocker or social vacation.

Zyxel Communications manufactures professional grade networking equipment. The USG Flex 100 is a firewall that provides basic protection against online attacks. Priced similarly to Firewall's Purple, the Flex 100 offers more Ethernet ports. But as with the Firebox T15, the Purple's modern six-core processor carries over the dual-core found in the Flex 100. The Zyxel Firewall also lacks a Wi-Fi interface and is much larger.

final verdict

Firewalla's purple firewall is taking over the world by making it safer online. Don't be fooled by its small size, it packs a lot of features normally found on more expensive units. The powerful processor is the star of the show. With multiple network interfaces such as Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, many use cases can be created in the software without having to worry about processing power. This is clearly put into practice in the mobile app which incorporates features like DNS over HTTPS and ad blocker.

The price is a bit high for the hardware provided, but we must also consider Purple Firewall as a software with long-term support. The level of firewall protection will depend on the ability of Firewalla to stay ahead of hackers. There have been many cases where centralized services have been attacked by bad actors, resulting in a denial of service. If this were to happen to Firewalla, it could result in a loss of protection for all your clients.

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