More than just a cool-sounding name
Everywhere you turn on the internet, there are dangers lurking. Rogue hackers are out there, trying to gain access to your data using malware infections, compromised firewalls, and brute force attacks. Without adequate safeguards in place, the safety of your network and personal data is at serious risk.
To protect your network, you could think about installing a network-wide firewall device like the Firewalla Gold. This new, family-friendly and easy-to-use firewall has been designed with home users and small businesses in mind, but to help you decide if it’s the right option for you, we’re putting it to the test in this extensive Firewalla review.
Firewalla Gold: Design and Unboxing
The Firewalla Gold is small enough, fitting in the palm of your hand, but it packs quite a punch when it comes to cybersecurity.
Don’t expect an outdated manual or lots of unnecessary packaging when you unbox the Firewalla Gold. Included in the box is the Gold itself, along with a power supply, mounting plate, USB control dongle, and screws to mount it. A small card inside provides you with the website link with instructions you’ll need to follow to set up the firewall.
It’s a mostly plug-in-and-forget solution, with a mounting plate included that allows you to mount it out of sight. That’s the point—it isn’t here to dazzle and grab your attention, but work in the background to block threats, ads, and more, only notifying you when it detects a potential issue.
By default, the Firewalla Gold comes with a US-style power cord. If you’re ordering through the Firewalla website, you can buy a suitable international cord for an extra $10, although you could find these elsewhere.
Compared to the earlier Firewalla Blue and Red products, this Firewalla is slightly bigger and flatter, with a metal groove design on top to help keep it cool during use. The product has been cleverly designed with passive cooling in mind, but we’d still recommend you only use it in well-ventilated areas.
The design is simple, striking, and much improved compared to earlier models. The only downside (that we can see) is a lack of included ethernet cabling to quickly connect it to your local network (or to set it up as a router itself).
While cabling is cheap, the Firewalla Gold retails at $499, so you’d expect it to come with everything you need to get started. Remember, this product has been designed with home users in mind, who (unlike tech professionals) may not have spare ethernet cabling available.
Firewalla Gold: Features and Specifications
This crowd-funded firewall has all the features you’ll need to protect your network. As the fourth generation of Firewalla products, the Firewalla Gold benefits from several years of real-world testing that has allowed the company to refine and improve the product.
According to Firewalla, the Firewalla Gold uses four stages of monitoring and protection to keep your devices safe, including deep packet monitoring of your network traffic to behavior analysis to pinpoint anything “unusual”. It also protects from threats (such as hacking attempts) using predefined or user-set rules.
As part of a series of defences to help keep your network safe, the Firewalla Gold includes parental controls to block websites that shouldn’t be accessed, as well as a built-in VPN server and client, allowing you to connect to an external VPN service, or create your own to connect to your network remotely.
If you want to block or remove ads, you can do this across your entire network using the Firewalla Gold’s ad-blocking features, which blocks a number of well-known networks from displaying ads (including video ads) on your devices. If you wanted to stop ads from appearing on your TV, for instance, this would be an ideal solution.
If you’re worried about the number of devices on your network, or if you want to “block off” a set number of devices from the rest, you can use network segregation. This isolates some devices, preventing internal and external access. This is a feature that would be great for outdoor security cameras to stop snoopers, for instance.
This feature can also be used to monitor and control the data usage used by other devices. This can be done through the web interface or by using Firewalla’s mobile app for Android and iOS users.
In terms of hardware, the Firewalla Gold is an open platform that supports expansion using Docker containers and SSH access for remote configuration and additional software installation. The device runs a version of Debian Linux, with a 64-bit 2.2Ghz Intel processor with four cores, as well as 4GB of RAM and 32GB of internal storage.
The Firewalla Gold can be connected to an existing local network, or it can be set up as a main router on a local network, thanks to the four “multi-gigabit” ethernet ports (rated at up to 3Gbits) that are available on the back of the unit.
Firewalla Gold: Installation and Set Up
Included in the Firewalla Gold packaging is a set-up card that directs you to a link on the Firewalla website. This link is your individual set-up guide, with tips and advice on how you may wish to set up and use the firewall on your network.
Firewalla recommends that you use the Firewalla Gold in router mode. This means that the Firewalla Gold manages and monitors your network traffic entirely. The set-up guide offers some support in helping you configure your existing router to do this, but you may need to consult your router’s user manual first.
You can also set the Firewalla Gold to supplement your existing router as the DHCP server (issuing IP addresses) in DHCP mode. Or, if you want to leave your router settings intact (or can’t modify them), you can set it to simple mode. As the name suggests, simple mode is easy to set up as it doesn’t need any other configuration.
Simple mode uses ARP spoofing to convince other devices that the Firewalla Gold is your network router, forcing any connected devices on the network to route traffic through it. This does have some compatibility issues with some types of routers, and may not work as effectively, but will be the simplest to set up and use.
To get started, you’ll need to connect your existing router or access point to the Firewalla Gold to port 4 on the back (the WAN port) using an ethernet cable. Ports 1 to 3 can be used to connect other devices. While a HDMI port is available on the device, this isn’t currently used on the test model we received.
Once the device is plugged in and switched on, you’ll need to install the Firewalla Gold app from the App Store for Apple devices or Google Play Store for Android devices. This will allow you to set up and configure the device.
The Firewalla app is well designed, easy to use, and should take you from the initial set-up stages to fully operational within 10 minutes, as long as your Firewalla Gold firewall is connected to your network correctly.
Beginner users should be able to understand the instructions on-screen, with visual guides and clear explanations to help you through the setup process. Power users and professionals will certainly have no issues, but as a product aimed at consumers, it’s good to see the simple approach take priority.
Firewalla Gold: Usage
The Firewalla Gold is the evolution of a service that has been in development for several years. With a focus on homes and small businesses, the Firewalla Gold has been designed with simplicity in mind. That much is obvious from our tests over several days.
Of course, a firewall isn’t designed to be noticeable—you should be able to set it and forget it. That, thankfully, is a feature that works well. With features like ad and IP-based location blocking enabled, the device simply worked without any problems during our tests.
It blocked ads, it stopped threats, and most importantly, it didn’t interfere with any existing network services. All devices on my network continued to use the internet, share files, and connect to each other without issues. Except during testing of the network segmentation features, all devices could continue to communicate.
Using the Firewalla app, it was also easy to change settings when needed. For instance, blocking ads can have an impact on some UK-based streaming services, so removing certain devices from ad blocking ensured that the services were back up and running in less than a minute.
Services like VPN connectivity and segment lockdowns (where devices can be quickly quarantined if they’re infected with malware, for instance) may prove a little harder to understand for novice users, but the Firewalla website has an extensive FAQ section that should help to explain difficult-to-understand features and settings.
Testing of the Firewalla Gold over several days, with several users and many devices connected to it, proved that the device does what it says it will do: protect your network, block ads and outside threats, and give you extra security features that your network might otherwise be lacking.
Firewalla Gold vs. Alternative Firewall Devices
The Firewalla Gold is an all-in-one device that makes protecting a local network an effortless process. There are alternatives you could try, but it all depends on your budget and the time you have to set things up.
For instance, you could use the open-source pfSense on a custom-built machine, old PC, or Raspberry Pi to act as a network firewall. pfSense is industry-recognized and highly recommended, but it comes with a steep learning curve, from setting up to configuration.
It’s also entirely free to use, or you could grab it pre-installed on a Netgate SG-3100 for the same price as the Firewalla Gold, but with older hardware and fewer features.
In contrast, the Firewalla Gold benefits from several years of development, testing, and improvements. It’s the fourth edition of the Firewalla device line, and with an easy-to-use app and SSH access to update and install your own software, it offers all of the customization without the headache.
Alternatives to the Firewalla Gold do exist, but you may need to pay extra to match the functionality. For instance, you could grab the Bitdefender Box, which also offers threat detection and anti-malware for your entire network, but on a slower device that can’t be as easily configured or extended compared to the Firewalla Gold.
You could also look at enterprise-grade equipment, such as the Ubiquiti EdgeRouter 4. This offers similar features to the Firewalla Gold, but without the user-friendly interface and on slower hardware.
Whether you build your own firewall or go for an all-in-one, prebuilt solution, few firewalls offer the refined user interface, number of features, modern hardware, and level of customization that the Firewalla Gold offers to its users.
Protecting Your Network
The Firewalla Gold is one of the most interesting consumer-grade security products to reach the market in recent years. At $499 with no additional charges or fees, it’s priced like it’s at the bottom end of the market, but with the kind of features you’d see in an enterprise-grade Cisco or Juniper unit instead.
Functionality is the most important benefit of the Firewall Gold, with features like ad blocking and live threat detection that most users can switch on and forget about.
For power users and businesses, extensive customization, especially with the ability to expand functionality using Docker containers and SSH access for additional software installation, it’s a very flexible solution.
There’s no doubt in our minds that the Firewalla Gold will protect local and business networks well, offering a huge step-up in protection compared to a simple software firewall. After all, you can only protect yourself from hackers if you have the right equipment in place to keep you safe in the first place.