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FireWalls and VPNs

last modified 2006-02-22 03:52 PM

A FOSS firewall operating system.

A few years ago, before Linksys and Netgear made cheap firewall routers, I was looking to set up a cheap firewall for my home office network. I picked up an old Compaq 386 box for $50 on some PC website (which no longer was in business) and installed one of the 2.2 kernel versions of Linux, and set up a rudimentary firewall. It took a bit of work but it did the job, it was cheap and effective. In fact, for several companies I managed we used specially configured Linux boxes to act as our network firewall and router.

Today you can get a specially tuned Linux distribution called Smoothwall which allows you to easily set up such a firewall. But why use Linux as oppossed to buying a commercial box, especially since these start at prices as low as $60?

For one thing, you can rely on the work of the entire Linux community to make sure your firewall's security is up to par. Recently, my son Itamar discovered a serious security flaw in an off-the-shelf Linksys router. Linksys refused to acknowledge the flaw, although eventually they did fix it and issued a new firmware upgrade. But they did not inform customers, and you can be sure there are tons of Linksys boxes out there which still have that flaw.

Moreover, a full fledge server gives you the flexibility of adding capabilities when you want and need them. For example, you might want to add VPN capabilities. Two well known Linux VPN products are OpenVPN and FreeS/WAN. Off-the-shelf high-end boxes are also quite expensive.

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