Small Business Security Review: Umbrella Mobility

by Joseph Moran

Umbrella Mobility by OpenDNS offers another layer of mobile security for small business. We test this cloud-based service to see how well it protects against Web-based malware, botnets, and phishing.

Managing employees' Web use—and protecting their computers from the malware that seems to behind every other Web site—is challenging enough for a small businesses when workers sit in rows of offices and cubicles connected to the corporate network. But when they're out in the world with laptops and other mobile devices linked to myriad networks—at home, client sites, coffee shops, and airports—managing small business security can be a particularly daunting task.

OpenDNS, well known for its DNS services that offer safer and speedier Web browsing, now extends its reach with Umbrella Mobility, a cloud-based security service that aims to protect an organization's roaming workers wherever their jobs happen to take them.

Umbrella Mobility identities

Figure 1: The Umbrella Mobility service divides devices into two categories—roaming computers (Windows/Mac laptops) and mobile devices (iOS phones and tablets).

Using a test account of Umbrella Mobility provided to us by OpenDNS, we put the service through its paces. We found it easy to set up and to administer, and it offers a great deal of control over how mobile devices access the Internet.

Umbrella Mobility: Device Support and Setup

To get Umbrella Mobility up and running, the first step is to install a small software agent called a "roaming client" on each device you want protected. The roaming client redirects the device's DNS requests through a VPN to the OpenDNS network where lookups are screened and content policies applied before any data returns to the device.

Umbrella Mobility's roaming client supports systems running Windows XP through Windows 8 (but not Windows RT), Mac OS X 10.6 or later, and iOS devices with 5.1.1 or later. Notably absent from this list is Android support, which is under development and slated for release later in the year.

We tried Umbrella Mobility on a Windows 8 laptop and an iPad 2. In the case of Windows (or Mac) systems, you can download and install the client directly from the service's Web-based Dashboard, or simply download the file to distribute it through other means (i.e. unattended and/or bulk installs). To set up iPhones and iPads, users can download an app from the iTunes store or an administrator can issue an email containing a link to the download. In either case, we had each of our test devices configured in about 5 minutes.

Umbrella Mobility: Identities and Policies

The Umbrella Mobility Dashboard divides mobile computing devices into two categories—or "identities" as the service labels them. Windows/Mac laptops are referred to as roaming computers, while iPhones and iPads are termed mobile devices. The service provides a preconfigured default policy, which is automatically assigned to each new device; you can customize the default policy or add new policies and apply those to given identities or specific devices.

Umbrella Mobility block pages

Figure 2: You can customize the block page that employees see when they try to access restricted content.

In addition to Umbrella Mobility's standard compliment of security features—it automatically blocks access to sites that OpenDNS thinks are linked to malware, botnets, and phishing—Web content can be filtered broadly ranging from Low (just blocks porn) to High (blocks pretty much everything not work-related, including Facebook, YouTube, and Webmail). You can also pick and choose from 59 different content categories to keep at bay, as well as whitelist or blacklist specific domain names.

Umbrella Mobility also lets you customize the page that users see when they attempt to access blocked content. This includes tailoring the message to explain why content was blocked, as well as allowing specific users to bypass the block on all or selected content. Alternately, you can generate numeric bypass codes that expire after certain date.

We found that both our test devices accurately reflected the policies we configured and blocked sites as appropriate, and Umbrella Mobility updated quickly. Whenever we made policy changes, connected computers reflected the updated configuration within several minutes.

Umbrella Mobility: Statistics and Reports

To help you keep tabs on what Umbrella Mobility is up to, the service's Dashboard shows a tally of how many instances of malware and botnet activity occurred in the last 24 hours and plots an hour-by-hour historical graph of DNS request volume for the same period. It also displays the top 10 most requested domains, and which 10 devices generated the most requests.

Umbrella Mobility dashboard

Figure 3: When you log into the dashboard, Umbrella Mobility displays network status including and malware and botnet activity, historical volume of DNS requests, and most requested domains.

With Umbrella Mobility's reporting feature, you can get more detailed information, drill down into specific requests, filter by identity or domain name, and view data going back a week or more. You can also export reports, but only to CSV format (PDF would be nice, too.)

Pricing, Trial, and Packages

So what does all this mobile security cost? On its website, OpenDNS quotes a price for Umbrella Mobility of $25 per user per year. That's an attractive price to be sure, but it's important to note that this price is for 100 users.

OpenDNS doesn't make pricing information for fewer than 100 users readily available (it would prefer you obtain a quote from a sales representative), but by initiating the purchase process we determined that the $25 rate also applies in quantities of 50-99 users. The price then goes north to:

  • $30 per person per year for 40-49 users
  • $35 per person per year for 30-39 users
  • $37.50 per person per year for 11-29 users
  • $50 per person per year for 1-10 users


It's also worth noting that since Umbrella licenses users and not individual devices, a single license covers both an employee's laptop and smartphone or tablet.

In addition to Umbrella Mobility, there are three other Umbrella packages available. Umbrella Enterprise applies the same anti-malware and content control to corporate networks—but not mobile devices—for $20 user/year.

Umbrella Insights, at $25 user/year, adds Active Directory integration. Umbrella Everywhere combines the features of Mobility, Enterprise, and Insights for $40 user/year. (Again, all quoted prices are for 100 users.)

If you want to take Umbrella for a spin before you buy, OpenDNS offers a 14-day trial, but you can't just sign up and get rolling with it. Access to the trial requires initiating contact with a sales representative.

Umbrella Mobility policy categories

Figure 4: You can configure policies broadly to block different content types, or you can choose from 59 individual categories. 

One final caveat: don't think of Umbrella Mobility as a replacement for traditional anti-virus software, because it doesn't scan files against a signature database of known malware the way AV software does. Plus, malware can make its way to a device in ways that have nothing to do with DNS, such as via removable drives or email attachments. That said, when you set up Umbrella Mobility on the front line, chances are your AV software will have a lot less work to do. 

  • Price: $25 per user per year (for 100 users)
  • Pros: Easy to set up and administer; flexible, granular content and security policies; attractive pricing (particularly for 50+ users)
  • Cons: No support for Android devices (yet); not a substitute for traditional anti-virus software


Joseph Moran is a veteran technology writer and co-author of Getting StartED with Windows 7, from Friends of ED.

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This article was originally published on Thursday Jun 13th 2013
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