For everything and whatever lurks out there, Redcannon's Fireball CyberProtection Suite acts as a virtual bouncer that stands at your PC's Internet door. The software offers a firewall and intrusion detection system and comes with parental Internet controls; system assessment capabilities to update the Windows operating system and remove vulnerabilities and Internet Protocol Security (IPSec) support that secures virtual private networks (VPNs). It's a first rate security solution that's clearly designed for home and very small business users.
Fireball's firewall analyzes network and internet traffic and lets you restrict network communications between your PC and the outside world. The firewall can secure Ethernet as well as dial-up, digital subscriber line (DSL), cable modem and wireless Internet connections and identifies, blocks and tracks hacker attacks that may include Trojan horse programs, HTTP attacks, denial of service, attacks to operating system vulnerabilities, data leakage and e-mail worms. Along with alerts, the software provides a description of the attacker and disruption.
The software monitors e-mail, filtering by address, domain, subject and attachment. It lets you choose whether to filter inbound or outbound mail, or both. When a questionable e-mail arrives, Fireball gives you control over its enforcement, quarantining or blocking the offending message. Since hackers often hide malicious spy programs on PCs, Fireball monitors the applications on a PC that connect to the Internet.
Because hackers are constantly searching for and identifying vulnerabilities and weaknesses in the Windows operating system, a system scan feature audits Windows and Internet Explorer, identifies the latest security patches and automatically downloads them for installation.
A feature that will appeal more to parents and employers than to children and workers, Fireball's control functions let you restrict the use of software applications and Internet access. You may set "allow" or "block always" settings and configure the software with time and access restrictions. It maintains a log for parents and administrators that records the websites that were visited and how long applications were used. The log also records attempts by individuals to visit questionable sites or use off-limit applications.
A feature that will appeal to telecommuters and those who connect to corporate systems from home or the road is the IPSec Virtual Private Network/VPN client. This lets you configure VPN users so they may securely connect to a business or corporate local area network (LAN). Fireball' s IPSec VPN client works with a VPN Gateway or VPN-compliant firewall, and supports well-known VPNs, including those from Checkpoint and Cisco.
While Fireball offers a wealth of features, it lacks anti-virus capabilities. When compared against Symantec's Norton Personal Firewall 2004, Fireball offers a competitive deal that adds VPN support, e-mail and content filtering and system scans to the mix at the same price. On the other hand, Norton Internet Security 2004 adds anti-spam features and anti-virus capabilities to its firewall for $20 more, which may be a stronger deal.
I found Fireball to be straightforward to install. During installation, the product performed a vulnerability assessment of my PC's operating system, applications and TCP/IP network stack and let me configure the mail client and firewall security. You may also configure the detection for types of attacks that can include denial of service, scans, HTTP attacks, buffer overflows, Trojan horses and more.
Setting up profiles was easy. I simply entered a user name and password; checked boxes to monitor web sites, applications or both; and added web sites and applications that I wanted to restrict. If you plan to use the program's VPN features, there's a wizard that walks you through the steps of entering a VPN profile name, configuring the IPSec and more.
Setting up filters to prevent pop-up ads and questionable websites and e-mail messages was no problem. I found that I could easily specify multiple profiles for different users on my test computer and effectively restrict access to websites and applications, as well as set time parameters for the duration that a person may access and use particular programs.
I found Fireball's interface to be visual, friendly and intuitive. The main console offers buttons that serve the main functions: firewall, intruders, privacy, scanning, VPN and profiles. The software serves intuitive dials to adjust settings. For example, when configuring the firewall, you simply turn a dial from "off" to "on," and set the firewall to "low," "medium" or "high" settings.
A mini-console summarizes the program's main features and resides on the desktop. While well done, this mini-console is rather large to have sitting on a desktop all of the time. In this regard, Norton does a better job of maintaining a desktop icon that's smaller and just as available, but doesn't become a visual nuisance.
Pricing and Availability
Fireball CyberProtection Suite is available for $49.95 and supports Windows XP (Home Edition or Professional), Windows NT 4, 2000 Professional, Windows 98 and ME. The suite may be evaluated through a free 15-day trial version that can be downloaded from Redcannon's website. Redcannon offers technical support via e-mail, but no telephone support.
Redcannon offers updates, software signatures and support for only the first year after purchase, which unfortunately, is standard in the industry. The product continues to work after the subscription period is over, but the price for continuing the support and update subscription is $19.95 annually.
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