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The best firewall for your home

Updated: Apr 25, 2022

Firewalla Purple: This pocket-sized gigabit firewall can protect you from malware, ads, and snoopers at home and away.

STAYING SAFE ONLINE and protecting your privacy is a challenge in the internet age. The worst hacks of 2021 show how hard it is to avoid an attack, and cybercrime is a tangible threat to just about everyone. That's what Firewalla Purple wants to solve—it's a small firewall and router that aims to fulfill your cybersecurity needs by bundling networking, ad-blocking, parental controls, and a virtual private network (VPN) functionality for your home network into one compact, purple box.

It's spendy at $319, and the configuration is fiddly, but the Firewalla Purple comes with an accessible mobile app that lets you see and control the internet traffic going into and out of your home. You don’t need networking expertise to use it, though it can be intimidating at first.

Home Security

Even if you set up your smart home correctly, the risk of being hacked looms large. Flaws in everything from Safari to Windows to Facebook expose us to risk every day. This is partly why Firewalla was founded; cofounder Jerry Chen says someone hacked his daughter's baby camera. With more than 20 years working on data protection at Cisco Systems, he set out to create a lineup of devices to safeguard home networks, and the Purple sits in the middle of the range.

It primarily functions as a firewall, watching and reporting all the traffic flowing in and out of your home. The Purple can also act as a router with short-range Wi-Fi, but I recommend pairing it with a good Wi-Fi router or mesh system. Otherwise, the Wi-Fi wouldn't cover more than a small room.

To get the most from it, you'll need to insert the Firewalla Purple between your router and modem, setting your current router into bridge or access point mode. (You can also hook it up to an Ethernet port on your router, but it won't be as effective a firewall.) Firewalla’s setup instructions are easy to follow, and I had it up and running within minutes. It's all managed via a mobile app on your phone. I'm using a speedy router, but I didn't notice any traffic slowdowns or issues with the Purple managing my network.

This rectangular purple box offers intrusion detection and prevention, automatically tightening your network security and looking out for suspicious traffic. You can also set up network-wide ad-blocking, which removes ads from all connected devices on your network. It mostly works. You'll still see some ads here and there.

You can configure the Firewalla Purple to run your VPN service so you don't need to install a VPN client on every device at home. Even better, when you're away on vacation, it can work as a VPN server (it supports OpenVPN and WireGuard). That means you can protect your devices by routing their traffic through your Firewalla at home.

It also has the most comprehensive parental controls I've ever seen, offering alerts for activities, scheduled access per device, safe search, and easy blocking of different categories or specific apps. You can, for example, block porn and gambling, get an alert when someone starts playing Fortnite, and set downtime and bandwidth restrictions for your child’s computer or console.

Control Freak

The Firewalla app shows real-time throughput. You can see how much data is being downloaded and uploaded, and all connected devices on your home network. Anything it deems suspicious is automatically blocked. This wealth of data can be overwhelming at first. The Purple blew up my phone with alerts. It's also very restrictive by default, so you'll have to teach it what kind of traffic is OK on your network.

I was surprised to see a list of thousands of blocked IP addresses within 24 hours of hooking the Firewalla Purple up (I still haven't figured this out). It takes time to understand everything and get a handle on what is happening. To manage your network, you use rules. You can, for example, block all IP addresses from a specific country, automatically route video streaming traffic through a VPN, or segment your network to keep your smart home devices in a separate group.

The versatility is impressive, but I am still working my way up the learning curve. Luckily, the default settings are secure, so you don’t have to do a lot of fiddling, and there's some advice attached to alerts. False positives are inevitable, and legitimate connections sometimes get flagged or blocked, though that’s true of any firewall.

If you like to micromanage your network or want to see what every device has connected to over the last 30 days, you'll have a hard time putting down the Firewalla app. I largely appreciate having a single app to manage network-wide parental controls, ad-blocking, and VPN service. It’s far less work than installing software on every device. Some router manufacturers are starting to offer similar features, but they often require a subscription, and the quality varies.

One of the most appealing features of the Firewalla Purple is that it keeps as much data as possible locally on the box (it’s worth reading Firewalla’s privacy and data visibility statement to learn more). By contrast, many routers, parental controls, and VPN services collect a considerable amount of personal data, and providers are not always clear about its use. I also like that the Purple is portable enough to take with you when you travel for business or vacations.

It's not for everyone: You need a bit of networking knowledge and the confidence to tinker around to get the most from the Purple. But the fact that you get enormous insight, control, and access to services without having to pay a monthly fee makes it a no-brainer. We could all stand to take cybersecurity and data privacy more seriously, and this is a good way for tech-savvy folks to do it.

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