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Reporting

The third element for managing web use and security is tracking and reporting. HND can run a Network Activity report locally using LELA (Figure 9), which provides a log of all device state changes and activity.

Network Activity report - all devices

Figure 9: Network Activity report - all devices

Another tracking component is a report on network activity by device.  Selecting the Report and Notification Settings option in HND will redirect you to a Linksys web page where you log in and select the devices you want included in the report, as well as the time intervals you want reported.  Intervals available are Daily, Weekly, and Monthly.  Reports are then run "in the cloud" and you are notified via email when they are ready.

I enabled this feature for daily reporting on all devices and received an email every day with a link to a Linksys website where I could log in and view the reports as shown in Figure 10.  

Network activity by Device report

Figure 10: Network activity by Device report

The data on the top right of the report shows total websites blocked by category on my network.  On the top left is a bar chart showing network "risk" by device.  My device labeled Mac1 generated the most "risky" traffic.  You can do a limited drill-down on each device via the Details section on the bottom, which will show the number of block events by category. 

This is the extent of the drill-down, however, which is pretty limited. I would have expected report options that displayed the actual blocked URLs, or at least the site domains. A traffic summary of Top N blocked domains across all devices would also be informative.

For example, in Figure 10, I've selected my "riskiest" device named Mac1, which appears to have earned that distinction by having 62 blocked Web Advertisement events. I'm not sure how much a threat this category is because there is very little information provided about each of the Content Filter categories. There is some information in the LELA online help. But there is also a well-hidden Home Network Defender manual that doesn't shed much light, either. This is where the ability to see the actual blocked URLs would be very helpful.

Anti-Virus

While it isn't integrated at the router level, HND includes four licenses for TrendMicro Antivirus plus Antispyware software, which I installed on my Vista PC without issue.  This bundling helps enhance the value of HND's subscription fee, but that's the limit of its integration.

Neither LELA nor HND monitor its use or whether clients are keeping current on AV signatures. For example, the Details option (discussed back in Figure 3) for each device produces a summary of that device's known attributes as shown in Figure 11. 

Device Details

Figure 11: Device Details

Notice that HND/LELA recognizes my connection to the router at 953 Mbps as well as the fact that I have LELA version 3.1 installed on this PC. I would think it wouldn't take much for TrendMicro to be able to keep tabs on the "health" of its AV client and this would further enhance HND's value (as well as network security).

Competitive Analysis

I have touched on how HND compares to other home network security products. But now it's time to dig a little deeper.  I have had the opportunity to review multiple security products for small networks, including small-business oriented Unified Threat Management (UTM) routers such as the SonicWall TZ190W, D-Link DFL-CPG310, and Zyxel USG100 and an open source solution called Copfilter. I have also looked at Bill Meade's review of the Yoggie Gatekeeper Pro and Craig Ellison's D-Link's SecureSpot review.

The router based solutions from SonicWall, D-Link, and Zyxel are more powerful network devices with dual WAN and VPN functionality as well as Intrusion Detection and Prevention (IDS/IPS) capable firewalls. So comparing HND to them isn't perhaps fair. But sizing up HND against the others is fair game.

Copfilter is a pretty cool open source (and subscription free) UTM solution that works with the Linux-based IPCop router/firewall. It lacks content filtering in its base form, however, although you can use another open source application—OpenDNS—to add it. But Copfilter, IPCop and OpenDNS are for the technically adventurous only; installing and configuring them requires skills way beyond the "Mom and Pop" user that is HND's target.

Yoggie's Gatekeeper Pro is an interesting option because it can be used with any router. The current version has evolved considerably since our review and is probably due for another look. It offers more features than HND including individual protocol filtering, email spam filtering, download size control and more. But its web filtering has holes similar to HND's and it's more costly, requiring the purchase of $200 hardware and a $70 annual subscription fee (for 5 computers).

Of these different security choices, HND is most similar to D-Link's SecureSpot, which is probably its competitive target. SecureSpot is available with D-Link's DIR-625, DIR-628 and DIR-655 routers.

HND and SecureSpot are similar in features but differ in implementation. The key difference is that all of HND's functions run in the router, except for its AV and requires a Windows application for administration. SecureSpot runs its parental control, timed access and threat blocking features in the router, as well as its administration console. But SecureSpot requires a Windows-only "thin client" to provide individualized parental control filtering in addition to its AV functions.

Table 2 compares HND and SecureSpot key features.

  Home Network Defender SecureSpot
Control Software Windows Application Web Application
Control/Client Integration None Limited
Client AV Licenses 4 3
Client Software TrendMicro McAfee
Content Filtering (CF) TrendMicro Bsecure
CF Age Groups 4 4
CF Categories 32 81
CF Custom Option Y Y
CF Scheduling Y Y
Reporting Y Y
Free 30 Day Trial Y Y
Annual Cost $59.99* $60.00
Routers Linksys WRT310N, WRT610N (160N "soon") D-Link DIR-625, DIR-628, DIR-655
(*HND has an introductory price of $49.99/year to expire 60 days after its 2/17/09 launch.)
Table 2: HND and SecureSpot Comparison

SecureSpot has the edge on HND for reporting (it includes email / SMS block alerts, activity calendar view and you can see the URLs of blocked sites). But HND has the edge for robustness, since all filtering and access control is router-based and doesn't depend on client-based software. Both products, however, have (very) imperfect web content filtering— a trait they share with every other parental control "solution".

Pricing is uncannily similar, but note that HND includes four AV seats vs. SecureSpot's three. Both are nice values, compared to buying AV software separately, but more so with HND.  According to Pricegrabber, one license for TrendMicro Antivirus plus Antispyware 2008 costs around $30.  Thus, for the cost of two AV licenses you get HND for free, plus two more licenses.

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