eSoft InstaGate 404e
Extensive range of UTM security features, good value, informative web interface, extensive upgrade options
Lengthy downloads, often requires reboots after updates, poor user documentation
With a low starting price, the 404e looks good value for SMEs and can be easily upgraded to full UTM status
Despite being formed in 1984, eSoft is a relative newcomer to the UK security appliance market. The latest InstaGate 404e is a compact desktop box designed for full firewall and UTM duties.
You can start with the basic box, offering standard SPI firewalling and IPsec-VPN termination. Throughput for these functions is restricted to 100Mbps and 50Mbps respectively and support is limited to 25 users on the LAN. To this you add eSoft's SoftPaks, which comprise different ThreatPaks allowing you to tailor the device to precise requirements. The 404e offers four 10/100 Ethernet ports split into LAN, DMZ and WAN duties and incorporates a 40GB IDE hard disk for its web proxy caching and message quarantining.
Installation time will depend on the number of SoftPaks, but you kick off by connecting a PC directly to the second LAN port and pointing a web browser at it. From here, you run through a quick-start wizard. We were supplied with the full monty for testing, so all three ThreatPaks and appliance updates took a few hours to download.
Each ThreatPak provides a wide range of features, with the web ThreatPak offering policy-based content filtering that includes protection against known spyware and phishing sites. The network ThreatPak adds gateway anti-virus and IPS measures, more anti-spyware features and controls for IM and P2P applications, while the email option delivers message- content filtering, virus scanning, anti-spam and quarantining.
With so much on offer, the web interface is a busy but well-designed affair The ThreatMonitor screen is particularly useful, as it provides a row of tabbed folders offering plenty of graphical information about performance and activity.
The mail security features are extensive. ESoft employs its own proprietary anti-spam measures, which combine a wide range of weapons including Bayesian filters and heuristic analysis, plus black and white lists. Usefully, you can customise the Bayesian filter for your organisation by teaching it what is and isn't spam.
Companies that use an external ISP for mail aren't left out in the cold as all InstaGate products offer a mirroring feature that makes them virtually unique. Selecting this option from the email settings causes the appliance to download mail from the designated POP3 server. You then configure users to be allowed to access their email, whereby each one sets up their mail client to point at the appliance.
This handy feature barely gets a mention in the documentation, making it more difficult to set up than need be. We advised eSoft of this, and it said it would update the manual.
For content filtering, the SiteFilter option is enabled from within the firewall settings, giving you access to 30 URL categories that can be blocked. These are applied using preference sets. All filtering is done locally by the box, which means a download is required for the category database before it can start. Filtering was quite good: when we attempted to visit 42 online bingo sites with the gambling, games and entertainment categories ticked, the 404e scored an 81 per cent blocking rate.
For the gateway anti-virus you can elect to have DNS, FTP and HTTP traffic scanned, and can include inbound and outbound messages as well. With the email ThreatPak in residence, content filtering is an option, although you don't get any predefined keyword lists.
The anti-spyware function is extensive if a little overzealous at times on its default settings. However, the responses can be modified, as you have six categories, from consumerware to severe threats, which you can block or allow or customise actions for each category.
During testing our main areas of criticism came down to the uninformative user guides and the lengthy update downloads. That aside, we found the 404e to be a very capable security appliance offered at a reasonable price.