Strengths: Very good value, easy to install, low-cost upgrades, top anti-spam and web filtering performance, full mail server option
Weaknesses: No virus scanning for HTTPS
Verdict: A powerful and easily deployed unified threat management (UTM) appliance with an impressive range of security features and very good web filtering and anti-spam performance
InstaGate's appliances offer a complete network security solution that stands out, as eSoft has developed virtually every UTM feature itself. They can be easily upgraded and customised; you can add unique mail server features too.
The InstaGate 806 is the flagship in a family of four and has a substantial hardware upgrade, but eSoft hasn't pushed the price up, but along with six Gigabit network ports, the 806 sports a faster processor, more memory and a pair of 500GB drives configured in a fault-tolerant mirror.
The base model delivers standard SPI firewalling and IPsec VPN termination. Maximum firewall and IPsec VPN throughputs are 750Mbps and 400Mbps respectively and there are no user restrictions in place.
The appliance can be customised with eSoft's two ThreatPaks, Web and Email, each with many features.
Web ThreatPak has gateway AV scanning, policy-based web content filtering, user authentication, web caching, IM and P2P app controls, plus IPS. Email ThreatPak has anti-spam, message content filtering, virus scanning and quarantining.
ESoft's Mail Server upgrade is a modest £671pa and turns the 806 into a fully-fledged mail server.
Although only suited to smaller businesses, the mail server mirroring feature could prove useful. Users need to be configured first and then you can set their client application to pick up mail from the appliance. However, note that this only works with one external mail domain and documentation is all too brief.
The Gigabit ports are separated out, with four providing LAN duties and the other two acting as DMZ and WAN ports.
The web proxy settings are simple to manage as you can opt to intercept HTTP and HTTPS traffic transparently or enforce authentication using the appliance's local database or AD. Advanced features include the web cache option; you can set this at up to 4GB in size.
The main administrative web interface is well designed and provides easy access to the myriad features. ESoft's SoftPak Director keeps all the security components updated automatically.
The home page opens with a ThreatMonitor window that gives an overview of the appliance's status, while tabbed folders offer information about performance and activity.
Select the anti-spam tab and you can see quickly what messages are being intercepted and allowed through, any viral activity and a summary of the latest incoming emails. We used Outlook rules to move tagged messages to separate folders on our test clients and saw eSoft deliver a high 98 per cent success rate on the default scoring system. This should improve over time, as it has a learning phase to improve Bayesian filtering. Filters can also be trained manually.
Virus scanning can be applied to HTTP and FTP traffic plus inbound and outbound mail, but eSoft still doesn't support HTTPS. IPS features impress: specific web and mail servers can be declared to the appliance, which generates protection policies for them.
We found eSoft's SiteFilter URL filtering service easily as good as that of all the big names in this field. It offers over 50 URL categories to choose from.
Performance was perfect: with games/gambling blocked, we were unable to access any online sites. It handled social networking sites impeccably and offers a useful URL categorisation tool.
General reporting tools are reasonably good and the appliance can generate daily summaries in HTML and email them to an administrator. It can also generate system and internet connection alerts, but if you want more detailed reports you can subscribe to the SmartReport SoftPak.
The InstaGate 806 delivers a superb range of gateway security measures and can be easily customised with a choice selection of upgrades. It performs very well and eSoft's own security features are easily the match of more costly third-party components.