Over the past few years, Firewalla’s combined firewall and router devices have made a name for themselves as the best hardware security tools for many enthusiasts and small businesses. Today, the company has started shipping its latest device, the Firewalla Purple, a small gigabit firewall and router that currently retails for $319.
Founded in 2015, the Purple Firewalla fills a gap in its lineup, which has so far included 100 Mbps and 500 Mbps devices for home and small business users with prices ranging from $129 to $199, as well as a $458 3 Gbps+ device for larger businesses. Since many homes now have access to gigabit internet connections, the purple falls nicely in the middle there.
Like its other devices, the Purple’s core function is a firewall, but of course, with a device watching over your network, you can do a lot more. In addition to monitoring and controlling your internet usage, the Purple also offers the ability to filter ads and provide parental controls to, for example, block access to adult content or take the Xbox offline after a certain time. But it can also function as a VPN server and client, and if you want granular control over everything in your network, the Firewalla app will let you go very deep into managing and shaping your network and traffic. To make that a little easier, you can manage or group devices individually in ways that make sense for your network and usage (for example, I have groups for all my desktops and IoT devices).
A nifty feature of the Purple is that it has built-in Wi-Fi so it can function as a travel router, but in a handy twist you can also clip it to your phone and provide internet connectivity to your network when your normal internet connection has gone down.
As Firewalla co-founder and CEO Jerry Chen pointed out, this Wi-Fi feature was originally something the company’s engineers wanted to play with — and I think that’s a great example of how Firewalla as a whole feels about it. build his devices. “It’s all accidental,” Chen said. “The travel is purely coincidental. We build in fault tolerance [the Purple]. Then our technicians just say, ‘I want to play with this.’ And they got a different channel from the same WiFi chip.”
Depending on your network configuration, you can connect the USB-C powered device in-line between your modem and router or simply connect it to your router like any other Ethernet cabled device. Firewalla provides a fairly simple guide to doing this, and it doesn’t matter which route you choose, it shouldn’t take you more than five minutes to get everything up and running.
There’s one exception: if you’re using Google Wifi or Google Nest mesh routers, which don’t support some of the specific network modes Firewalla needs to see and manage all your network traffic, your setup will be a bit more complicated or you won’t be able to. see all the details about the traffic on the mesh network.
As Chen noted, the company has been trying to talk to Google. “The problem with Google Wifi is that it doesn’t try to be nice to people,” he said, explaining how the mesh router just can’t be put into bridge mode or AP mode, requiring a relatively hacked solution. is. “We’d rather people don’t use Google Wifi – it’s just a unit trying to be the king of your network and we don’t want that to happen,” said the always outspoken Chen.
As Chen noted, most Firewalla users are prosumers — users who want (or think they want) more advanced networking features. Often these users then take these devices to small businesses. Although you can always go for a complex network configuration from suppliers like Cisco, the advantage of Firewalla is that it is extremely easy to set up.
“A lot of our customers are technology people — IT, InfoSec — and what I hear from them is, ‘I want to go home. I don’t really want to do the things I do at work [at home] because it’s too complicated for me. I want something simple, but not stupid,” Chen said. Dumb, he argues, would be a button that simply says ‘safe’. That would be nice, but that’s not how security works. Instead, the company’s users want to be able to easily create rules and tailor the network to their needs. “The best design is no button, but that’s not possible with security, because security isn’t a game without buttons,” Chen says.
For the user, this means that, while it takes some getting used to, the device management app is usually quite intuitive – but if you want to dig deeper, you can set up custom routes and dig deep into the insides of your network. However, it does not hold your hand. You can also easily screw it up. You will also receive a lot of alerts in the first few days, simply because you still have to teach the router what normal traffic is on your network and what is not.
As for the hardware, despite the chip and logistics crisis, which also affects Firewalla and its product range, the company can now ship the purple router. But as Chen noted, where a few years ago it took three weeks to build a device, 20 days to ship and then a few days to go through customs, it can now take months — and although the company had and deposits for production runs of their chips, manufacturers now often need more time and want to charge higher prices. An Ethernet MAC chip, he noted, used to cost pennies, now the price is as high as a few dollars.
Chen admitted that this put quite a bit of pressure on the company, which was a little short on cash due to these delays. So while the pandemic helped the company grow tremendously — with people at home looking to secure their networks — it also faced many challenges on all fronts. But it was able to weather the storm, partly through some inventive maneuvers. For example, because it wanted to bring some of the Purples to beta testers early, but couldn’t start a full production run, it wanted to do a 100 unit micro build – something that was expensive, but was able to do quickly because it was able was to sneak it in as a trial run.
However, the one thing you won’t see Chen doing anytime soon is raising money. Instead, the company was one of the early adopters of crowdfunding for its products. When he started talking to VCs early on, those he spoke to didn’t understand that consumers wanted to bring these security tools into their homes.
“[The reason] we are not funded with VC is because I am an engineer. I just really can’t sit and talk to VCs and pretend they know what they’re doing,” Chen said.