Firewalla Purple Review: Smarter Home Network Control and Security

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 do not need networking expertise to use it, though it may be intimidating at first.

Home Security

Photograph: Firewalla

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 seats 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 Fortniteand set downtime and bandwidth restrictions for your child’s computer or console.

Control Freak

Courtesy of Firewalla

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.

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