SOHO Firewall

It’s probably reasonable to say that the average home can no longer manage on a single PC. In my home there are seven of them in regular use, two of which are switched on 24x7x365 delivering various services. To support all this demand for Internet connectivity, we all turn to the home router. It’s easy to configure for the relative novice whilst also meeting the needs of the home-based professional user. Or does it?

Having recently moved into a new home with my girlfriend and her three teenage children, I’ve been forced to realise that a home router is simply inadequate for my requirements. To start with, the kids need protecting from themselves and the home router’s firewall isn’t really up to the job. It’s so poor that the majority of home users probably never even use it. Next, I need protecting from the kids! The manner of services they use are bandwidth gobblers and I find my connection flooded by game traffic, video/audio chat and enormous downloads. I need some decent bandwidth management.

Enter the professional firewall.

Once upon a time, the professional firewall was way beyond the reach of a SOHO user, but then again, so was the router. A firewall is in essence a router, but it has an answer to all those issues the kids are causing me that I described above. The firewall is industrial strength, the bandwidth management is only limited by my ability to configure it and because it’s based on a regular operating system (FreeBSD), it can move with the times far more efficiently than the off-the-shelf home router.

Enter pfSense. This product bridges the gap between the home router and the big boys in the enterprise space. It has enterprise class functionality but it can run on minimal, home class hardware. Best of all, it’s free!

All that being said, I’m completely new to pfSense and this is my introduction to a new section that I hope to fill with my experiences of getting it up and running on a UK based ADSL connection. I got the ball rolling today by purchasing the following equipment:-

  • Linksys AM200 ADSL Modem – Not to be confused with an ADSL home router, this device is much dumber, it just converts my incoming ADSL connection to Ethernet. It does no authentication and offers little internal functionality.
  • 1GB Compact Flash Card – This was a leap of faith to some extent. I plan to use a solid state computer manufactured by Soekirs Engineering. These computers are low cost, low power consumption. Perfect for the home user, but they need some non-volatile storage as disks use power and generate heat. That’s why they have a bootable Compact Flash slot.
  • Compact Flash Reader/Writer – We need one of these to write to our Compact Flash. In other words, we download the pfSense software to a PC, write it to the Compact Flash and then install the flash into the Soekris computer.
  • I’ve ordered these parts first, without the actual Soekris computer. That’s because it’s not available in Europe until next month. This kit will enable me to experiment with getting the ADSL Modem working with a standard PC running the pfSense software. When the Soekris turns up, I should be ready for it. Watch this space!

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