Tools Of The Trade: The ZyXEL ZyWall P1 firewall

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Any internet user who is serious about security needs some form of firewall. This protects a computer by filtering out malicious traffic from , for example, hackers or some types of virus.

Most company networks have heavy-duty firewall equipment between them and the wider internet; many DSL or cable adaptors for the home have at least basic firewall functions built in. But these can offer no protection outside the office or home.

Windows and the Mac operating systems do have their own firewall software, but not everyone will be happy with the level of security they provide. The one in Windows XP is increasingly being targeted by hackers looking for weaknesses.

ZyXEL's ZyWALL P1 is a "personal" firewall box designed for home users, small networks or people on the move. It is about the size of a handheld computer and can be powered directly from a laptop's USB port.

Setting up the P1 is easy: first connect the USB cable or power adaptor, and then two network cables - one to the internet and one to the computer. The firewall's settings can be accessed through a web browser interface, so there is no need to install any software.

The P1 works with Windows, Macintosh and Linux, so there should be no compatibility issues. It is also very easy to set up using the web-based wizard: a few minutes should have it up and running. This is useful, as someone who is on the road a lot might have to adjust some settings to match local connections.

The P1 also works as an adaptor for virtual private networks (VPNs). As long as the company network is set up for VPN access, the P1 will manage the connection without any further software. This forms a secure "tunnel" on the public internet, protecting data between the laptop and the company system.

In tests, the P1 seemed to slow network connections down somewhat, especially to graphics-heavy websites. This is probably a price, however, that most laptop users will accept in return for better security.

The main drawback to the hardware firewall approach, though, is that it is not going to help anyone who connects their laptop to a wireless network - such as in a public hotspot or hotel. There is no wireless connection built in, and although it is possible to use a WiFi-to-ethernet bridge, this is one more piece of equipment to lug around.

Regular wireless LAN users will be better off buying a good-quality software firewall. But if you mostly use a wired connection, the P1 will bring peace of mind.

RATING: 3 out of 5.

PROS: high level of security, easy set-up.

CONS: no direct help for wireless network users.

PRICE: £135.

CONTACT: www.zyxel.com

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