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Asanté FriendlyNet VR2004C VPN Security Router 

 Author: Joseph Moran
 Review Date: 9/1/2002

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Model Number: VR2004C ($169)

At its most basic, a given broadband router will perform its functions equally well in a residential, home office, or even a (small) business environment. That doesn't mean, however, that the router is equally suited to all three scenarios, and if you're not careful, you could find yourself deploying a router that has a bunch of stuff you don't need for a home network, or worse, using a router that doesn't give you the information and control you need in a business environment.

Asanté Technologies equipment is no stranger to large corporate networks, and they want you to know that the FriendlyNet VR2004 is designed for businesses (albeit small ones) rather than home networks, and the unit's features and capabilities list would certainly bear this out.

So does the price--at $165 on the street, the FriendlyNet VR2004 is certainly one of the more expensive routers of its kind in the marketplace. Let's take a closer look and see if this router's premium price is justified.

Pros:

  • Complete LAN and WAN filtering
  • Can act as IPsec endpoint

Cons:

  • E-mail alerting only notifies about blocked sites, not intrusion attempts
  • Documentation is sloppy

Basic Features

Physically, the Asanté is a non-descript white box. This plain veneer belies the routers abilities. For example, check around back and you'll see the first sign that this is not your run-of-the-mill-router-- a COM port for modem backup. (They also include a COM indicator light on the front so you can see when the modem has kicked in, assuming the slow speed hasn't already given it away.)

I've said it before and I'll say it again: Broadband connections are awesome, but their reliability is often less than optimal. That being the case, if you are relying on yours for anything other than sports scores, you'll want to have a modem backup in case your connection goes south on you. That's doubly true if you're running a business off one.

Also, call me old fashioned, but cheers to Asanté for including a bona fide manual with their router. You can always print out the PDF manual you get with most products, but 80 some-odd 8 ½ x 11 pages gets a little unwieldy, and the VR2004's manual is the size of a TV Guide (but only half the number of pages).

On the other hand, Asanté could have done a better job verifying the manual information. I found parts where information was misleading, one part where it was incorrect, and one where it was missing altogether.

Log into the router's administrative console, and you will be presented with a clean and attractive set of controls divided into four categories, plus a Setup Wizard and Help section. (Alas, the help is not really context-sensitive, but essentially just an FAQ.) The interface looks a lot more polished than most I've seen, and it even includes a graphical animated page showing the connectivity status of the devices WAN, LAN, and COM ports.

You can't run your business on pretty pictures, though, and the Asanté doesn't sacrifice substance in favor of style. Businesses are typically going to want more information about and more control over what users are doing. You get both with the VR2004.

Work your way through the configuration settings and you'll find a rich set of features that you won't always find in similar products.

Security and Access Control

The VR2004 URL filtering feature lets you block access to Web sites based on text strings. It doesn't, on the other hand, block IP addresses, but if you pre-resolve your forbidden URLs and enter the IP addresses into the filter as keywords, they'll be blocked too.

The VR 2004 also offers LAN and WAN filtering, so you can allow or block traffic flowing in or out of the router by source address, protocol type, and port number. You can also set a default so that traffic is either passed or dropped by default.

We subjected the VR2004 to a variety of online port scans and simulated attacks, and the router handled them all with aplomb.

Incidentally, the VR-2004 can function as an IPsec endpoint, not just a passthrough, so you can use the VPN feature without having a separate IPsec server behind the router.

Alerts and Logging

The VR2004 alerting and logging capabilities look really good at first, but upon closer inspection, a weakness emerges. The unit logs various kinds of security events as well as attempts by internal users to access blocked Web sites. You can view the logs on line (but the internal memory can only store 15 entries), or have them e-mailed to you immediately when an event occurs or on a scheduled basis. Or at least, that's what I thought.

However, only internal attempts to access blocked sites, not intrusion attempts are e-mailed (though both are logged). It seems to me that knowing that someone tried to get to a forbidden site is less newsworthy than an external attack. Asanté says more complete alerts will be available via future versions of the firmware.

Another minor annoyance was that the e-mail server field requires your SMTP server's IP address not a fully qualified domain name (FQDN), which wasn't specified in the admin console or the documentation.

On a positive note, the VR2004 has the ability to download the logs to a logging server, something you rarely see in this class of router. That's good news, because the router can only store 15 log entries in RAM, and they fill up (and thus begin to overwrite) quickly.

Summary

All in all, the Asanté VR2004 has an impressive list of capabilities that make it a good choice as a business-oriented broadband router. If it had a print server, it would be almost perfect. As it stands, I'd recommend it without reservation were it not for the inability to log intrusion attempts. Hopefully, this is a feature Asanté will add quickly.

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