Small-Business Network Security 101

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The All-in-One Approach

Routers that do address the entire range of business security needs are known as unified threat management (UTM) appliances (see our detailed examination of UTM features from last year). Typically they involve subscriptions on top of the base price to pay for updates to the antivirus/antispyware/antispam software, and for many such offerings the fees are based on the number of users or connections supported. (Even if no user fees are involved, you should check on the number of users the device is designed to support: Exceeding that number can result in significant network slowdowns.)

You may be wondering why you need a UTM when your business PCs already have antivirus and antispyware software. Security experts say that the additional layer of protection at the network level can make a real difference--especially if the antimalware programs on your client PCs and on the UTM appliance come from different vendors. You should confirm which third-party software vendors an appliance manufacturer has partnered with; most depend on established antivirus, antispam, and/or antispyware products.

A Wealth of Security Choices

The UTM category is exploding, with offerings from home and small-business networking companies such as D-Link and Netgear, networking giants such as Cisco, and companies that are well known for their enterprise-class security appliances and software, such as Check Point and SonicWall. Most of these companies have a range of products that a growing business can step up through.

ZoneAlarm Z100G security router
Prices vary widely depending on the features and the number of users supported. A couple of examples: Check Point's Safe@Office UTM appliances for small businesses come in versions that cover 5 seats ($299), up to 25 seats ($599), or an unlimited number of seats ($999). Software updates run $79 a year. However, if your primary concern is a good firewall and you don't need features such as multiple ISP support, Check Point's ZoneAlarm subsidiary offers a Z100G security router that supports 802.11 b/g Wi-Fi and up to 10 seats for $150.

Netgear ProSecure UTM 10
Netgear, meanwhile, is readying its first ProSecure UTM devices, the UTM 10 (recommended for up to 15 users) and the UTM 25 (for up to 30 users). The UTM 10 starts at $550, which includes a year's worth of software updates and features for remote network management; subscriptions for the antimalware/spam services run $175 a year thereafter.

The pricier the device, the more complicated it will be to set up. Typically vendors will provide links to a network of professional resellers. Again, larger workgroups or medium-size businesses will probably find working with a security professional more efficient, but the tech-savvy user at smaller outfits or workgroups can usually buy these appliances directly from big online retailers such as CDW, NewEgg, or PC Connection. You'll have to determine whether it makes more sense to pay a pro or to spend your own time on setup.

For more, watch the PC World video, "Small Business Network Security."

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