F-Secure Sense router review – security for your IoT
Last month I was invited to visit Helsinki, Finland, to learn about F-Secure’s new home security device. This is the first hardware product from the company best known for anti-virus software, and it’s called Sense.
The trip wasn’t only enjoyable, but I also felt that I learned quite a bit. Mostly, how unsecure most of our Internet of Things (IoT) are.
F-Secure’s Chief Research Officer, Mikko Hypponen, explained that a firewall is the only way to protect the connected home.
You know the kind of things; smart devices such as alarms, cameras, switches, washing machines or pretty much anything that connects to the internet.
In fact, Mikko believes that every appliance we buy will be online in a few years time.
Not only because we’ll expect everything to have an app, but because vendors will be able to use or sell the analytics.
F-Secure Sense design
The anti-virus Fins obviously were looking for an original design for Sense.
Below are some prototypes starting with a cylindrical form factor with a wooden base to the more rhomboid design they went with.
I really like the clear version. Apparently many do, and F-Secure might even put it in to production.
The white, typically Scandinavian, clean design will fit in with most homes.
The front panel even hides a neat display. This usually shows the time but will also indicate other things too.
Around the rear are 4 ethernet ports (3xLAN, 1xWAN) and a USB 3 port. There is also a little blue button that comes in to its own during set-up.
The WiFi specification is good but not neccessarily class leading with 802.11a/b/g/n/ac 2.4GHz, 5GHz, AC 1750.
It’s a well made, good looking wireless router.
You set Sense up via an iOS or Android device.
Simply install the Sense app and then follow several easy steps to create the Sense network.
Once you have downloaded the app you need to press the blue button on the router.
Sense will then display a four-digit code. Just input that code into your phone.
You can rename the Sense WiFi network name and change the password. It will be of no surprise that the suggested password is real secure – but hardly memorable.
The device you use to setup Sense becomes the sole admin device. It’s good to keep that in mind.
Once I was up and running, I started connecting devices to the Sense network. Each device you connect shows up as a protected device in the Sense app.
When you click on the device you can see what threats have been blocked on that device as well as any tracking that has been blocked.
It shows you the basic device details including IP etc, and you can block the internet from each device individually.
There are very limited settings available through the app. Unlike other routers, you can’t get to further features via a web browser version. The app is it. I guess it’s more secure that way.
You can, however, set a few network things: IP address, DHCP range. There is the option to configure port forwarding.
You can also set the brightness of the display, which normally just shows the time of day.
The app is really easy to navigate and setting Sense up shouldn’t really take more than 10 minutes-or-so.
Sense creates a secure WiFi network within your home network.
You get the usual 2.4GHz and 5GHz frequency options which is cool. I am using the Sense router purely for my networked cameras, Echo Dot and anything else in a Smart Home stylee.
During use the Sense performs just as you would expect any other router would.
Wireless range is better than I was expecting for something with internal aerials, to be honest.
Testing its ability to detect and block malware, however, is tricky. The main reason being that I am a tad gun shy at exposing myself to malware, funnily enough.
Thankfully, F-Secure has two test domains unsafe.fstestdomain.com and gambling.fstestdomain.info.
Their URLs are self-explanatory: The gambling one allows a page to load fine, because Sense doesn’t block gambling. However, with the unsafe URL, the Sense router blocks the URL on all my devices.
Unfortunately, from what I can tell from the app, there’s no way to whitelist a blocked URL.
You can see all the details in the app but it won’t let you whitelist it. This probably won’t actually be an issue for most, but I think having this as an option under an ‘Advanced’ tab would be a nice touch.
While the Sense stands as the most advanced consumer security router you can buy now, there are still bits missing. Things that we come to expect on our standard routers.
For a start, just 3 LAN ports is a bit stingy.
Granted, some of these features will have been dropped as security risks. Although, some appear to have been left out in order to get the product to market to beat competitors. For instance, I know BullGuard’s Dojo isn’t the same, but it still is there to protect your IoT.
As you can imagine, while we were at F-Secure HQ, a number of these were brought up during the Q&A. The general response was that it was coming soon, but without a specific time-frame.
The ones that stuck out for me were:
- The device has a USB port but at the moment no USB host facility like NAS etc.
- Lacks port aggregation for compatible NAS (a shame as they showed how easy it was to hack a QNAP NAS like mine!)
- No quality of service (QoS) settings
- Missing a guest WiFi option
- No WPS – to be fair, this is most likely a deliberate move as WPS is a major security risk
F-Secure Sense review conclusion
I will admit right now, I am no cyber security expert. I am, however, aware of the risks our love of connected devices poses to the average household.
At the heart of most new tech, is that it’s designed to work with little or no technical expertise. Unfortunately, our trust in gadge could leave us open to having these gaps exploited.
This is where the Sense router comes in. Again, with little or no firewall knowledge, homes can secure themselves against nefarious techies.
Let’s face it, with the recent news that many Virgin, BT, Sky and TalkTalk routers have a serious security issue, it is obvious that we can’t simply put our trust in our service providers.
We also have practically daily news of cyber security issues – the likes of WannaCry and Petya, for example. It certainly seems like we need something like the F-Secure Sense fighting our corner right now.
It might be lacking some things you’d expect from a top router, but then it packs peace of mind.
F-Secure Sense price and availability
You can buy the F-Secure Sense right now direct from F-Secure for £169.
That price includes a 1 year subscription (value £102) to all security features at home and on the go.