I'm not the kind of person who possesses the programming or IT knowledge to run my own servers and host my own email. But I can manipulate some things on the internet or on local networks, like how to access the gateway to your router and make some changes in there, even if I don't fully grasp the differences between the ports. I'm also someone who's hyper-attuned to data privacy issues who still enjoys the conveniences of some smart home technology.
And that's why I've really been enjoying my Firewalla, a small piece of hardware that you plug into your router to access an app that gives me clear visual command over my network. It's basically a Firewall, VPN, adblocker, and intrusion detection and prevention system all rolled into one. Here's how the company describes it:
Firewalla is a smart firewall device that you simply plug into your router. It monitors network traffic and alerts you via an app if one of your devices starts uploading data including who the data is being shared with and what country. There is an option to stop devices from sending data, which could stop their operations as well, but step one is having transparency and knowledge. Firewalla will also block hackers and cyber thieves from being able to breach smart home devices to steal person information.
I've always felt pretty confident that I'd securely setup my home network. But there's still that lingering concern that someone may have found their way in to spy on me somehow. With Firewalla, I can see exactly where all the data is going when it leaves my home — and it's comforting to be able to confirm that, yes, it's all going exactly where I want it to. I know that Alexa is doing its thing; I know that iCloud backups are doing their thing. And I can even keep track of exactly how much data gets uploaded or downloaded. The interface is easy to navigate, and lets me see everything that's going on with every connected device. (I did run into a few hiccups when I plugged it into my Apple Time Machine, but it's been clear sailing on my FiOS router.) It even offers me a quick and easy way to setup my own VPN based out of my own home and enable secure remote access to all of my files.
I also know that there's some TCP Port on my laptop that opens up when I wake the computer, and that I need to find a way to block that.
Firewalla offers some other handy features, too, like parental controls, and a way to turn off social media sites for a designated period of time. That being said, it could also make it dangerously easy for anyone with my level of knowledge to gain control of someone else's network and monitor all of their behavior — all it takes is 3 minutes alone with the router.
If you're curious about the data that's coming and going from your home — or if you run a small business that offers wifi to customers, and still want to retain some sense of control — it might be worth checking out. The smaller family-level "red" model is available for $108 at Amazon; the faster, stronger, "blue" model for "professionals and small businesses" is available direct from the company for $180. There's also an IndieGoGo campaign to build an even larger and more comprehensive gold model.