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IPFire Alternatives: Similar Firewalls and VPN

You need to protect your assets, any network laid bare without a sound security setup is open for intrusions. Two of the few essentials you must already be working with are firewall and VPN setups.

A firewall as the name suggests serves as a barrier that protects your network from untrusted networks. To better explain it look at this definition:

"A firewall is a network security device or mechanism that allows for the monitoring and filtering of inbound and outgoing network traffic that is based on an established and well-defined set of security protocols or rules."

In simpler terms, a firewall helps block unwanted traffic from entering your network and protects it against malicious software that could infect your computer. Think of it as a traffic controller of sorts that allows certain traffic to pass through and blocks other malicious network traffic. The operating system you are using on your PC comes with a pre-installed firewall, you should make sure you have your firewall on and updated at all times.

The next must-have when it comes to engaging in safe computer and internet usage is installing a VPN.

VPN standard for "virtual private network", usually defined as:

"A VPN can be thought of as an encrypted or in simpler terms a private connection over the internet from one device to a network. VPNs allow for the establishment of protected network connection when using public networks."

To put it in simple terms, A VPN helps hide your online activity, it shields you against hackers on public networks, hides your IP address, physical location, and browsing activity on any WI-Fi network. No one can tell who you are, where you are located, and what you're looking up online.

When it comes to network security you may invest in costly firewall setups and VPN but some services are available for free. One such incredible service is the IPFire distribution.

IPFire is an open-source Linux distribution specifically catering to the tasks of firewalls. Open Source means that yes, it is free to be used and distributed by users all around the world. Unlike other distributions, IPFire is hardened and optimized for use as a firewall. It assists in intrusion detection, VPN, virus scanning, URL filters, and fulfills all the primary security objectives.

Not only is it easy to configure and easy to use but it is a great solution geared to prevent attackers from accessing your network. Here we will be discussing some firewalls and VPNs that are quite similar to IPFire and can be used as an alternative. Read on for some incredible finds!

1. Zenarmor (Sensei)

Zenarmor, previously known as Sensei, is an instant virtual firewall that can be deployed anywhere. It is all-in-one software, easy to use, and lightweight which can be used practically anywhere connected to the internet (on-premise or on cloud). Although the technology is incredibly lightweight, it carries a wide range of network security functions.

Features include:

  • Drill down advanced network analytics
  • Threat blocking in real-time
  • Application controls
  • Web filtering
  • Cloud management (Web 2.0 Controls)
  • Cloud threat intelligence
  • Encrypted threats prevention
  • User-based filtering, security, and reporting
  • Community forum support
  • More than 60 pre-defined reports
  • Malicious server filtering
  • Phishing server filtering
  • Automatic botnet filtering
  • Ad Blocking
  • Unlimited number of protected devices

Zenarmor essentially works in collaboration with its packet inspection engine geared for TLS inspection (decrypting TLS traffic for inspection). You can filter through traffic with optimum visibility, classification, and policy enforcement. The best part? You can deploy the software anywhere almost like an application.

Zenarmor is currently supported on Debian Linux, Centos Linux, Alma Linux, Ubuntu Linux, pfSense® software, FreeBSD, and OPNsense platforms.

Finally, if we talk about the pricing for Zenarmor, you'll be pleased to know that the software is available in two versions, free and premium ($369/year or $39/month). The premium pricing varies according to the edition you purchase (home edition, SOHO edition, or business edition). Educational institutions can use Zenarmor for free forever. Zenarmor also offers educational institutions a discount, Edu discount, on premium features. Because of its excellent security features and low cost, Zenarmor is the best firewall solution for schools.

2. pfSense® Software

pfSense® Software is an open-source router and firewall software, trusted by many users across the internet. pfSense® Software can be installed on most commodity hardware and is configured through an easy-to-use interface, even beginners will find this easy to use. By design, this software is incredibly flexible. It can be used on small home-based routers or can be configured for use in large offices and businesses, making it a one-stop solution for all your network security needs.

Features include:

  • Stateful packet inspection (also known as dynamic packet filtering) for fine-grained security policies
  • GeoIP blocking (blocking network connection based on geographical locations)
  • Anti-spoofing
  • Ability to activate time-based rules (activated during specific days or time ranges)
  • Policy-based routing
  • Intrusion Detection Systems and Intrusion Prevention Systems
  • Snort based packet analyzer
  • Emerging threats database
  • IP blacklist database
  • Deep Packet Inspection
  • Application blocking
  • VPN
  • Proxy and content filtering
  • Network services
  • Configuration management

These are just a few of the many features pfSense® carries, also why many users have now shifted to this open-source software. There are no hidden fees, no licensing fees, no artificial user limitations to hold you back.

Now if we talk about pricing, pfSense® is available free of charge, for both personal and business use.

3. VyOS

VyOS is another open-source software that can be used as a router and firewall system. It is a flexible and reliable network security solution based on Debian GNU/Linux. It can be deployed on nearly all types of commonly available servers/computers or in virtual setups making deployment easy and affordable for all.

Features include:

  • Routing services including policy-based routing
  • Integrated VPN support and encryption services
  • Static and zone-based firewall
  • BGP (Border Gateway Protocol) for better traffic control
  • Load balancing to utilize multiple internet connections simultaneously
  • DHCP server and relay, web proxy, and DNS forwarding
  • Source NAT (allows private networks to access public networks) and destination NAT (translates the destination address and ports of packets)
  • Defenses against network attacks

If we talk about compatibility, VyOS works on standard amd64, i586, and ARM systems. The VyOS live install image file is available for download on the vyos.io website, you can then install the software on any hard drive or storage device. The minimum system requirements are 512 MB and 2 GB storage.

If we talk about pricing, the entire codebase for VyOS software is public and free to use on Github, however, long-term support release images are only available to users who have subscribed to the services. See their subscription details on their website.

4. CacheGuard-OS

CacheGuard OS is a Linux-based OS that is used to secure and optimize network traffic and provide network security functions. This SaaS acts as both a firewall and network gateway, carrying all the security and optimization functions your network needs.

Features include:

  • Network monitoring functions
  • Unified Threat Management (UTM)
  • Bandwidth usage monitoring ( real-time updates on network traffic and bandwidth utilization)
  • Virus detection
  • URL filtering
  • SSL inspection
  • Web Proxy + Reverse Proxy
  • Remote server monitoring (tracking server resource and metrics)
  • Internet security
  • Basic + Advanced firewall
  • Web application load balancing
  • Network time machine
  • Lockdown mode that prohibits network communications outside the VPN tunnel

The CacheGuard OS must be installed on an x86/x64 based machine, so it can perform all the functions for Unified Threat Management (UTM) and QoS management. You can implement the OS both on-premise or on the cloud as required. This solution is best geared for small and medium-sized businesses looking for easy-to-use network security software.

As for pricing, you can subscribe to their services on a monthly or yearly basis. You can also make use of the free version that is available for up to 10 users. Your subscription is usually based on the number of devices you can connect and the services/support you require. They start from the basic $9.99/month food up to 100 users

5. OpenContrail

OpenContrail is an open-source project licensed under Apache 2.0 to provide all the necessary components for network virtualization including SDN controller, virtual router, analytics engine; it also functions as a firewall and is a great alternative to IPFire solutions.

Features include:

  • Network visualization (internetwork routing in the host, reduction in latency for traffic crossing virtual networks, elimination intermediate gateways)
  • Network Programming and automation (easy to configure and use, simplifying and automating network orchestration)
  • Real-time and historical data available for increased visibility across the network
  • Big-data for infrastructure
  • IP Address management
  • Policy-based access control
  • NAT and traffic monitoring

If we talk about the server requirements for OpenContrail, each server must have a minimum of 64 GB memory, 300 GB hard drive, 4 CPU cores, and at least one ethernet port. This server can be an on-premise device or a virtual machine. You can download the installation images for OpenContrail on their website.

As for pricing, as mentioned earlier OpenContrail is an open-source project, free for use and distribution.

6. IPCop

IPCop is a Linux firewall distribution that offers simple and configurable hardware firewall solutions. It is specifically designed for home and SOHO (Small Office/Home Office) network users. What sets them apart from other firewall solutions is their easy-to-use web interface, perfect for end-users. This project is licensed under GPL and was intentionally designed and developed across the globe to provide ease of use.

Features Include:

  • Secure, stable, and easy to configure Linux based firewall
  • Built-in web server for easy administration
  • DNS Proxy
  • Web Proxy
  • Intrusion Detection System to detect external threats and attacks on your network
  • VPN capabilities
  • Traffic shaping capabilities
  • Management of 4 types of networks
  • Standard NAT Netfilter and network routing
  • Remote administration of SSH protocol
  • Bandwidth management
  • Time Server

If we talk about hardware requirements, IPCop does not demand a lot of computing power, approximately a 386-based PC, 32 MB RAM, 200 MB hard drive (or compact flash drive). You can download the latest version of IPCop on their official website.

7. macOS Server

The macOS X server comes with a built-in application firewall that provides a simplified interface for handling your network security. This firewall automatically blocks any incoming network connections it deems to be a threat. All you need to do is set up policies for allowing and blocking incoming connections.

Essentially the Mac OS server contains a host-based firewall service that is formed from the ipfw software (also known as ipwirewall software). The firewall thus allows for both stateless and stateful packet inspection.

Stateless packet inspection refers to protection based on static information such as source and destination. On the other hand, stateful inspection is a type of dynamic packet filtering, monitoring the state of active connection; they monitor the state of all traffic on a network/

Features include:

  • Blocking incoming connections
  • DHCP network configuration services
  • Stealth mode
  • Automating incoming connections
  • Add or reject access based on user-specified apps
  • Prevention of ICMP probing and portscan requests

The macOS server is incredibly easy to configure with mac and iOS devices, it is also easy to install, set up and manage by users. You can add the macOS Server to your Mac from the App Store for $19.99.

8. Sophos XG Firewall

The Sophos XG Firewall is a network security solution that is used to not only protect your network from external threats but also successfully helps identify the source of intrusion on your network and limits the infected device's access to the remainder of your network to tackle threats effectively.

Features include:

  • Traffic shaping (QoS) policies
  • Cloud application visibility
  • Remote access VPN
  • Cloud-based management and reporting
  • Streamlined user interface
  • Deep packet inspection
  • TLS inspection
  • User, group, time, and network-based policies
  • Geo IP services for country blocking
  • Traffic routing
  • Proxy support
  • Cloud sandbox technology
  • Advanced threat protection

With the Sophos XG firewall, you can easily expose hidden risks and suspicious traffic so you're always in control of your network, stop unknown threats and isolate any infected systems so the remainder of your network is not further compromised.

The Sophos firewall is designed to fit any network including hardware appliance models as well as cloud-based and virtual software deployment. Home-based users get a real treat in the form of the Sophos Firewall Home Edition, available free of charge for home users.

9. Avast Endpoint Protection

Avast endpoint protection software is a multi-layered security toolkit that helps protect your system and network from viruses, ]ransomware](/docs/network-security-tutorials/what-is-ransomware), and external network threats. Consider it a unique mix of antivirus, firewall, and anti-malware tools so the entirety of your network is protected as a whole. It is available as a subscription-based SaaS and is available for installation on Windows and Mac machines.

Features include:

  • Cloud management console
  • Avast web shield to filter incoming and outgoing web traffic
  • Static scanner for monitoring your system for any hidden malware
  • Zero-day threat protection
  • DeepScreen for advanced threat detection
  • Real-time monitoring of your system for automated threat protection
  • Avast CyberCapture to isolate suspicious files/folders for threats.
  • Advanced server/network protection
  • Load balancing
  • VPN functionality
  • URL filtering

Avast Endpoint protection comprises 4 products that start from basic protection for all computers on your network in the form of avast! Endpoint Protection, followed by the avast! Endpoint Protection Suite, avast! Endpoint Protection Plus and avast! Endpoint Protection Suite Plus. You choose the best options that suit your network needs. The system requirement for each unit varies as follows:

Endpoint Protection/Suite:

  • Windows 2000 Professional Service Pack 4, Windows XP Service Pack 2 or higher (any edition, 32 or 64 bit)/Windows Vista (any edition, 32 or 64 bit)/Windows 7 (32/64 bit)
  • 256 MB RAM
  • 300 MB free hard disk space

Endpoint Protection Plus/Suite Plus:

  • Windows XP Service Pack 2 or higher (any edition, 32 or 64 bit)/Windows Vista (any edition, 32 or 64 bit)/Windows 7 (32/64 bit)
  • 256 MB RAM
  • 380 MB free hard disk space

Endpoint Protection Suite/Suite Plus:

  • Windows Server 2003 (x32bit/64 bit), Windows Server 2008/R2 (any edition, excluding Core Installation), Windows SBS 2011
  • 256 MB RAM (512MB if running Windows server 2008)
  • 200 MB of free hard disk space

Moving on to pricing, the Avast Endpoint protection software is available for yearly subscriptions with the basic plan starting from $44.31/year, the advanced plan at $52.31/year, and the premium plan at $60.31/year. You can also choose the number of years you'd like your subscription to be based on according to your unique protection needs.

10. CrowdSec

CrowdSec is an open (free to use and distribute) IPS. IPS refers to an intrusion prevention system, a network security tool that monitors your network for malicious activity, threats and takes action accordingly. It is easy to install and set up for the detection of malicious activity. The software essentially works through IP behavior analysis and IP reputation; it identifies threats and shares IP addresses behind such activity with the CrowdSec community so everyone can block them successfully.

Features include:

  • Security workflow automation
  • Proactive alerts
  • Intrusion prevention and active monitoring
  • FIrewall and cloud-based data protection
  • Malware detection
  • Policy management
  • Threat intelligence
  • Data visualization
  • Intelligence reports
  • Security validation

If we talk about the system requirement to run Crowdsec then the software is incredibly lightweight - it needs just about 100 MB of memory to run. You can download Crowdsec from the official web page and see the complete installation manual.

11. Glassire Firewall

Glassire Firewall is an incredibly easy-to-use visual network management platform that allows you to monitor your network usage and actively control its security, privacy, and activity. You can see what your PC is connected to, detect any spyware or malware in your network, detect any unusual app behavior and monitor other PCs on your network. GlassWire Firewall is available as a free security tool but you can also purchase their extended packages for more security features. Here's what the free version of Glassire will do for you

Features include:

  • Visual network monitoring
  • Internet privacy protection
  • Firewall profiles
  • Multiple server monitoring
  • RDP connection detection
  • Alerts
  • ARP spoofing monitoring
  • Malware detection
  • Network intrusion detection
  • The network time machine (to see your past and present network activity)

The basic free version is available for download. To run Glassire, make sure you have a basic system set up as follows: Microsoft Windows 7, 8, 10, 11 (x86,x64) and up to 1GB RAM. You can get upgraded features with the paid version of Glasswire, their basic plan starts from $39. Get a complete insight into their paid packages by checking out their website.

What Should Be Considered While Choosing IpFire Alternatives?

As a rule of thumb, there are certain features you should be looking for when choosing an IPFire alternative, these can vary according to your network requirements but should never be neglected.

  • Easy to navigate UI: Not all of us carry the technical expertise needed to navigate high-end firewall and network security solutions, this is why you should generally prefer solutions that carry a uniquely designed, easy-to-use user interface.
  • Visibility and control: The deeper visibility you have into your network, the better control you have over its security. Traditional firewalls usually carry limited control and visibility across end users on your network. The right firewall solution should provide you with better accessibility.
  • Other Capabilities: The solution you choose to acquire should also be able to provide you with non-firewall-linked capabilities. Some essentials you should look out for include VPN implementation, packet filtering, proxy server, bandwidth optimization among others.

What is Better than IPFire?

Both OPNsense and pfSense® software have always been seen as reliable competitors across IPFire. All solutions are geared with nearly similar features and provide you with robust firewall and VPN implementation across your network. However, OPNsense and pfSense® software carry some features that are rarely available in modern professional firewalls giving it a slight edge over IpFire. When these FreeBSD based platforms are powered with the next-generation firewall capabilities of Zenarmor, there is a significant difference between them and IPFire in terms of security. Zenarmor provides great security features that IPFire can not offer. You can easily install Zenarmor your OPNsense or pfSense® software firewall and start to get benefits of its protection for safeguarding your valuable assets.

Comparatively, OPNsense and pfSense® software may seem a bit more technical to configure and set up but are great at security optimization and reporting. However, keep in mind that they are both free and open-source for use and distribution. While many may prefer IPfire owing to its simple UI, OPNsense and pfSense® software with Zenarmor are best alternative you simply cannot ignore.