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With computer security coming under greater and more sophisticated attack, almost on a daily basis, the need to protect yourself becomes more of a concern all of the time. Over the years I have used a number of solutions to help to prevent my computer from coming under attack. The router between my cable modem and the home network acts as a firewall as the first line of defence and prevent unsolicited intrusions.
On my own machine I have been using Norton but solely because it came with the OEM software and only on a 90 day trial licence. However as, for various reasons, the entire system has had to be repeatedly reinstalled, that 90 day trial has stretched to nearly a year. I have also used the MS Windows Firewall as well as, when the Norton licence has run out, Avast! Antivirus and Ad-aware.
All of these seemed to have done a decent job. The main concern that I have had has been that the really sneaky viruses might attack the defence systems themselves or attempt to circumvent them. This last is how rootkits work. What I have been looking for is something that will protect me but itself be immune to attack.
I thought I had found it.
The Yoggie Gatekeeper Card Pro is a security device, primarily for laptops, which is self-contained and runs independently of and alongside the computer. In doing so it relieves the computer's processor of the security checking load and runs all of the checks on its own processor. This security device comes in a variety of forms. The most well-known is the one that is contained in what looks like an oversized USB thumb drive. The one that I bought comes in the form of an ExpressCard.
The ExpressCard is the more recent evolution of the old favourite, the PCMCIA card. My Acer laptop comes equipped with both slots. I do have PCMCIA devices that I use but until now the ExpressCard slot has been vacant. I had read a few reviews of this device, all featuring the USB version but functionality is identical in both forms. All gave it the thumbs up. However, I had been put off by the price: the best I had seen was around £120 with most being offered at around £140. That was a fair bit too steep for me.
Another round of the Internet recently revealed a seller on eBay selling the Disgo Gatekeeper Card Pro for around £95. A bit of investigation revealed that this is the same device but sold under the Disgo brand name. Disgo also provides the first-line support rather than Yoggie. However, the software is still all developed and provided by Yoggie. So, at that price it become worthy of consideration. I decided to take the plunge.
The package is quite small. In the box you get the device itself, an installation CD and a Quick Start Guide leaflet. That's it. The device itself is about 3mm thick, 2cms wide and 5cms long. Inside the casing, I understand, is a processor and around 128MBs of memory, all this to run all of the security for your machine. Once it's plugged in to the ExpressCard slot, no one would know you had it.
The device is entirely independent of the computer it is securing. It runs its own Linux-based operating system, and is powered from the ExpressCard port. When it powers up it runs a copy of its system rather than the system itself so that any attempt to corrupt the functionality will fail to modify the the system itself.
All network communications pass through the device so that it can monitor all traffic and look for any attempts to attack the main computer and block it before the computer's system sees it. It comes with a bespoke version of the respected Kaspersky's security software, which provides the actual security functionality on the device.
First of all I removed Norton from the machine, with the assistance of Revo Uninstaller, which did its usual great job of clearing up the mess that most uninstallers leave behind. Then it was time to install the new device. You need to leave the computer connected to the Internet so that the installation process can do the necessary checks and carry out any updates.
Plugging it in to the port, it was immediately recognised by my WindowsXP system, which tried to install it. I needed to cancel that because you have to install it from the supplied CD, not from the Windows defaults. So, I plugged in the CD and followed the very straight-forward instructions. Eventually I got the message that everything was installed and now was the time to have a look at the device's Management Console. This is performed by accessing it with your browser.
First issue: it seems that the Management Console only launches IE, no matter what browser you have set as your preferred browser, in my case, Firefox. There also seems to be no way to change this. If you want to use Firefox, (and you can) you have to enter the URL into it yourself.
Second issue: IE reports that the security certificate for the device is out of date: it expired in December 2008! You have to override IE's recommendation to go no further. Not a good omen!
Third issue: The device does not seem to want to update itself over the Internet. The AV database is woefully out-of-date; it undoubtedly doesn't have any rules for the more recent viruses.
OK, so we really haven't got very far and already there's problems. Time to get in touch with Yoggie and see what they can do to help. Although the device is actually supplied by Disgo, I decided to go to the original manufacturers first. The Yoggie website has a problem report form with which you can describe your problem and ask for help. There's also a Chat facility and I decided to give that a try first, in order to see if there was a quick and easy solution.
The Yoggie people who engaged with me were very helpful but the solution to the immediate problem was not entirely straight-forward. It turned out that not only was the firmware on the device itself out-of-date but the administration software was as well. Until both were brought up-to-date, nothing would work properly.
First they asked me to bring the admin software up-to-date by downloading it from the Yoggie website. When I had upgraded to that, they said, the firmware on the device itself would automatically update itself. They told me which version to get and where to get it. I was asked to download 5.2.2 but when I got to the webpage concerned the only apparent version was 5.3! There was nothing that said that there were earlier version still available and the support people hadn't mentioned this!
Assuming that maybe they had made a mistake I downloaded 5.3 and installed it. Nothing happened; I contacted them again. They then told me that I could find the earlier version by scrolling down the page. Apparently 5.3 was incompatible with the installed firmware level! I downloaded 5.2.2, uninstalled 5.3 and installed 5.2.2. This time I left it for a couple of hours but still nothing happened!
I contacted them again. This time they suggested that I change the configuration of the device to pretend it was running in a corporate network with its own Yoggie security server, rather than as a stand-alone device. They asked me to enter the IP address of their own security server as the master. Sure enough, finally, after waiting about 20 minutes, the device downloaded the latest firmware and installed it.
My final task was now to uninstall 5.2.2 of the admin software and once again install version 5.3. Now we were up-to-date at last and I could start examining what Yoggie had to offer. I thought I'd take a look at the logs to see what security issues were being reported.
First I looked at the Security Log. Already there were a number of security issues recorded there but most of them I couldn't read. The text disappeared off of the right-hand side of the window and there was no apparent way of scrolling the data sidewise to read the whole message. What I could do is export the log to a file but it turned out that it was formatted in XML, which made it very difficult to read.
This time I used the email support system to try to solve this problem. The support people were mystified. The they swore that when you clicked on a message a green box containing the entire message should pop up. I tried Firefox by entering the URL and discovered that when I did this the message appeared as expected, but not with IE8.
Whilst waiting for a response I tried playing around with IE settings and discovered that if I set IE to Compatibility View, the green message box appeared! I passed this on to the Yoggie people and it appeared that this was something new to them. They thought it was something to do with the Adobe Flash release installed. So, who's supposed to be supporting whom?
So, now everything appears to be working on my machine. Now I need to access my network shares, especially the folders on my Network Attached Storage (NAS) server. However, when I look in My Network Places, all my network shares have disappeared and, try as I may, I can't get them back again. Clearly, Yoggie is blocking me. Once again, I contact Yoggie Support and they point me to an article on their website about setting up network shares.
It turns out that the only way to do this is to set up the Firewall component to accept inbound and outbound traffic on the TCP and UDP ports (135-139) for each network device's IP address individually. This is a real pain because when you set up the shares you do it by hostname not IP address as the IP address is not necessarily constant. The IP address for each device on the network is assigned by the DHCP server in the broadband router on our network. To make it always work for Yoggie I would have to use fixed IP addresses!
By now I'm really beginning to wonder if all this was such a good idea. The next problem does nothing to change that view. As I mentioned, we have a broadband router. I usually have the wireless facility turned off as it's only my kids, when they come to visit, who need it. All my equipment is wired Ethernet. So, I needed to activate the wireless network and for that I needed to access the router's administration webpage. No matter what I tried, it wouldn't display, which is odd because I never had any such problems with Norton.
I tried setting up Firewall rules to allow access on all IP ports but that didn't work. I discovered that there was a security setting feature called Web Filtering. I checked it and discovered that there was already a rule inserted to bypass the usual IP address for the broadband routers (192.168.0.1) so it wasn't that!
Once again I contacted Yoggie and posed the problem to them. Once again they were mystified but, as an experiment, asked me to disable the Intrusion Detection/Prevention System (IDS/IPS). I did this and suddenly I was able to access the router's admin webpage. However, I obviously couldn't leave IDS permanently disabled so, once again, whilst waiting for some words of wisdom, I experimented.
I discovered that if I changed the IDS setting - IP Attack - from Block to Log, I was able to access the router. It seemed that for some unknown reason Yoggie thought that the router was mounting an IP Attack on my machine! This problem remains unresolved at the time of writing this review. Every time I need to access the router I have to disable IP Attacks in IDS!
Around this time I was up in London for a couple of days and staying at a West End hotel. They offered free WiFi although on an unsecured connection. Try as I may, there was no way I could get my laptop to work with it unless I completely disabled Yoggie. I was very nervous about running my computer without any security at all but had no choice, even so as to simply access Yoggie Support!
Whilst doing this I also discovered another oddity of Yoggie. In order to change Yoggie's settings it understandably requires you to enter a password, otherwise anyone could come along and, finding you not at your computer, tamper with your security. At Yoggie's suggestion I had set my own password in place of the default in order to log on to the Admin webpage. However, when I came to use my password to disable protection, it refused to accept it. I discovered that it would only accept the default password! So, now I have to use two passwords. What sort of security is that?!
Anyway, what Yoggie seemed to be trying to do was update its antivirus database but failing and so preventing anything else happening. This time, when I tried to contact Yoggie they at last cottoned on to the fact that I had the Disgo branded version of their device. They told me I had to contact Disgo Support (and probably breathed a huge sigh of relief in finally getting rid of me).
We never did resolve that one and I suspect we won't until I'm once again staying at a hotel that offers Wifi. Maybe I'll take it to a Wetherspoons and try it there; they offer free Wifi. I suspect that this may be something to do with Web Filtering again. I may have had to have entered the hotel's web server URL in the web filtering bypass, but here I'm guessing.
The next thing Yoggie decided to b*****r up was my backup tool. I use Synchredible to back up my data from my local machine to my NAS server. Most of these jobs run on a 3 hour timer and don't run for very long. Basically it just identifies changed files and copies them to backup then reads them back again to make sure of a correct copy. The one difference is my Thunderbird email profile.
As with most email folders, you can't just copy changed files. The whole lot have to be kept in synch so you have to copy everything every time. My Thunderbird profile was about 1.5GBs as I hadn't realised that when you delete an email in Thunderbird, it doesn't actually get deleted until you compact the folder, and I hadn't. Consequently, backing up my profile involved about 45mins of intense network activity.
Time and time again the job would fail in the middle unless Yoggie was disabled. I did notice that the failures always seemed to coincide with Yoggie doing an antivirus database update, which it does very frequently. I know the problem isn't down to Synchredible because I tried simply copying the entire profile across the network and, once again, the copy failed in the middle when the Yoggie icon in the System Tray reported it was now not connected and then, about 25secs later, that it was once again!
This problem has never been resolved, except that since then I have compacted all the email folders and reduced the total space consumed to around 250MBs. Consequently the job runs in a fraction of the previous time and, so far, I haven't had another failure.
The next thing Yoggie decided to interfere with was FreeRIP. This is the application I use to rip my CDs to MP3 so that I can listen to them on my MP3 player. FreeRIP would load up the tracks but refused to access the FreeDB online database to gather the track information. Once again I had to contact Disgo Support for help and it turned out that I had to add a bypass for the freedb.org website in the Web Filtering before it would work!
So, what can we say about this Yoggie/Disgo device? Well, for certain, had I known the hoops I would have to jump through, the problems it would present me, the problems that are still unresolved, I almost certainly would never have bought it in the first place.
Are there any good points? Well, one thing is for sure, boot up is much faster than with other security solutions such as Norton or Avast! The computer itself also seems to run much faster. Whether it has made my computer more secure I cannot tell. I've had no warnings about security attacks to which I have been subjected but then that's not much difference from how things were before.
However, Yoggie is not very user-friendly in operation. In my opinion, security should be bullet-proof but non-intrusive. Yoggie may be bullet-proof but there is no way you could call it non-intrusive. Take the FreeRIP issue I discussed above. Norton would have popped up a window saying that FreeRIP was trying to access the Internet and was that OK, to which I would have replied, "Yes". Yoggie just blocks it and leaves you to guess what's happened and, more especially how to resolve it.
I mentioned that the device has just a meagre 128MBs of memory in which to run its system. I'm wondering if this has anything to do with its seemingly unsophisticated operation. 128MBs is not very much in which to run an operating system and a security system, especially when you add an entire antivirus database into the equation. I'm wondering if compromises have had to be made in order to make it all fit.
However, I have it and I shall persevere, if only to see what progress is made with all of the issues I have reported. So far, no new versions of the firmware have been released. I am pretty sure that my laptop is secure in Yoggie's hands, even if it is a pain to use from time to time.
If you are considering this solution for your security needs then I would urge caution. I would not expect your experiences to be any better than mine and in consequence I would not blame you if you felt that it simply wasn't worth the hassle, especially not for £95 when there are so many good, free solutions such as AVG, Avast!, Avira, Ad-aware, Comodo...
UPDATE ~ Jan 2011
I discover that Yoggie has been having financial problems and is currently in administration in its country of origin - Israel. As I had long since abandoned using this product and had reverted to my favourite - Avast! - I had only just found out about it. Whether my experiences were mirrored elsewhere with other users I do not know but I would be surprised if they weren't.
Sadly this seems to have been a case of a great idea ruined by appalling implementation.