PineApp’s Secure Soho 1000, reviewed here, is the brand name given to a small family of security boxes aimed at a number of varieties of small business. There’s hardly a vendor out there that doesn’t have an SME box of some sort, but PineApp is relatively unusual in configuring them for just about every size of small business from tiny offices up to more established SMEs of up to a maximum of 50 users.

PineApp itself is an unknown company that has come off the Israeli security conveyor belt as long ago as 2002, with the usual VC funding to power it up along the way. It still counts as a mystery name, despite having received distribution in Southern Europe, and more recently in the UK and the US (the 1000 series is not yet available in the US). Company support is based out of France.

In fact, the 1000 series is the entry point for a whole platform of mail security products that go into the 1U rack-mounted space. As its name suggests, this is an email security/router device though it doubles up with a host of other security functions. It will filter for spam (using CommTouch’s detection technology), anti-virus (from F-Secure), and in-house designed packet inspection firewalling and 20 concurrent user VPNing.

Optionally, it can also be set up as a mail server, which would make sense in many small offices that want to run this function in-house. One benefit of going down that path is that it also allows remote email access.

Is it a complete security product then? It is if you consider that email is the main security threat, its main forte. It’ll allow policies to be implemented on inbound and outbound email, for instance, essential to stop malware spreading beyond the confines of an SME to partners.

The 1000 also scores on its web filtering, with http, FTP and static URL inspection, but it is hard to assess the comprehensiveness of this feature. On paper it is decent, with content filtering down to word or phrase level, a problem database that claims millions of entries and is updated daily. Cleverly, these sit in a number of categories, so you don’t have to block every category (entertainment sites for instance) if deemed unnecessary.

The PineApp box is a no-frills affair, a blue box a bit bigger than an external HDD enclosure. The front has only a status and hard disk light for its internal 20 gigabyte disk plus two USB ports, while the business end at the back sites power serial, keyboard ports, and three 10/100 Ethernet interfaces. These could do with being more clearly marked; we had to refer to the manual to find out which was the primary LAN port, which port was for the DMZ, and which was reserved for WAN connection.

An appliance of this sort needs decent cooling which, in the case of the review unit, was decidedly noisy. PineApp said that more up-to-date products wouldn’t have this flaw, but we’d still not recommend sitting too near to this machine if you value peace and quiet.

The 1000 comes with F-Secure’s anti-virus, though other engines can be used if an alternative is preferred. The company claims it has added a second layer of anti-virus in the form of heuristics, so there is some backup. As always, it makes sense to use a different anti-virus or anti-malware engine on client PCs and not over-rely on gateway malware control.

The 1000 series shares many of its features and software interface with its grown-up rack siblings. This makes it powerful in its capabilities, but perhaps not the easiest product to configure for a non-expert small office user. This is still an appliance that will need an expert eye or the risk is that it will be under-used or mis-used.

But we’ll take it as a virtue that this is no cut-down product, except in the throughput capacity of its underlying hardware. The software is full-featured and comprehensive, offering an impressive level of control too detailed to go into here. Multi-layered it might be, but all the 1000’s features can be set up through one GUI – remotely managed if necessary - without the need to resort to command lines. That’s as it should be for such a product.

UK Distributor information: PC Correct