SmartFilter 3.0 Plug-In Corrals Net Use

SmartFilter 3.0, Secure Computing Corp.'s latest URL filter, offers an inexpensive way to deny access to irrelevant or inappropriate Web sites, improving productivity and protecting corporate liability.

SmartFilter 3.0, Secure Computing Corp.s latest URL filter, offers an inexpensive way to deny access to irrelevant or inappropriate Web sites, improving productivity and protecting corporate liability.

However, because SmartFilter acts as a plug-in to proxy servers and supports a limited number of firewalls and Web caching appliances, its popularity will be restricted to enterprises that already have the supported platforms in place.

eWeek Labs tests showed that SmartFilter 3.0 expands on solid capabilities found in previous versions. New in Version 3.0 are dynamic updates, more URL categories (30 predefined plus 10 options for customization), coaching and file-type filtering capabilities. Wavecrest Computings Cyfin Reporter, a useful reporting tool that converts SmartFilters usage logs into Web-based reports, is also included in this update.

SmartFilter 3.0 became available last month. A site license is required for updates to the softwares ACL (access control list). Subscriptions for ACL updates range from $3.60 to $25 per user per year, depending on the number of users.

SmartFilter now supports Microsoft Corp.s Proxy Server 2.0 for Windows NT, in addition to past support for Squid and Netscape Communications Corp.s iPlanet for Unix and Linux environments. Version 3.0 will also support Microsofts ISA Server in Windows 2000 when that becomes available later this quarter.

SmartFilter supports several firewall platforms, including Secure Computings own Sidewinder firewall, Computer Associates International Inc.s Session Wall and Border Network Technologies Inc.s BorderWare Firewall Server. Support for Check Point Software Technologies Ltd.s Firewall-1 will be available later this quarter. SmartFilter can also be used with Web-caching appliances from CacheFlow Inc., Inktomi Corp. and Network Appliance Inc.

ACLs are organized by categories (based on reviewers assessments of sites). The categories are updated by Secure Computings automated systems, and administrators can configure SmartFilter to update their own lists twice a week via the Internet.

We had no problem installing SmartFilter on systems running NT 4.0 with Proxy Server 2.0 and were impressed with the quick response from SmartFilter when we tried to access Web sites that were in the "Deny" ACL. SmartFilter returned the query with a default HTML text page. IT managers can create their own warning page or redirect the user to another Web site.

A Long Memory

To provide real-time url queries when filtering requests, SmartFilter uploads the entire ACL into memory when it starts. This allows SmartFilter to provide URL filtering that is transparent to users, but it also is a significant drain on server performance.

The system on which we tested SmartFilter included 128MB of RAM and the default URL ACL—which offers 30 categories including sites with MP3, sexual, gambling and drug-oriented content. We found the SmartFilter administration interface to be slow, especially when we generated Net traffic and usage reports.

When implementing SmartFilter on proxy servers, IT managers should minimize other applications running on the server and be prepared to invest in memory upgrades.

SmartFilter 3.0s coaching capability is an interesting way to regulate Web access. Instead of blocking access to Web sites outright, IT managers can use the coaching function to notify users accessing restricted Web sites with a warning message that allows users to continue at their own risk.

SmartFilter 3.0 can also filter Web sites by file types such as JPEG, MP3 and EXE, providing more granular control over allowable content. For example, by filtering image file extensions, SmartFilter allows users to read the text content on a Web site but prohibits downloading or viewing images.

We were disappointed that SmartFilter lacks remote administration capabilities, although configuration settings can be incorporated into another SmartFilter system by copying the configuration file.

Using the Cyfin reporting options, we created useful HTML reports on Web usage that can be viewed using most popular Web browsers. These reports can also be generated automatically and e-mailed to managers on a set schedule.