Review: 5 open-source alternatives for routers/firewalls

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The Apps page is where you can check the status of each app and change its settings. It’s a unique interface with each app appearing to be a rack mounted appliance, most of which show some type of status and have a power button to enable or disable that app. Clicking on an app’s Settings button takes you to a tabbed interface with all its settings. There’s a help button for each app on the Apps page and a help button on the bottom of each app’s settings page that takes you to the online documentation for that particular app.

The Config page shows you a tabbed interface similar to the app settings. There you can view and configure all the basic settings of the firewall/router. This includes the network interfaces, firewall, DHCP, DNS, and other main router functions.

The Reports page allows you to generate reports and graphs on historical data from all the functions and apps. These reports are rather detailed and customizable. They can also be quickly exported as an image.


ZeroShell is a Linux distribution for servers and embedded devices, designed to provide the main network services a LAN requires. The basic features are installed by default and a handful of packages are offered to add functionality, such as Samba File Sharing Service and Asterisk VoIP PBX. The latest releases are provided via a CD (.iso) image that can be run in the live CD mode or installed on the machine’s hard drive and a USB (.img) image. Once the Linux distribution is running, you can configure and administer the platform via the web-based interface.

We created a VirtualBox VM and ran ZeroShell version 3.5.0 using their CD (.iso) image. By default, the live CD mode will run, giving you an operational router platform right away. On the console interface you can configure the main settings and configure the IP address where you can access the web-based interface. You can alternatively install the OS onto the hard drive by running the Installation Manager in the console, which prompts you for the main server settings.

The web-based interface has a look and feel like traditional network appliances. On the left side is the main navigation menu with the following: Setup, Logs, Utilities, and Monitoring under the System category, then Users, Groups, RADIUS, Accounting, and Captive Portal under the Users category, then Hosts, Router, DNS, DHCP, VPN, QoS, and Network Balancer under the Network category, and then Firewall, HTTP Proxy, X.509 CA, and Kerberos 5 under the Security category. Clicking on most of those links changes the main page of the interface, which typically is a tabbed interface with a sub-menu showing up on the top.

The interface and features of ZeroShell are for the most part straightforward to get around and configure. They offer some useful tutorials on their website, but some help or tips within the web GUI would be nice as well.

Out of the box, you can utilize the package functionality of ZeroShell to install any security or bug fixes that are released. However, to install the Add-Ons, New Features, or New Releases, you must obtain a subscription key. Nevertheless, this only requires either adding a link and description of ZeroShell to your website, posting a review on an external forum/blog, or donating any amount to ZeroShell.

Eric Geier is a freelance tech writer—keep up with his writings on Facebook or Twitter. He’s also the founder of NoWiresSecurity providing a cloud-based Wi-Fi security service, and On Spot Techs providing RF site surveying and other IT services.

This story, "Review: 5 open-source alternatives for routers/firewalls " was originally published by Network World.

Copyright © 2016 IDG Communications, Inc.

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