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Editor's Blog and Industry Comments

Test report on Yoggie's Gatekeeper Pico Pro

24 November, 2008
Highly effective low profile protection against malicious software distinguishes Yoggie's hardware USB device from its heavyweight software competitors
As a typical travelling journalist, my notebook is subject to a significant amount of wear and tear. I've lived on trains in Eastern Europe and bounced across the central Asian steppes in vehicles that were never designed to take that kind of punishment but my laptop has never left my rucksack. I should use the plural because the average laptop life has worked out at about 9 months before they're ready for the scrap heap. However, it isn't just the physical stress they have to suffer, they also get plugged into internet cafà networks, hotel and airport wireless hot-spots and some very dodgy dial-up connection points. Coupled with that, I get hundreds of e-mails every day and very little time to sort through it all so using protection software is clearly of some importance.

In the past, I've used various anti-virus packages that have had varying levels of success but there's always been a trade-off. Either they haven't caught the day-zero threats or they consume processor resource to such an extent that the computer becomes almost unusable or they try to download 40Mb updates when I'm in the back of beyond in a hotel with dial-up access or they come up with stupid messages like "xyz.exe" wants to act as a server on your computer â€" accept or deny?". This is the worst of them all because how would I know whether this is a Trojan or a valid programme? Clicking on the "more info" button invariably results in a connection to a web-page that simply states that no further information is available so you're on your ownâ€.. Thanks a lot!!

Then I heard about the Yoggie Gatekeeper Pico, a computer on a flash memory stick which promises to protect the computer it's plugged into from external threats without the parasitic resource consumption so often associated with comprehensive protection. I decided to give it a try and took delivery of the Gatekeeper Pico Pro, the enterprise version of the popular security-on-a-stick product.

The Gatekeeper Pico series from Yoggie is a USB stick with an onboard Intel based computer running Linux dedicated to the task of providing security to your computer and nothing more. The idea behind this smart little unit is that all network communications are routed through it before they even get a look at your computer. All communications are filtered through its on-board 13 point security checklist and only then allowed through to your computer. With all the processing occurring off-line, there is no detriment to performance and no perceivable latency.

Installation is as easy as plugging it in and sticking a disk in the CD drive. If you can follow a wizard, you can install the Yoggie unit in less than five minutes. Similarly, signature updates are performed transparently while you're connected to the internet with no dialogues, no intrusion and no questions like "Svcrqxz.exe wants to access the internet â€" accept or deny?"

This is what I most liked about the Yoggie Gatekeeper Pico â€" you simply forget that its there, it just does its job effectively and demands neither attention nor intervention.

Having been used to software products that constantly pop up messages and reports to say what's been blocked, I was initially a little concerned that it wasn't doing anything but clicking on the task bar icon brings up a console which is simple and clear, stating current threat levels and parameters which you can change. Being password protected on the "Pro" version, IT administrators can set and lock parameters for corporate deployments without users being able to override or disable any of the Pico's functionalityâ€. Very neat.

Being essentially a firewall product rather than an anti-virus product, I was worried about other routes into the computer such as Trojans transferred from one computer to another through flash drives but the Yoggie unit comes with a thin version of Kasperky anti-virus suite which protects the computer from malware intrusion from routes other than through the network. Being "thin", this also prevents the computer from suffering performance degradation due to heavy-weight anti-virus programmes.

On the down side, I found that sometimes the unit wouldn't boot with the computer but simply replugging the Gatekeeper overcame this adding about a minute to the overall boot time on occasions. Also, some web-sites were inaccessible with the unit enabled including Digg and a popular web-based mail programme which could be frustrating. Disabling the Yoggie unit enabled access to these sites.

For this test, the Yoggie Gatekeeper Pico Pro was installed on a new Toshiba Satellite laptop with no previously installed security software. The test period was for 3 months and during that time no security events were recorded. At the end of the test, a leading security software product was installed and no malware was found.

Another advantage is that the Pico can be used as an internet "key", preventing other users of the same computer from accessing the internet without access to the hardware key.

Overall, I rate the product extremely highly for its simplicity, effectiveness and lack of demands either on the user or the hardware that it's connected to. This lack of demands on the user is something that is very important since no security product should require any expertise from end users. Most users view security software as a necessity that adds no value and simply avoids problems. By intruding on the user's consciousness no more than displaying a flashing light when its fighting off intrusion attempts, the Gatekeeper Pico is the perfect low-profile security product that users dream of.

Yoggie's security-on-a-stick has been nominated for the gadget of the year award to be announced on 8th December but I wouldn't view this device simply as a gadget, more as an essential tool for safe computing that is usable by anyone from corporate laptop jockeys to the average home user.
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