ISS Proventia M10

  • Editors' rating
    8.0 Excellent


  • Impressive array of security tools to deal with a wide range of blended threats
  • optional Sophos anti-virus module
  • automatic updates from ISS X-Force team


  • Little advice on different small business deployment scenarios
  • Java-based management interface is complex and slow in places

Best known as a provider of high end enterprise security products, Internet Security Systems (ISS) is now also targeting the smaller business with its Proventia M family of integrated security appliances. Packed with an impressive array of tools, these surprisingly affordable devices contain everything required to keep viruses, spam, spyware and all manner of other nasties at bay, with automatic updates from the acclaimed ISS X-Force team also included as standard. However, deployment can be problematic and some work on the user interface and documentation is required to make the Proventia M a complete small business solution.

Available in several formats, the M10 we tried is the smallest member of the Proventia family, designed to protect networks of up to 100 users. The same Linux-based software is deployed on all models, with the M10 -- which costs £1,076 (ex. VAT) plus 20 percent annual maintenance -- based on an Intel Celeron motherboard with 512MB of RAM and a 30GB hard disk. Four 10/100Mbps Ethernet ports are provided for network connectivity, plus there’s a 9-pin serial port for local console setup.

Deployment involves connecting one of the Ethernet ports to a WAN router or ADSL/cable modem and another to the local network. The M10 then acts as a gateway between the two, while the other ports can be configured to provide a protected DMZ (Demilitarised Zone) for public-facing Web and mail servers.

Next you need to attach a PC to the serial port and assign suitable IP addresses to the various interfaces, then point a browser at the LAN interface and run the Java-based management interface.

Unfortunately it’s here that things can get a bit tricky. Although the Getting Started guide and user manual cover most of the basics, this only applies if you’re starting from scratch. For companies with existing Internet routers and firewalls there’s little advice about the changes required, particularly in terms of what addresses to use and NAT setup. Some example scenarios would be invaluable here, along with instruction on how to configure DHCP, NAT and other services tucked away inside the interface.

Still, if you have a modicum of technical knowledge setup doesn’t prove too difficult. Moreover, later this year the firmware will be updated to allow for transparent rather than gateway deployment, which should make things a lot easier. Hopefully, the developers will also improve the user interface. It does have lots of nice touches, such as the ability to use named dynamic address ranges when configuring the security tools, but it can be a little complex and frustratingly slow in places.

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On the plus side -- and it’s a big plus -- the Proventia M is simply packed full of security features, starting with a stateful packet inspection (SPI) firewall, ready configured to cope with a wide range of access needs. A VPN (Virtual Private Network) server is similarly built-in, complete with wizards to simplify deployment with a range of other VPN hosts and clients. Antispam and Web filtering can simply be turned on if required, while the optional Sophos antivirus module needs its own licence (£910 ex. VAT per year for 100 users).

Intrusion detection and prevention are other key features of the Proventia M10, and here the developers claim to be able to block attacks before other solutions have even identified them. This is achieved by regular updates from the ISS X-Force team, which spends its time searching for vulnerabilities, together with close analysis of the packets passing through the Proventia gateway.

Good alerting and reporting, backup and recovery tools complete the Proventia M10 package, which, despite a few faults, is one of the most complete small business security solutions available and well worth considering.