AlphaShield Computer Security Device

Reviewed by: Howard Carson, send e-mail
Published by: AlphaShield Co., go to the web site
Requires: Cable modem or DSL modem and a hi-speed broadband Internet connection
MSRP: US$129.99

Ahhh . . . the joys of surfing the Web; the joys of e-mail, chat, instant messaging and endless megabytes of downloads. High speed Internet access makes it all possible. Are you addicted to blindingly boring surfing punctuated by the occasional interesting hit? Are you chained to 2:00 AM sessions which stretch on still longer because you're afraid that the physical act of going to bed will wake somebody up in an otherwise deathly quiet home? Have you been hacked - files messed up, privacy invaded? Face it - you need a leash connected to something which will give it a good, hard yank every so often. It would also be nice to have some protection from all the nonsense you download that manages to give backdoor access to system hackers. Ya gotta love high-speed Internet yes? Well, yes, I suppose.

AlphaShield is a small piece of security hardware which contains a proprietary switch accessed via two buttons: Connect and Disconnect. The device is designed to sit between your cable/DSL modem and your computer. Connect your cable or DSL modem to the AlphaShield, then connect the AlphaShield to your computer, router or hub. Plug the power supply into the AlphaShield and you're done. There's no software or driver requirement of any kind.

AlphaShield can operate in one of three modes controlled by a three position slider switch on the rear panel. The first mode is called Manual. In this mode, your Internet session will last for 15 minutes. During the final 30 seconds, a warning LED will flash on the AlphaShield reminding you to hit the Connect button in order to continue online. If you don't hit Connect, AlphaShield will disconnect you and retain the IP address for the session. The second mode is called Auto. It is basically an always-on setting. You can hit the Disconnect button at any time to end a session, the point being to securely disconnect your computer from the Internet by means of AlphaShield's unhackable switch. The third mode is referred to as Lockout, and like Manual mode is timed. If you let AlphaShield disconnect you after 15 minutes, you will be physically off the Internet and your IP address will be purged from the AlphaShield.

In use, AlphaShield works perfectly. We tried the device on a couple of computers at home. Like PathLock's e100 NETimer, the disconnection from the Internet is complete and secure. Unlike the e100 however, AlphaShield's Lockout mode will drop your IP address. That's a strong argument for picking up one of these units if you have any sort of worries which might be solved by real IP shredding and disconnection from the Internet.

Cons: These devices need a selectable timer with settings for 15 & 30 minutes and 1, 2 & 3 hours at least. Having to constantly hit the Connect button gets terrifically irritating after a while. You have to hit the Connect button before you boot up your computer. It's a paranoid's dream come true. You better place the device where the LEDs can be clearly seen - they're your only warning for disconnection. If you don't mind the time required to boot up your computer, shutting it down every evening will also securely disconnect you from the Internet. Although the build quality of the device seems quite good (we, um, dropped the thing a couple of times and it still works properly), the price is a bit high. We expect prices on all these sorts of devices to come down over time. Not very useful for controlling the kids' online sessions because of the very short timer. We had to interrupt instant message, e-mail and other online typing to hit the Connect button far too frequently for comfort.

Pros: If you need full disconnection throughout the day or evening without shutting down your computer, the AlphaShield is an excellent choice. This seems to be a growing product category at the moment and we're eager to see if AlphaShield does enough business to be able to create a model with a selectable timer - definitely a keeper if it shows up. Similar to software firewalls such as ZoneAlarm, hides your IP address from the Internet to some degree which in turn makes your computer almost invisible to hackers. Works with any standard cable/DSL, Ethernet-based connection. If you need absolutely secure disconnects from the Internet without shutting down your computer, try AlphaShield.

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