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Comparison to Commercial Alternatives

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The question of security and support vs. commercial alternatives comes up from time to time. The history of this project since its inception in 2004 proves we're as secure as any, and better than many, commercial alternatives. The experiences of our customers proves not only can we match the service of any commercial firewall vendor, we exceed it. This page serves to debunk the common myths when comparing to commercial alternatives.

"Hardware" firewalls are better myth

Commercial firewall companies' marketing departments have done a fine job engraining the myth of "hardware firewalls" into some people's minds. The reality is there is no such thing as a "hardware firewall." All firewalls are hardware that runs software. Most commercial firewalls are based on BSD (same as pfSense) or Linux. Numerous commercial firewalls run many of the same underlying software programs that pfSense uses. Many commercial alternatives run on x86 hardware that's no different from what people use for pfSense. In fact many people have loaded pfSense on hardware that used to run their commercial firewall, including Watchguard, Nortel, Barracuda and more.

Open source is insecure myth

Some people are of the mindset that because the source is open, it's insecure because everyone can see how it works. Anyone who has paid any attention to security over the past 20 years knows the absurdity of that statement. No software relies on the obscurity of source code for security. If there was any truth in that, Microsoft Windows would be the most secure OS ever created, when the reality is all of the open source operating systems (all the BSDs and Linux) have security track records that are worlds better than Windows'. History proves the same applies to any software. Internet Explorer is continually hit with major security holes that many times take weeks to patch while they're being exploited in the wild, while open source browsers Firefox, Chrome and others have had significantly better security track records.

The widespread UPnP vulnerabilities announced in 2013 affecting over 300 commercial products is another good example. The vendors of hundreds of commercial products made extremely basic security mistakes, shipping with absurdly insecure defaults, and shipping outdated software. That's never been an issue with pfSense. That's just one example of where we've done a better job than many commercial vendors.

Commercial alternatives have better support myth

With some open source projects, it's true that you're stuck if you need help. With pfSense, we have commercial support that rivals anything any commercial vendor offers, and is a significantly better fit for most customers than what's provided by commercial vendors by its design. Early on we found going with the commercial vendors' support model isn't a good fit for our user base. Some users need significant help getting things setup, and some just need a little guidance here and there. Some can support their networks on an ongoing basis with minimal assistance, and others don't have internal resources and want experts they can rely on to fill that need in their organization. Many customers need senior level network and security people to assist in the maintenance and operation of their network. Some are highly technically competent, but just like having another set of eyes available on occasion when they hit a tough issue. Hence why we've been providing strictly hourly support since 2008.

A significant number of the support calls and tickets we handle aren't problems with the firewall. Commercial firewall vendors will eliminate the firewall as the source of the problem, and wish you luck in solving it. Because we do hourly support, and our staff all have a wide range of experience, we can frequently not only eliminate the firewall but also help customers fix or at least nail down the actual source of the problem. In one recent example, a support call started with "the firewall isn't routing and it's breaking Active Directory." We quickly determined there were no network connectivity problems, and a packet capture of the affected traffic showed numerous Active Directory DNS queries coming back as NXDOMAIN (host not found). Upon inspection of the customer's Active Directory DNS, we found something or someone had deleted the majority of their Active Directory DNS records, which left their domain completely unusable. At that point we had a sticky enough situation that we referred them to Microsoft support for a proper fix, as while we're familiar with Windows Servers, getting into serious Active Directory repairs is more than we're comfortable doing. But we were able to find the exact problem, send them a write up they could refer to with the exact details of the problem, and refer them to Microsoft for a proper fix in 30 minutes, when they had been troubleshooting the issue for several hours before calling. This is just one example of many similar cases where we provide significantly more value than any commercial firewall vendor's support would provide. Customers don't care whether the problem is the firewall, they want it identified and fixed. By providing hourly support, and being staffed strictly with very experienced and highly skilled people, we can do just that.