Securing Your Laptop

The plug-in Yoggie Gatekeeper Pico promises to supersede standard antivirus and antispam software, but it's not for everyone

PHOTO: Yoggie

I’m a paranoid computer user. The first thing I do with a PC is install a full suite of ”anti-” software programs—antivirus, antispy, antispam, you name it. I even leave Microsoft Vista’s ”Annoy me constantly” mode turned on. So when I got a browser virus anyway, I lost my faith in my software security shields.

Just in time, along came the Yoggie Gatekeeper Pico. It’s a USB stick that bills itself as a replacement for all the security software we ordinarily run under Windows, designed with laptops in mind. All network traffic, wired or wireless, goes through the Pico before any Windows software sees it. And because the Pico is itself a complete computer, running Linux on an Intel XScale processor, it promises to bump up performance by supplanting the security software that now sucks cycles from your laptop’s central processing unit.

That claim got my attention, because I both design and play games, and what gamer doesn’t crave better performance? The price seemed right, too—I found it for US $149 up front and $30 a year for automatic updates (including, for example, new virus profiles), with the first year’s updates free.

Installation is supposed to be straightforward: just insert the Pico and install a driver from a CD. However, it didn’t work that way for me. The CD’s installer wouldn’t run on its own, so I ran it from Windows Explorer. Then, when the program launched Internet Explorer to register my Pico on Yoggie’s Web site, the browser reported an invalid site certificate—not a good sign for a security product.

Photo: Yoggie

A security stick may ward off malware well enough for the casual business user, but the serious user will still need to run standard cycle-sapping antivirus software.

Registration also failed, at first, but eventually a new Systray icon showed up, indicating that my Pico was now providing my security. However, when I disabled Vista Security Center’s ­firewall and other functions, Vista didn’t seem to recognize the Pico as providing those services and complained that my ­computer was not secure against threats.

The Pico performed well on some basic matters. The logs showed that it had blocked various attempts to scan my machine. Indeed, moving to a public network (at Starbucks), I saw a significant increase in scans, none of which made it past the Pico. However, I ran into problems getting the firewall to work. Each time I disabled the Pico’s driver, I lost my connection to Lord of the Rings Online, the game I develop. I had to fiddle with the custom configuration options, but even after opening the necessary User Datagram Protocol and Transmission Control Protocol ports, the game would still disconnect after about a minute. Yoggie’s tech support pros suggested (two days after I e-mailed them) that I turn off the Intrusion Detection System/Intrusion Prevention System. That, too, failed to solve my problem—which was just as well. I am uncomfortable with having to turn off so many systems to make something work.

I have to say the Pico isn’t for gamers like me, not only because of the firewall problem but also because the promised performance edge isn’t real. You don’t want to entrust all your security to a device with so many rough edges; you’ll still want to run the standard, cycle-sapping security software as well. However, if you’re a business user who needs security when traveling across random networks in hotel rooms and coffee shops, the Pico could be just the thing for you.

Off-loading security to a separate, tiny computer on a USB drive makes sense. We can expect to see more ­products of this type, and to see this one improve. I, for one, will wait for the market to mature.

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