Zyxel USG Flex 200 review: A timely and effective solution
A great-value security appliance with top cloud management and clever remote protection features
Zyxel’s USG Flex appliances are ideal for SMBs with a geographically spread-out workforce. They deliver strong network protection at affordable prices, with easy support for remote offices and home workers – and since Zyxel recently extended its Nebula Control Centre (NCC) service, all Flex models can now be cloud-managed.
We tested the USG Flex 200, which costs £569 exc VAT and comes with a first-year subscription to Zyxel’s UTM security pack. This provides web filtering, application and email security, IPS and anti-malware services, plus Zyxel’s SecuReporter web-based analytics and reporting service; subsequent subscription renewals cost £234 per annum.
Enabling cloud management is simple. You just need to register for an NCC account, then create a top-level organisation and sites below it. You can then add the appliance to a site by entering its MAC addresses and serial number in the site view – or you can use the NCC mobile app to scan the QR code on the box. We tried this on an iPad and had the appliance added to our site with two taps.
It’s the same process if you want to deploy the Flex 200 to a remote office. Simply send the box to its destination, and when it connects to the internet it will automatically pick up your settings. The portal regularly checks the firmware of all connected devices, and can apply updates in the background or at specific times.
It’s worth noting that, while the basic NCC cloud service is free, logging is restricted to seven days. That won’t be an issue right away, though, as a one-year Professional Pack subscription is included with the appliance, which ups logging to 365 days and adds features such as email alerting and auditing – and renewing it costs a mere £43 per year.
The various security services can all be accessed and configured from a single page in the NCC console. To be precise, we should say “almost all” as the NCC portal doesn’t currently support the email security component – that’s only available when the Flex 200 is running in standalone mode. Everything else is here, however.
For web filtering, you can browse 103 different categories of site, and decide whether to allow, block or log access to each one. Zyxel’s DNS-based content filtering provides additional control over encrypted connections without requiring SSL inspection.
The application patrol service does much the same job for software; it lets you manage access to thousands of apps, sorted tidily into 26 categories. Meanwhile, the URL threat filter, IDP and anti-malware services are each enabled with one click, with the latter offering a choice of stream and express modes, for either thorough or quick scanning.
As we’ve noted, there’s particular support for remote staff – a valuable feature in the present age. Workers just need to set up an NCC-compatible Zyxel AP in their home; this then automatically creates a tunnel to the USG Flex appliance to provide secure internet access.
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Zyxel can even help neutralise risks from rogue BYOD users. The Collaborative Detection & Response service keeps an eye on users that drop in with unmanaged devices: you can probe them with the malware, IDP and web threat services, and devices that trigger warnings can be warned or quarantined.
NCC’s reporting features are pleasingly extensive. From the SecuReporter website you can access detailed reports for all your Flex devices; its dashboard provides a wealth of information about web, app and threat activity, while the analysis pages offer deeper insights into security issues. Daily, weekly and monthly reports are automatically generated, and can be distributed to multiple email addresses.
The USG Flex 200 delivers a fine range of security services, and through NCC it can protect your staff no matter where they’re based. It’s a timely and effective solution to a perennial problem, and the price is easy to swallow too.
Zyxel USG Flex 200 specifications
Fanless desktop chassis
7 x Gigabit Ethernet (2 x WAN, 4 x LAN, SFP)
2 x USB-A 3, serial console port
Web browser management, 1yr UTM security pack licence
272 x 187 x 36mm
5yr limited warranty
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