One of the most effective and least invasive techniques to grant the security of a network is to protect it by filtering its DNS, a crucial node for efficient internal and external communications. In this article we compare the two leading giants in the American market and look at alternatives that can turn out to be advantageous in the Cybersecurity market.
1. What do we mean by “DNS filter”?
DNS Security – hence security of the DNS – is a particularly hot topic, since cyber criminals have experimented widely in order to bypass traditional protection systems. Over time, DNS filtering has proven an effective weapon for Cyber Security, thanks to its ease of implementation and to the minimum impact on the users’ navigation.
The DNS (Domain Name System) is used to identify computers and services that can be reached via web. When you type the name of a domain in the browser’s navigation bar and click on “send”, the browser asks the Internet Provider to interrogate the DNS resolution system in order to transform the name into an IP address, hence a numerical sequence, which can be recognized by computers.
Most web users use a public DNS, which allows them to reach all web pages and contents with no sort of check and monitoring whatsoever. However, this implies a high risk for the user’s security and for online resources.
This is where the need for effective protection tools stems from.
The technology that is necessary for a good monitoring of the DNS essentially requires an access, the fastest possible one, to a list, the widest possible one, of domains that have been correctly analyzed and categorized. In this way, when the resolution request comes, the filter can verify whether the domain is part of a system blacklist and so if it can be accessed or not, based on the settings.
An effective categorization system requires the support provided by Artificial Intelligence, since no organization could manually analyze the 200 thousand new domains that are added on average every day.
At the same time, a response with almost zero latency requires a global Anycast network with as many data centers as possible, both for speed and for stability of service: if a node is out of service and there is good redundancy, then the query will automatically be redirected to the closest node and the delay in the response will be close to zero.
We are therefore talking about complex technologies, which are however not impossible to realize in various continents. For example, the Artificial Intelligence technology based on the global Anycast network of the European company FlashStart is just as good as the American one. What changes in the substance is the turnover that the American market can create thanks to its investments in marketing.
As of today, the two most popular and advertised brands, which are also competing more and more, are DNSFilter vs Umbrella.
As it can be expected, the features offered are very similar and, if you read the comments by some of the most expert users, the result is not always appreciated. We will try here to refer to instances that are easily verifiable so as to be impartial referees in the comparison.
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2. DNSFilter vs Umbrella
2.1 Cisco Umbrella
Umbrella is the product line for DNS Security by Cisco, a multinational corporation that has been listed on the stock exchange since 1990. In its home page, it says it offers flexible security supplied by the cloud with more combined functions, so as to manage the extension of data protection to remote devices and users and to positions distributed everywhere in a few minutes.
DNS Filter is a much more recent American company that was born in 2015. Its business focuses on security through DNS and its marketing policy is very aggressive, especially towards Umbrella. Not by chance, the website opens with the “life-saving” offer for MSPs that were left in a difficult position after the latest announcements by Cisco regarding the termination of contracts in July 2022.
2.3 Constant competition: DNSFilter vs Umbrella
We often see these two technological giants face each other in an unregulated competition, to the point that users often alternate these two solutions periodically, because they are not satisfied with the technical characteristics offered in some areas, and especially because of the very high price they have to pay.
As of today, an impartial evaluation of the two should be in the middle and consider the “historical” experience and robustness of Cisco, leader in the Networking market, as well as the dynamicity afforded by the leaner DNSFilter structure, cheaper by just a few dollars.
For a comparison of the two solutions, we advise you to take a look at the following specialized magazines: G2, ExpertInsights or also discussions among IT experts, more impartial, on Reddit.
These sources underline what we said above, hence that users move between one technology and the other complaining most of all about the high costs and the little intuitiveness of the technology they pay for.
Over the recent years, it seems DNSFilter has gained ground in this titanic competition thanks to a constant and never-ending discrediting campaign against its rival, and to the marketing of a difficult-to-verify technological superiority compared to all types of competitors in general.
Personally, we find it very difficult to express an opinion on such business policies at all costs. In Europe, respect for your rivals in commerce is essential and, most of all, it cannot be at the expense of the service to the client. Not by chance, the slogan by the European leader FlashStart is “Cyber Security First”.
>> You can activate the FlashStart® Cloud protection on all Routers and Firewalls in order to secure your desktop and mobile devices and IoT devices on local networks
This is why I’d rather let the two rivals speak for themselves, and here is the first difference: Cisco does not mention DNSFilter. As the old IT giant it is, it does not even mention the new rival on its website. This disregard can be a sign of presumption and superiority but also the index of slowness in considering the evolution of the market.
Let’s see, on the other hand, what DNSFilter says on the public page where it compares DNSFilter vs Umbrella.
The first consideration regards simplicity, and DNSFilter accuses Umbrella of being difficult to set up. It even deflates the advantage Cisco should have since it is also a device producer, saying that integration is complex also with their own products.
Afterwards, the “DNSFilter vs Umbrella” page claims that the first is much faster at identifying threats, but this is just an assumption repeated by DNSFilter against all competitors without adding much evidence to the point.
It then mentions slowness in assistance by Umbrella, defining it a “total lack of support”; slowness also in innovation, since the long contracts offered by Umbrella would not make it necessary, and finally again slowness at the Anycast network level.
Moreover, it shows the advantages of its DNS filtering compared to Cisco URL filtering and roaming protection also for Android, which Umbrella does not offer.
Finally, on the “DNSFilter vs Umbrella” page we find a comparative table where the first takes pride on the support given by Artificial Intelligence, which permits also a defense from phishing websites and a “white label” option for resellers who want to personalize the service with their own brand.
It is not up to us, at this point, to reply to DNSFilter by exposing the advantages of Umbrella if not even Cisco takes care of highlighting them. We will rather ask ourselves if what they brag about in the “DNSFilter vs Umbrella” page is so exclusive, because it does not appear to be.
3. Is it just a Northamerican competition?
The full question would be: considering all the commercial war that web announcements and blogs give away, is the defense of DNS a rivalry only among Northamerican companies?
The most logical answer is that media rivalry is mainly about them but the solution exists also elsewhere!
Let’s go back to FlashStart, the European leader, and we will note straight away that all the advantages mentioned by DNSFilter are nevertheless normal prerogatives also among the features on the FlashStart website: DNS cloud filtering with 85 different categories of blacklists continuously updated by highly-performing Artificial Intelligence, end-point protection on Android, white labels for resellers, etc have already been implemented for a long time also in Europe.
The FlashStart Anycast network is highly performing, among the top 5 at the global level according to data by the independent benchmark dnsperf.com
As far as the FlashStart setup is concerned, it is compatible with all devices, there are videos that, for example, show in 5 seconds how to set Mikrotik up. The dashboard is multi-tenant, easy to integrate with the Microsoft Active Directory and with Google Workspace (G-Suite) to quickly set up diversified filtering policies.
Moreover, there are exclusive features provided only by FlashStart, like “Geoblocking”, the geographically-based monitoring that prevents access to websites physically hosted in servers that are located in territories at high risk of malware and compromising.
All of this means that the one between DNSFilter and Umbrella is not the real challenge anymore, since it is coming down to a marketing matter, which is not supported by real advantages anymore compared to competitors in other territories.
4. FlashStart, the alternative “made in Europe” and the future of DNS
We said above that FlashStart, European leader (and present in all continents), already has all of the technical functions that DNFilter claims as an advantage over Umbrella, and even some additional ones.
But what is the situation in terms of prices in Europe? Should we think that they are higher compared to America where the competition between DNSFilter and Umbrella is bringing them down?
Actually no, by no means. Once more, FlashStart results more convenient, with price models that are optimized by client type. FlashStart does not sell directly, it offers an optimal price to the end users and margins that have no equals, above 70%, for its partners.
All this, since it invests more on development than on useless marketing wars.
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The technology is hence state-of-the-art and assistance is much more human compared to the one provided by the Americans, with support granted in English, Spanish and Italian also via chat.
Attention to the security needs in the world, not just in America, and to several national laws, different cultures and needs in general, to the technical and commercial requests by the single IT partners, all these are actually favoring a European solution like the FlashStart one, which protects the population in 146 countries, with over 600 certified resellers and distributors.
We often forget that with every Internet search we trigger a DNS resolution, and that such a resolution could end up in places that are really far from where we are. How is our Internet research dealt with? Is it used for commercial purposes and re-sold? And, in all this, what are the consequences for the user?
These are unknown variables in the Privacy world of the future, a world where attention to personal and human values must necessarily prevail, also through the choice of an adequately secure DNS, so as to avoid all becoming a “product” in the market research of Northamerican giants.
You can activate the FlashStart® Cloud protection on any sort of Router and Firewall to secure desktop and mobile devices and IoT devices on local networks.