Home Home Tech VIDEOS: Norton Core, the high-perf Wi-Fi router with IoT security, is coming to Oz

Australia will be the second country to get Norton Core's Wi-Fi and device security for the connected home, which are claimed to deliver protection for all IoT devices, PCs, Macs, phones, tablets and more, with arguably the best security router available.

Building on its heritage of "industry-leading consumer cyber security solutions", Symantec has announced that its Norton Core Wi-Fi router is coming to Australia and New Zealand consumers this winter.

So good is this new router that it was named to Time Magazine’s 25 best inventions of 2017, and as you'll see in the article that follow, this router sets new standards that traditional router makers will find tough to follow

In this article, we get to hear from and see Symantec chief technology officer, Dr Hugh Thompson, giving an excellent keynote presentation at CeBIT Australia 2018, as I was able to film it in full.

I managed to type out most of what Symantec's Norton vice-president of Technology and Norton Core team leader Bruce McCorkendale had to say in a CeBIT show briefing with the media, and I was also able to do a video interview with Gavin Lowth, Symantec APJ vice-president of its Consumer Business Unit.

So, what makes Norton Core different from every other router out there?

It differs from the routers of traditional networking vendors in that it has been created by a security company whose singular focus is to deliver the most secure router and the most secure home networking environment for all connected devices.

Just as Apple controls the entire widget, from software to hardware and beyond, so too does Symantec put its software into its own hardware configuration, rather than simply occupying a space within someone else's router.

This is a crucially important distinction, as Symantec can ensure that the Norton Core router can authenticate securely with Symantec's cloud services, using a dedicated authentication chip which contains its own factory-loaded security key, one which never leaves the chip and thus cannot be read from memory or otherwise hacked.

Symantec itself describes Norton Core as a "high-performance, uniquely-designed Wi-Fi router with built-in security, set to transform the way Australians protect their digital lives at home". Built with security in mind, and with its easy-to-use mobile app, Norton Core provides customisable protection for the connected home.

Again, this is all extremely important, especially when you consider that Symantec's own 2017 Internet Security Threat Report notes that routers were identified as the most exploited device in the home.

Because of this, and because of the proliferation of sites listing all of the default configurations of routers and more, Norton Core does not have a traditional Web interface, nor does it expose various services to the Internet as other routers can. Norton Core can only be configured via its own mobile app, adding to the security of the system.

And, as Symantec is creating its own destiny, it can ensure top-notch hardware, with the company promising its Norton Core router "offers one of the fastest processors on the market", alongside AC 2600 Wi-Fi speeds that will "enable families to stream their favourite content in 4K, play online games or quickly download files simultaneously – all with peace of mind their privacy and personal information has the protection of multiple layers of security".

Mark Gorrie, director, Norton Business Unit at Symantec Pacific, said: "Individual device security is no longer enough for today’s connected home. Identity and personal data are hot properties for cybercriminals, and we know hackers are exploiting even the humblest connected devices within the home to access personal and financial information.

“At Norton, we believe your identity is yours and yours alone, so we have extended our digital safety portfolio to include a secure, high-performance, wireless home router that helps Australians regain control of their privacy and personal information.."

Now, whether it’s a smart speaker, surveillance camera or a baby monitor, Symantec reminds us that "each connected device within the home presents an entry point for hackers to exploit".

Thus, "drawing on the vast security expertise within the company, Norton Core was designed unlike conventional routers in that it was built with crypto authentication chip, secure boot technology, and digitally-signed software updates to help protect consumers’ home networks and devices without sacrificing speed, coverage or reliability".

And the accolades have come in thick and fast, with Time magazine listing Norton Core as one of the 25 Best Inventions Of 2017, The Wall Street Journal including it in its list of "Best of CES 2017", while CNET included it in its list of "All the Cool New Gadgets at CES 2017".

Now comes Australia's turn to partake of the fun — and the serious security — which leads to the question of what Norton Core costs, what it comes with in addition to the hardware, and what the ongoing costs are, should you choose to take Norton up on its continued security offer.

Well, not only does Norton Core include a "complimentary one-year subscription to Norton Core Security Plus, which proactively identifies, quarantines and blocks threats on the home network before they spread", which "helps protect an unlimited number of IoT devices connected to the home network", it also offers 10 full copies of Norton Security Unlimited, which "offers anti-virus and advanced Internet security for up to 10 computers, smartphones and tablets to help defend against botnets, malware, viruses, and more at home and while on the go".

The cost of this for the first year is A$399, after which you'll pay A$17.99 per month — effectively the cost of a high-end Netflix subscription — to maintain all of the security that Norton Core offers, as well as maintaining the security of those 10 copies of Norton Security Unlimited.

If you check out the cost of traditional Internet security software, whether it be for 1, 3, 5 or 10 licences, you can see that Symantec's Norton Core pricing is very competitive, and so should prove very popular in the marketplace, while making life a lot more complicated not only for the bad guys, but for Symantec's competitors, too.

Norton Core has come at a critical time, too, with ever louder warnings about the startling insecurity of today's IoT devices.

Symantec points to its most recent Internet Security Threat Report which specifically notes that Internet of Things devices "continue to be ripe targets for cyber criminals, with a 600% increase in overall IoT attacks seen last year".

"Still", we're told, "many consumers don’t realise these devices can be an easy access point for hackers into their home networks. In fact, 38% of Australians surveyed in the 2017 Norton Cyber Security Insights Report reported they do not worry about the security of their home Wi-Fi network and the connected gadgets in their homes".

So, is there a parental security filter? Of course!

Symantec says "parents can also easily set internet usage limits specific to each child, filter inappropriate content, and even pause the entire home network so the family can enjoy dinner together. If an attempt is made to visit an unauthorised site, access will be blocked and parents will receive a notification".

Then there's the fact that many people hide their Wi-Fi routers out of sight, often because they look like funny-looking spaceships with wild antennas protruding from them, which may well be the nerdy geek's dream but isn't exactly everyone's cup of visual tea.

Norton Core takes a different route, especially in the knowledge that "Wi-Fi performance can be hampered if a router is hidden away".

As you can see from Norton Core’s design, it offers a "unique patented geodesic dome design", delivering "a high-performance router that consumers can be proud to display".

Practically plucked from the future, it is designed to "blend seamlessly into a home’s décor and helps make the most of the router’s performance wherever users are in the home".

Coupled this with Core's aforementioned "mobile-first user experience", and you can manage and monitor their home network from anywhere, even pausing the Internet from afar should you decide that surf's no longer up and real life must instead be lived - at least for a while!

Obviously, there are more features besides, with other key Norton Core features including:

  • Security score: With Security Score you can see the health and security of your home network all in one place and instantly see which settings or devices might be compromising the security of your network. If the score decreases, Norton Core will provide notifications and suggestions to improve your score and help keep your network safe.
  • Secure guest access: You can create guest networks with a unique password and even set time limits. When time is up, you can simply extend access or let the guest network disappear.
  • Bandwidth optimisation: Give priority to any device or activity in the house with the touch of a button, so a movie can quickly be prioritised over a game console.
  • Automatic updates: Norton Core stays secure and current with new enhancements, performance improvements, and timely security updates. No manual installation of firmware updates required.

So, when will Norton Core be available, and where are those videos you promised?

For a "limited time", Symantec says "Norton Core is available for pre-orders in a Granite Grey finish, exclusively via Harvey Norman for $399", offering "protection for up to 10 PCs, Macs, Android and iOS smartphones and tablets, plus unlimited IoT devices".

I'm going to start with Dr Thompson's excellent international keynote at CeBIT Australia 2018, where his "bird on a plane" story isn't just an excellent example of lateral thinking, but also an example of how the bad guys can think of ways to subvert a secure environment.

He gives us "a global perspective on the coming trends in cyber security and how significant innovation, deep integration and new approaches can thwart the growing proficiency of cyber criminals", after which you'll find my interview with Gavin Lowth, a video of Symantec's Norton Core "hologram" and finally, my abridged transcript notes of McCorkendale's talk to the media on the Norton Core router.

CeBIT AU 2018: Dr Thompson's keynote presentation

Gavin Lowth, Symantec APJ Consumer Business Unit vice-president, talks Core and more

CeBIT Australia 2018 – Norton Core "hologram" at Symantec stand

Here are the notes from McCorkendale's talk to the media on the Norton Core router:

McCorkendale (MC) was introduced by Symantec Pacific director, Mark Gorrie.

Gorrie noted it was time for Symantec to "move into hardware," and noted about "devices, IoT, fridges, cameras, lights: we can't write endpoint security for those devices, challenge on how to protect customers — we had to go to the gateway — where we can see traffic coming and going."

Of course, Symantec was able to do that many, many years ago, but now comes its new hardware to market, with Australia the second country in the world to receive the technology after the US, and with New Zealand part of the Australian phase, with NZ requiring its own special hardware adjustments due to its excellent and very fast NBN-style network.

With routers being the most exploited device in Symantec's IoT honeypot, keeping all of these new IoT devices — and our traditional PCs, Macs are safer — is an ongoing challenge.

This is where Gorrie introduced McCorkendale, who explained that Norton Core is a "digital safety protection platform", with my paraphrasing of MC below an abridged transcript of the main points he was making, as quickly as I could type.

He spoke about his 28 years at Symantec, and answered yes when I asked him if he knew Peter Norton, the man who gave today's Norton products their name.

McCorkendale spoke of how Norton has worked on all kinds of things over the years, and that Norton Core has been one of the shining successes to get traction and approval – and which is now embarking on being rolled out to more and more places worldwide, starting with Australian and New Zealand after being successfully available in the US for the last eight or so months.

He explained how other router makers have wanted Symantec to our Norton products on their routers in the past, but only by those companies "carving out" a space on their routers in which Norton could live - and which sadly didn't give Norton the visibility and capabilities it needed to be truly successful.

McCorkendale noted that "we knew we had to do it ourselves — to do the job properly — as routers and other IoT devices are being the ones conscripted into DDoS attacks, or highjacked for crypto mining because they were insecure.

"We wanted to show the world what it looks like to create a hardened secure device.

"Core has hardware enforced secure boot — it has a crypto chip — all comms with cloud are encrypted with crypto chip". This capability — provisioned in the factory — means that the key cannot be taken off the chip and is never stored in memory, enabling mutual authenthicaiton with the cloud, bidirectional mutual authentication."

McCorkendale explained how the new Wi-Fi router had an encrypted filesystem, encrypted logs and more – even encrypted and redacted logos for privacy purposes, while secure updates are also signed.

He told us how Norton Core is a mobile-only experience at the moment, configured only with the mobile app, given that the first vulnerability often exploited in competing routers being vulnerable in their default interface.

Other people often try to use default credentials to get into competing routers, after which they end up getting through in many cases, installing crypto miners, joining bothets and other bad stuff.

However, with Core, there's "no Web interface, no services listening, no default password – only manageable via cloud and app. There's no services with default credentials – you can't get into this".

McCorkendale then spoke of Core's good, appealing looks, so you'll want to leave Core out in the open to additionally improve coverage and performance.

The look is one of a military radar too, with hardware engineers hired "who helped us design the enclosure — and also the internal antennas — with the best speed or coverage that matches or exceeds that of external antennas".

The Wi-Fi is 802.11 AC 2600 rated, tested with 100 simultaneous users, and able to handle 128 wireless users thanks to its quality tech including 4x4 MIMO antennas, along with wired gigabit speeds and more – the promise of top notch hardware is clearly being made.

What's at risk today online, McCorkendale asks? Who knows? Smartwatches and wearables, connected thermostats, home alarm systems, wireless doorbells, Rea-time video monitoring, smart TVs with built-in apps, streaming boxes for regular tvs, gaming consoles, plugs to make other things smart, smart lights, connected appliances.

Hoever,he reminds us that "many of these things are not secure (with the) Mirai botnet infecting routers, lightbulbs, cameras and launching record breaking DDoS attacks, with 1.7 terabits per second able to knock anything online".

He notes that "we can't add protection to these devices – we can give you the secure router that will do its best to protect those devices form being misused. If they are somehow compromised - detecting them and isolating them to contain the properly".

Then there's the ability to "pause the Internet", while assigning content and time restrictions per person - have borrowed from end-point family protection - category sets that are appropriate for different age groups - but if you don't want to do through all categories there are guidance templates for age groups recommended by child psychologists."

Also when you pause the Internet, important things like your connected thermostat, lights or home security system won't get paused – well, not unless you really want those devices disconnected, too.

An example given is of dinner time. Kids are told to get off their computers and devices, but don't do so for quite a while. MC spoke of a colleague who did this as a demo to friends, and very quickly "got a text form his wife to turn it back on!"

We spoke about the pricing, listed above, and how Norton Core sits atop over 25+ years of Symantec's experience building "a suite of tech for sec shared between end point products, for biz or home or enterprise appliances in the data centre".

Technologies brought to Core are the ones Symnantec's network protection — deep packet inspection and intruision prevention — with McCorkendale stating: "but that doesn't do it justice — we have signatures that will cover attacks at any of those later stages — this tech can understand protocols above that: Twitter, Wacebook, Web apps and games that are popular. It even understands file formats — Word PDF, images etc — as the network protocol or app or file format can be the vector for vulnerabilities".

McCorkendale tells us of "a classic cybersec scenario: hacker wants to get on your machine, will try spyware, trojan, something, that first job of getting on that computer is often exploiting a vulnerable. I could have 10 threats each with a different purpose — one for crypto, ransom — they could all use the same vulnerabiity."

"Not only do we have specific malware signatures, we have signatures for vulnerabilities: if malware attempts to exploit a vulnerability we can block it before we know about it, a form of zero-day protection."

McCorkendale told us that the cloud-based security categorisations are updated every few minutes thanks to millions of sensors, "all of our reputation services, download insight, mobile insight" to keep people safe.

There's also hardware acceleration within Core that is approximately thrice as fast compared to what the software stack can do on its own.

More was said, but for now, there's no VPN built-in as yet, and while the hardware is technically mesh capable, Symantec hasn't activated that feature as yet.

Finally, you'll need iOS 9 or higher, or Android 4.4.4 or better to use Norton Core in your home environment.

More on Core when the launch time gets closer to market – and more at Norton Australia here

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Alex Zaharov-Reutt

One of Australia’s best-known technology journalists and consumer tech experts, Alex has appeared in his capacity as technology expert on all of Australia’s free-to-air and pay TV networks on all the major news and current affairs programs, on commercial and public radio, and technology, lifestyle and reality TV shows. Visit Alex at Twitter here.

 

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