Norton -- the antivirus software maker now owned by Symantec -- has new router on tap that promises to plug the security leaks in the various smart doorbells, light bulbs, toasters, blenders and pet food dispensers that you might have strewn about your smart home. But such a service -- if it can be made to work at all -- comes at a price.

201701 norton core router

Called the Core, the admittedly pretty cool-looking device functions as a normal household gateway and router, providing all of the usual buzzwords like wifi, gigabit ethernet and app connectivity. But it also has built-in and cloud-based security software that monitors all of your connected devices in an attempt to shut out would-be intruders and botnet aggregators. While the announcement is light on details, I expect the Core uses a combination of heuristic monitoring (which might suss out unusual data traffic patterns) and cloud-based whitelist/blacklist monitoring (to tell when a certain class of devices is known to be hacked and therefore known to be vulnerable) to get the job done.

The idea of heuristic traffic analysis of course isn't true, but what I kind of like about it in this particular case is that it's so much like how old-timey virus scanners used to work: they'd ship with a list of virus definitions, and then scan your PC's files to see if any matched those definitions. Today, whole classes of compromised IoT devices are known to communicate in certain ways or patterns, so applying the same type of pattern-matching approach will probably be somewhat effective... for now. The flip side is that like the bad guys are always looking to outsmart the good guys. And this is why we can't have nice things...

Of course, it also means that if you purchase the Core, you're not only buying a device, but the cloud-based service that powers some of its more differentiating features. And that's not necessarily a good thing. For one, it means that you're tied to Norton/Symantec to get the job done in a competent and unintrusive way. If you've ever used Norton Antivirus, you'll know that "competent" and "unintrusive" are not two words normally associated with Norton products. But two, it means that if you don't buy in to their annual subscription service, some of your router's utility will disappear when the last check clears and you'll be left as vulnerable as you were before. It's unclear exactly how this will be communicated to consumers, but "subtlety" also isn't known to be in Norton's vocabulary.

While it's not quite a mafia shakedown, Norton's approach does sound a little like Big Vinnie coming to your house and saying "You have a beautiful home. It'd be a shame if something were to... happen... to it." There are of course also huge privacy implications to be dealt with as well, but if you're one of those folks who has installed enough "smart" tech in your home to justify adding a Core router, privacy arguments probably don't apply to you anyway.



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