Norton Core Router
Core Blimey! PAT PILCHER takes a walk on the secure side with Norton’s Core router. It might not hear a who, but it does deliver respectable speeds – and detect potentially dodgy traffic.
While there’s no shortage of security/antivirus software, the various smart widgets in a growing number of homes are often left wide open to attack. Securing them is a must, and the best place to start is with a security device such as Norton’s Core.
Where most routers look like they hit every branch on the ugly tree as they fell to the ground, the Core almost begs to be shown off. A polyhedral ball about the size of a grapefruit in either Granite Gray or Titanium Gold, it’s something that would be right at home on an architect’s bookcase.
There’s a handy LED status indicator light ring on its base which glows white when everything is operating normally, and amber if there’s a problem.
Priced at a hefty $449, it’s one of the more expensive routers around, but the steep sticker price begins to make sense when you consider that the Core isn’t just a router, it’s also a very capable network security appliance.
Further sweetening the deal is a year of Norton Core Security Plus antivirus software (which is a rebranded Norton Security Premium) which comes with an unlimited number of device licenses, so you can install it on all your Windows, iOS and Android widgets. If that wasn’t enough, Norton also bundles 25GB of cloud backup.
There is a catch: The software is only free for the first year. After that, continued security functionality requires a subscription. Without it, the Core will still work as a router, but its built-in security capabilities will no longer be fully functional.
Beneath the geodesic dome, there’s plenty going on with a beefy 1.7GHz CPU along with 1GB of RAM and 4GB of Flash memory. The Core supports both 2.4GHz and 5GHz WiFi. There’s also support for 802.11ac Wave 2 Wi-Fi and MU-MIMO and it’s also a 4×4 AC 2600 router.
Performance wise, the Core wasn’t too shabby at all, delivering a respectable 86Mbps on 2.4GHz while I was in the same room. From the other side of the house, it still managed to crank out a decent 53Mbps. Things picked up when its 5GHz throughput was tested. In the same room I got an impressive 451Mbps, and from the other side of the house, it produced 138Mbps.
Getting set up proved to be pain-free. Where most routers require you deal with an unintuitive web console or an equally unintuitive setup utility that barely works, all I needed to do was download the Norton Core app and create a Norton account. There was no messy connecting to temporary Wi-Fi networks as the Core used Bluetooth to do all the legwork with my smartphone. I was asked several questions on my network, giving it a name and choosing a password. Total setup time was 15 minutes (including the Core updating its firmware).
The Core app is both uncluttered and intuitive. Its main screen displays a Security Score which gives a handy at-a-glance overview of your security status, the number of threats, traffic scanned, connected doodads and the speed of your internet connection. I was also able to set up user profiles for everyone in my household.
The big selling point with the Core is its ability to inspect data flowing across your network. If any suspicious traffic is noticed coming from (or going to) known malicious entities online, the device generating the suspect traffic will have its internet access yanked, shutting down potential attacks.
It’ll also monitor and control connections inside its own network. So, something out of the ordinary happens (say if a smart widget, like a camera, tries to communicate with your smart fridge), it’ll quarantine them. Using peer-to-peer gathered security data and AI, the Core can make surprisingly accurate determinations on which network traffic is and isn’t safe.
Quarantined devices get moved onto a secure virtual LAN. When this happens, you re-establish the device’s internet connection, perform repairs and/or update the firmware, without the at-risk device being on your main network.
As powerful as the packet inspection capabilities of the Core are, it can only check unencrypted traffic. For communications over a VPN (or HTTPS), it won’t be able to monitor network traffic. That said, while the Core can’t see HTTPS traffic, it can still see the domain requested and will block traffic going to or from any suspicious URLs. If you’ve installed the Core software, anything nasty sent over an encrypted connection will still be caught by its antivirus app.
The Core isn’t cheap, and it has an ongoing subscription fee after the first year, but its Wi-Fi performance is solid. It is also dead easy to set up. The traffic monitoring and quarantine capabilities are invaluable if you’ve got lots of smart devices and it is a good-looking piece of hardware. For securing a smart-home, the Core is an excellent choice.