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Norton's Core wants to be the ultimate watchdog for your home tech

Daniel Howley
Technology Editor


You know Symantec’s (SYMC) Norton for its line of PC security software that continuously tells you it needs to be updated. But now the company is moving into the hardware space with a special kind of router that promises to secure all of your disparate connected devices.

The Norton Core, available now for the not insignificant price of $279, is designed to ensure everything from your PC and Mac to your smartphone and connected door bell are protected against attacks from hackers or malware. Its built-in device management features and parental controls can also help prevent your kids from accessing inappropriate websites.

But its high cost is a big ask, especially coupled with the fact that you’ll need to pay $10 per month to get the best security features after your first free year runs out.

The Norton Core is designed to be attractive so you’ll keep it out in the open where it can provide the best signal.

It starts with an app

The big trend in Wi-Fi routers, if there is such a thing, is simplifying the setup process for consumers by retiring those old-school web page interfaces in favor of easy-to-follow app-based instructions.

To get started, you download the Norton Core app to your smartphone, plug in your Core to your wall outlet and your modem and sign up for Norton account. Once you have your account set up, the Core will take ask you to do things like choose a network name and password and add a guest network for when friends come over.

The Norton Core is designed to work with the Norton Core app, which allows you to control your parental control and use settings.

Pro tip: If you give your new router’s network the same name and password as your last router’s network, all of your devices will automatically connect to the new network without issue. If you go for a different name and password, though, you’ll have to manually connect your devices, which is a huge pain.

It’s also worth mentioning that the Core looks more like a small-scale replica of Disney’s Epcot Center. The reason for the look is to make the router more attractive than the kind of antenna-laden monstrosities on the market today. The idea is to ensure you’re not afraid to put your router out in the open where it will provide the best signal rather than hiding it inside your entertainment center.

Managing your connection

The, well, core of Norton Core is the Norton Core app. From here you can monitor everything from how much data you use each day to the kinds of websites your kids can visit.

Norton’s Core app ranks your security score on a scale of 0 to 500. Mine was … not great.

The home screen provides you with your overall security “score,” which Norton rates on a scale of 0 to 500. You’ll also see the number of devices on your network, your internet speed — the connection from your ISP, not the router itself — how many people are on your guest network and the names of the various users on your account.

I started off with a security score of 139, which is rated as “Fair.” The app said I was penalized for having a weak Wi-Fi password, a double network and not having the Norton’s Core Security software installed on all of my devices.

It’s important to note that you get a full year subscription to Symantec’s Norton Security for free, which can be installed on all of your PCs, Macs, smartphones and tablets when you get the Core router.

The app also allows you to do things like set up individual accounts for users and control the kind of content they can view. I set up a test account that was supposed to block porn sites; then I visited two sites (for work!) and neither was blocked. I then tried again (again, for work!) and only one of the sites was blocked.

Norton Core lets you control parental settings, though, I was able to bypass the porn setting … for work.

Still, when Norton noticed I was trying to visit a blocked site, it immediately sent a notification to my phone telling me about it. So get ready for some awkward conversations with your kids.

Securing your devices

The reason your average person would buy the Norton Core is because of its security features. Symantec says the router performs three types of security: Deep packet inspection, intrusion detection and intrusion prevention and endpoint protection. Packet inspection looks at the traffic crossing your network and if it notices something suspicious, it shuts down the device’s connection.

Intrusion detection and prevention looks for malware and other anomalies entering your network and checks websites to see if they are known to carry malware and shuts down your connection to them.

Endpoint protection, meanwhile, is the software that you install on your devices and helps protect them from viruses and any malware that might slip past the router’s other defenses.

During my time with the Core it blocked access to two potentially threatening pieces of software, sending alerts to my phone each time.

Norton Core app will block users from connecting to inappropriate sites.

That might all sound like a bit of overkill, but Symantec’s plan is to keep your network wrapped in a kind of security bubble in the hopes that nothing on it can be used as an attack vector for malware.

One of the easiest ways for such software to end up on your network is through internet of things or IoT devices such as smart fridges, light bulbs, smart home assistants.

It’s those devices that are the easiest to attack and can be turned into zombie devices that make up massive botnets that attackers use in distributed denial of service (DDoS) schemes that can take down entire websites and networks.

The Norton Core includes three hardline connections.

Symantec says the Norton Core will protect these devices from such attacks, ensuring they don’t fall into the hands of attackers. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to test how well the router handled such attacks, since, you know, I wasn’t trying to get my own devices hit by hackers.

Here’s the thing about the Core’s security, though. If you let your subscription to the Norton Security app lapse, you lose those protections. At that point, the Core becomes another high-powered router. To be clear, it certainly is a solid performer; I saw download speeds as high as 100 megabits per second. Still, you’d end up spending $280 when you could have spent $200 for a similarly powerful router.

Should you get it?

If you’re a complete security nut and want to protect all of your gadgets, the Norton Core is a great start. It’ll ensure you’re safe from malware and network intrusions, while ensuring you don’t have any issues with your IoT devices. At the same time, you’ll get a subscription to Norton’s Core security software for full year. That’s a lot protection. But Norton isn’t the only game in town. F Secure offers a router and app combo that also promises to keep your tech secure for just $200.

If you’re not going to keep up with your Norton subscription after your free years runs out, there’s no sense in spending nearly $300 on the Core. But if you want some heavy security protecting your home’s tech, the Core is a solid bet.

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Email Daniel at dhowley@yahoo-inc.com; follow him on Twitter at @DanielHowley.