A few weeks ago we had one of the most major successful attacks on the U.S. digital infrastructure ever successfully attempted. It was the use of our IoT devices to effectively take down many of the country’s DNS servers. These servers are critical to Web operation and, without them, the Internet largely doesn’t work. Many of us think that was only a test or warning, but we’ve known for some time that much of our infrastructure isn’t secure and that these wonderful connected devices we are buying are often not secure at all. While the assumption was that this lack of security would be used to violate our privacy, this latest test/warning showcased a much bigger danger: that they could be effectively turned into digital zombies that would collectively be used as weapons and, were enough devices compromised, cause much of our current digital world to simply stop working.
That is what makes the announcement of Symantec’s (News - Alert) new Norton Core router important; on paper it is the equivalent of a vaccine for this possible Digital Zombie Apocalypse. Let me explain.
For the Night is Dark and Full of Terrors
While you’d think that the solution to this problem would be to put some kind of anti-virus, anti-malware solution on IoT devices, the fact is that just doesn’t work. In effect, it would force us to turn each one of these things into individually managed computers and each of us into administrators over an increasingly unruly and inconsistent number of computing objects. Oh, and equally important, it would make the result prohibitively expensive. IoT devices have to remain simple both to keep costs down and to keep us from having to basically hold a second job as IT administrators in our own homes.
Yes, the geekiest folks we collectively know are already there, but for most of us, a requirement to have to personally manage every single connected device likely becomes unattractive even before the first one is installed. We know this because most folks don’t even turn on the security features they get in devices or use IDs and passwords, like 1234 or qwerty, that are effectively worthless.
A good firewall, which most good routers have, used to work pretty well, but with the level of pounding we are taking by hackers and malware, these routers have become relatively easy to penetrate. In addition, with the emergence of Wi-Fi, attackers can now get inside the firewall that, up to now, routers alone, even the best, can’t deal with. Worse, attackers, once inside, can gain information that may let them compromise the router directly and both open your home to attack and turn your devices into digital zombies. This brings to mind the Game of Thrones saying that “The Night Is Dark And Full Of Terrors,” except I’m talking about the Web and the terrors are both real and coming into your home. In short, we don’t just need a wall anymore, we need a vaccine.
Norton Core: The Digital Zombie Vaccine
During the holidays, I spent some time looking into this solution and I’m impressed. I would expect Symantec to get the security part right, but they also used Qualcomm’s (News - Alert) radio solution to get the wireless router part right as well. Most of the secure solutions either sit beside the router, like the Cujo system I currently use, or, if built in, exist in a sub-par router to keep the costs down. This is a full MU-MIMO router which means that, when coupled with a device supporting this standard, most of which will hit the market this year, you’ll get wireless throughput in line with many wired networks and, of course, supports gigabit wired networking as well.
Like anti-virus software, which is nearly worthless if not kept up to date, this router does require a subscription to assure it is updated to address new threats and, even though this won’t be enabled at launch, it will support some interesting updates that will allow it to compete with the latest mesh routers coming to market.
On the security side, it not only will defend against a wide variety of attacks coming through the router, it will defend against attacks that bypass the router and attempt to compromise your network from inside.
CES (News - Alert) is full of wonderful new connected devices ranging from personal robots to autonomous cars and drones (some of which can carry people). But the problem with a lot of this stuff is that it isn’t secure, and that means our wonderful new toys could be used against us. We had a demonstration of that when our IoT devices almost took down the U.S. Internet. And that was just a test/warning. This is why I think the Symantec Core may be the most important device launched at CES, because it, or a product like it, could help prevent the coming Digital Zombie Apocalypse. Oh, and if you were wondering on that last point, there is a book and a movie coming (though it mostly focuses on robots). Stay safe.