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Features

Core requires a subscription to Norton Core Security Plus, which provides all security features. Symantec/Norton bundles a one-year subscription that starts when you activate the router. After that, you'll pay $9.99/mo. to continue to have all security features. There is no yearly billing option. If you opt to not continue, the router will function, but without any of the security features.

Symantec/Norton chose to go with app-only administration and setup for the Core. If you try to hit the Core's 172.16.0.1 LAN address, you'll just get a 403-Forbidden for your trouble. Speaking of addresses, the Core uses a subnet mask of 255.255.0.0 (aka Class B) vs. the usual 255.255.255.0 (aka Class C). So instead of seeing devices all in the 172.16.0.0/24 subnet, you'll see 172.16.X.2 where X runs from 2 on up.

The "onboarding" experience is more similar to setting up a Wi-Fi System than your typical router. You download iOS or Android apps onto a device that has a Bluetooth radio, which is used for initial connection to the Core. As the screenshot below from the User Guide shows, you have no choice in setting up a Norton account to get the router going. At least you don't have to surrender a credit card number during sign-up. With the bundled year subscription, Symantec has plenty of time to pry that out of you.

Norton account required

Norton account required

I also found that you need a working internet connection for the app to access the router at all. So if you have internet problems, there is no way you can log into the Core to see what's up. I hope Symantec changes this to allow local administration. But it's unlikely, since when I questioned Symantec/Norton about this, they said a connection not secured by its cloud would be another attack surface, which it is trying to minimize.

Core's focus is security, so the router feature set is more like eero (with eero plus) than a typical ASUS RT-AC series router. The app Home page obviously emphasizes security by putting the Security Score front and center. The screenshot also shows the hamburger menu extended.

Core Home and menu

Core Home and menu

Tapping on the little bell on the Home screen brings up the Alerts/Notifications screen (left). The Security menu provides details behind your Security Score with suggested fixes. My relatively low score was due to running Core behind another router, my weak Wi-Fi password (11111111) used for testing and the single port I opened for testing.

Updated 10/12/17

I don't didn't agree with the ding for running double-NAT. Since all devices are connected to Core, all traffic will end up passing through it anyway. Most users are forced into double-NAT when they want to use a different router than their ISP-provided modem/router combo and the ISP won't let them bridge the router portion. So they wouldn't intentionally connect anything to the ISP router since all those devices would be on a separate network.

But Symantec is trying to address all potential security risks. So since it would still be possible to have devices connected to the ISP router—like when that router's Wi-Fi isn't shut off—I now agree it's fair for double-NAT to lower the Security Score.

Core Alerts and Security

Core Alerts and Security

You also get security demerits if you aren't running Norton Security on all Windows, MacOS, iOS and Android devices. You get an unlimited number of licenses for Norton Security Premium with the Core subscription, so you might as well use them because Core does not run an anti-virus engine.

Since products like Core, Bitdefender Box, Luma, etc. depend on a combination of local and cloud services for their protection features, I asked the company what runs where. This was their response:

"The DPI/IPS (Deep Packet Inspection/Intrusion Prevention System) detects malware, network attacks, and protocol anomalies and is done entirely on the router, driven by signatures that are updated regularly – it’s the same network security technology that is responsible for blocking 50%+ of threats blocked on our endpoint security products. Our reputation technologies (URL, executable files, and mobile applications) are cloud based lookups which won’t be available without cloud access. However, no traffic gets “passed to the cloud” and the reputation technologies are mostly useful against threats present in the cloud itself."

I'll come back to this later when I present the results of our security feature testing.

Many people will buy Core for its Parental Controls, which are found under the People menu. Core supports User-based security, with the ability to assign devices to users. Web filtering and internet use time limits can be set for each user, as shown below.

Each user has a pause button that kills internet (but not local network) access instantly. You can kill internet access for all devices via a Pause internet for all devices button on the Devices menu. Note the Pause internet buttons don't have selectable timeouts. So you'll have to remember to re-enable access before you take that business trip or you'll get the dreaded family tech support call.

The Shared category shown below is the default category for all devices that aren't assigned to another People profile.

Core People menus

Core People menus

Web filters themselves use a familiar age-based model and include the ability to tweak blocked categories. You can also allow/block specific websites for each user profile that override the blocked categories. If you want to block all websites except those you list, I suppose you just block all categories and add your sites to the allowed sites list.

Core web filtering

Core web filtering

Internet access controls are limited to domain blocking only; there is no ability to limit access to specific services either by name or port number. This may be beyond many users' needs, but is a notable omission for a router touting itself as focused on security. This means you can't block access to any apps that you don't know the URL for or apps that require both URL and ports to be blocked.

Since this is a Wi-Fi router, I suppose we should look at those controls. These are located under the Settings menu, not the Network menu, as you might properly assume from the wireless icon...

Core Wi-Fi controls are not here

Core Wi-Fi controls are not here

Core defaults to a single SSID, which can be changed to separate ones for each band for the main and Guest SSIDs. Aside from that, there isn't anything else you can do to control Wi-Fi. There are no controls for channel, bandwidth or client isolation. There is also no MU-MIMO or beamforming disable. I think the app should at least tell you the channel and bandwidth Core is using.

Core Wi-Fi controls

Core Wi-Fi controls

A few other features are worth mention. UPnP is supported, but disabled by default due to security risks. If you enable it, Core will alert you when it gets a UPnP request to open firewall ports. I tested this and was able to block my smartphone when Skype tried to open ports via UPnP. But when I changed the block to allow or even forgot the UPnP device, I wasn't able to get Core to show the phone again when I reconnected it and relaunched Skype.

Core UPnP, Forward, DNS controls

Core UPnP, Forward, DNS controls
Updated 10/12/17

Port forwarding is single port only and does not support triggered port forwards. You can select from the three alternate DNSSEC DNS providers shown and still get all security features. but I don't know why you would. You must use Norton's DNS to get parental control content filtering.

In case I forgot something, here's a summary of supported and not supported router features. The supported list is fairly limited, but should be sufficient for many people whose only exposure to router administration screens is during setup.

Supported:

  • DHCP reservations
  • Single port forwarding
  • Internet pause (all or individual devices)
  • User-based parental controls with assignable devices
  • Content filters
  • URL blocking
  • Internet time limits
  • Internet speed test
  • Priority device
  • Guest Wi-Fi network
  • MU-MIMO
  • UPnP (default disabled) with allow/deny alerts when enabled
  • DNS service selection
  • Secure remote administration

Not supported:

  • Any WAN type other than DHCP or Static
  • Ability to set or see Wi-Fi channels or bandwidth. You can change the default of a single SSID to separate 2.4 and 5 GHz SSIDs, however.
  • Wi-Fi Protected Setup (WPS)
  • WEP wireless security
  • DMZ
  • MAC address filtering
  • Triggered port forwarding
  • Port range forwarding
  • Service (port) filtering
  • IPv6
  • VPN server
  • Dynamic DNS
  • App pass-through controls (VPN, SIP, etc.)
  • Band steering
  • MU-MIMO disable

The gallery has additional (Android) app screenshots with commentary.

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