New kit defends smart homes against hacks


Security firms have launched routers at CES that can stop smart household gadgets being hijacked by hackers.

Symantec, BitDefender and Intel unveiled devices that scrutinise data as it flows across home networks.

The companies say routers with built-in defences will be essential as homes are filled with net-connected gadgets.

The routers also come with parental control features that help manage how much time children spend online and what they see.

Home invasion

“You will have to buy a security solution for your internet-of-things,” said Alex Balan, chief security researcher at BitDefender.

The “internet of things” refers to the growing collection of smart gadgets that can be controlled via the net.

“Pretty soon everything will be connected one way or another and managed by a smartphone app,” said Mr Balan. “You won’t be able to avoid it.”

But that interconnectivity and ease of use comes at a cost, he said, adding that the end of 2016 had seen a surge in attacks that compromised net-connected CCTV cameras, televisions and media servers.

The poor security on these gadgets led to them being enrolled in massive networks by hackers who use them to carry out overwhelming attacks. One network, called Mirai, staged some of the biggest net attacks ever seen.

The problem has got so serious that the US Federal Trade Commission has kicked off a competition to create tools that consumers can add to their home network that can protect IoT devices from attack. Cash rewards of $25,000 (£20,000) will be given to the best entrants.

“Security for these devices has to start at the network level,” said Gareth Lockwood from Symantec. “There’s no other way to do it.”

As the entry and exit point for home networks, routers were the best place to put a security system that can watch for malicious traffic coming in and cut off hackers trying to access insecure kit.

While current home routers do have security systems, most are pretty basic, said Mr Lockwood, and none is ready for the explosion of smart devices predicted to be in use soon.

“If we look forward four to five years from now we expect to see between 20 to 30 billion devices in homes,” he said. “There’ll be tens of devices per household.”

The devices launched at CES will only initially be available in the US but will reach other regions later in 2017. Typically, buying one of the secure routers includes a subscription to a firm’s standard security software that runs on desktops, laptops and tablets.

All three also include net access control systems that let parents decide for how long different gadgets can be used and which sites youngsters can visit. Some, such as the Norton Core, have an internet pause button that cuts off access for everyone in a household.